San Jose Airport Neighbors Heated Over Doors

March 14, 2005
All residents of a condo complex near Mineta San Jose International Airport want are noise-muffling doors that don't heat up in the summer like an espresso machine.
Forget gleaming new passenger terminals and double-deck roadways.

All residents of a condo complex near Mineta San Jose International Airport want are noise-muffling doors that don't heat up in the summer like an espresso machine.

''It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out,'' said Mike McKinney, president of the Lafayette Americana Homeowners Association. ''I don't know why the airport can't get it right.''

The glass storm doors in question were installed last summer as part of the airport's effort to soundproof 79 Santa Clara condos. The thick glass helps squelch the roar of jets, but at a price: With the sun beating down, the doors heat up to 186 degrees -- hot enough to fry an egg.

''I have a 2-year-old son who innocently reached up to grab the door knob and burned his hand,'' said Robert Smith, an aerospace technician who lives in the complex north of the airport. ''Even in December, we hung a Christmas wreath, and each time we opened the door something would fall off because it was warm enough to melt the hot glue.''

Airport officials say they are doing their best to resolve the door problem. However, more than five months after they learned of the snafu, they still have not modified or replaced the doors.

Of course, the airport faces bigger problems than storm doors, including how to fund its $2.8 billion expansion in the face of scant passenger and cargo revenues, and the advent of cost-conscious discount airlines reluctant to underwrite lavish improvements.

But as officials well know, the airport's image in surrounding neighborhoods turns on matters closer to home, like quarter-inch-thick glass storm doors.

''Any complaint that comes to us, we take seriously,'' said Monica Gomez of the airport's acoustical treatment program.

The airport has spent about $1.7 million, or about $22,000 a unit, on noise-reduction measures at the condo complex, including the doors, thick windows and new air-conditioning and heating systems. The funds come from fees charged to passengers flying through San Jose.

Overall, the airport has spent about $84 million to soundproof about 1,200 homes within its noise contour, most of it through federal grants.

Some Lafayette Americana residents also have complained about crooked windows and inaccessible furnace filters. But their main beef is with the metal-frame doors, which the airport has never installed anywhere else. Typically, it has installed wood-frame doors, which cost more but conduct less heat.

To fix the problem, the airport tried coating one of the doors with tinted film. But when workers hooked the door up with a thermometer, they found that the temperature of the glass had dropped only slightly -- to about 140 degrees.

In the meantime, Lafayette Americana residents can't simply remove the doors or replace the doors themselves, for two reasons: First, under homeowner association rules, residents are required to have identical facades, and the association board must approve any changes.

Second, the airport essentially controls what kind of soundproofing devices are installed in the complex under the terms of a 2003 legal settlement with the association. The condo owners sued the airport in late 1998 because they wanted more extensive soundproofing measures. They lost, which gives the airport -- not them -- the right to choose a replacement for the defective doors.

For months, the association board and the airport have wrangled over that question. The residents want doors that combine screens and glass panels, which could be lowered when it's hot. Airport officials said they have not calculated the cost of that option, but it would be pricier than what they have in mind.

The airport is advocating a less-expensive, risk-free solution that would cost about $25,000 total for all the units: removing the glass from the metal frame and replacing it with screening, which would never burn anyone, an airport consultant said.

Consultants now say the glass doors are unnecessary because they lower the noise level by only one decibel.

That argument leaves residents wondering why the airport installed the glass doors in the first place. They contend the glass still makes a big difference.

''If they don't work, then why did they put them in?'' resident Robert Sullivan said. ''It's like they don't care what we want. They just want to go cheap.''