2015-10-14: Guest opinion: Is the county for corporations or for citizens?

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October 14, 2015
By: Margy Kahn

Three years ago Warren Slocum was elected to represent District Four on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors. Before being elected he talked about how much he cared about the quality of life in the neighborhoods of North Fair Oaks (NFO). For a while after he was elected, he regularly held open houses for people to come and tell him what needed to be fixed after years of neglect and high-handed policies by the previous incumbent.

Citizens stepped forward with issues that had been plaguing them for years. One issue that was raised was about an obnoxious, loud, low-frequency rumbling noise that was keeping people awake at night. I had heard this noise too, but after calling the county and being told I was imagining things, I had managed to tune it out, or so I thought.

Other neighbors pursued this problem. They found out where the noise was coming from — a data connectivity center that had probably been forced to move out of Menlo Park proper because of noise complaints there. Moving into NFO has been the answer for many businesses that want to evade any oversight. But newly elected Supervisor Slocum took the complaint seriously. He ordered a noise study done and met with officials at the company. The people at the plant refused to cooperate. They even denied that they had been causing the noise, and the county took no action.

Another case of business interests taking precedence over the rights of citizens arose several years ago. Neighbors complained after a county planner allowed a catering business with a fleet of trucks and a 24/7 kitchen to operate on a tiny lot surrounded by residences. When nearby neighbors complained about stench, noise, and traffic all hours of the day and night, county officials wrung their hands and said they were powerless to change anything. Finally, the business was shut down. But not because of its numerous documented violations of county codes, but because someone finally checked the records and found they had not paid their taxes for several years in a row!

Now we have Surf Air and the county’s dereliction of its duty toward tax-paying citizens seems to have risen to new heights. Apologists for Surf Air fill the online blogs with their rants about what whiney babies the rest of us are. Don’t we realize that this is the price of progress? What’s a little noise?

Other people talk about how the noise needs to be studied more. Teachers in the neighborhood have reported little children running to them in fear when Surf Air flights come in for landing. Do we really need a study when neighbors have to stop their conversations while Surf Air planes are overhead? And does San Mateo County truly have no power to regulate the number of flights landing at a county-maintained airport? Is the sky the limit when it comes to elite “charter” flights bearing a few passengers who don’t want to be bothered with the security procedures that apply to the rest of us?

Kudos to the members of the Atherton City Council. They have no problem standing up for their residents when their rights are being trampled on. They held a community meeting over a year ago to let neighbors speak to the issue. In addition they wrote a strongly worded letter letting county officials know what we want from them.

Now is time for supervisors Don Horsley and Slocum to step to the fore and show true leadership. Not to convene costly and lengthy “study committees” to obfuscate the issues. They need to tell us the powers they have and how they will use them to help us.

I especially call on Supervisor Slocum to come forward. After all, he ran specifically on the issue of improving the quality of life for the residents of North Fair Oaks. It is time to put the interests of citizens ahead of corporate power. Contact Warren Slocum at 650-363-4570 and wslocum@smcgov.org and Don Horsley at 650-363-4569 and dhorsley@smcgov.org with your views about Surf Air.

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