By Sarah Stockman
On December 14 the Pacific Palisades Community Council will present longtime Palisadian Debbie Warfel with a Golden Sparkplug Award for her work trying to reduce airplane noise in the Palisades.
Warfel, who lives on East Channel Road in Santa Monica Canyon, was raised in Woodland Hills and attended Taft High School. “I’m a third generation native from California,” she told the News.
After majoring in political science at UC Berkeley, Warfel attended Southwestern Law School and became a lawyer.
“I did general business litigation and insurance coverage,” she said. “I worked for Joel Citron [at Citron & Citron, Attorneys at Law] and Bishton & Gubernick, among others.”
Two years ago, after returning from a trip to New York, Warfel found her home much louder than when she’d left. “My husband [John] asked me if I heard anything different.” When she took a moment to listen, she realized that there was an almost continuous plane engine noise caused by planes heading for LAX.
“Debbie sprang into action, quickly learning that the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] had closed comments on a new program and who knew there would be such a dramatic change in flight paths?” a community council press release said.
The program in question is the FAA’s Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen).
“[It] replaces the old radar system,” the press release said. “It is supposed to save fuel through more accurate flight patterns, but the result has been many flights ‘short-cutting’ across our community at lower altitudes than past practice.”
Warfel tried calling the LAX Noise Comment Line, but after getting no answer she decided to go right to the top. “I started with the CEO [of Los Angeles World Airports],” she said, and then progressed to the offices of Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Barbara Boxer, Congressman Ted Lieu and Councilmember Mike Bonin.
“Senator Feinstein’s people said, ‘Let’s have a meeting,’” Warfel said. “We met at LAX with their [LAX’s] Noise Management Team and a government liaison. They said, ‘Nothing’s changed, you live under a major flight path.’”
Warfel was not satisfied with their answer. “When they say nothing’s changed, it’s just not true,” she said.
Warfel is on the board of the Santa Monica Canyon Civic Association. After hitting a brick wall with officials, she and the SMCCA hired an aviation attorney.
“[Warfel] worked through the [SMCCA] to raise the funds to hire an aviation attorney to represent us [the Palisades] with the FAA,” the Council press release said.
“We didn’t want to sue them,” Warfel said. “We just wanted to negotiate.”
Aviation attorney Steve Taber is now paid for by donations from residents. Warfel estimates that about 25 people have donated. “We’d like more,” she said, adding, “It’s tax deductible.”
“Debbie’s lawyers are working through the federal court in Washington, D.C. to reach an amicable settlement,” the press release said.
“What we’re trying to do is get the FAA to move the flight paths back to their 2015 routes or to move the flight paths, so the noise is not impacting our neighborhood,” Warfel said.
Although Warfel is grateful to be awarded the Golden Sparkplug, she wishes there was more to celebrate. “I wish I could say that I was effective and everything’s better.”
Progress is being made, however. “Just this past week, Senator Feinstein wrote a strongly worded letter of support to the FAA,” the press release said.
The letter, which was sent on November 7 to Michael Huerta, the head of the FAA, addresses statewide concerns about the increase in flight noise due to NextGen and asks Huerta to think about returning flight patterns to their previous routes.