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SANTA ANA HEIGHTS : FOCUS : Santa Ana Heights Has a Problem in the Skies

Clipboard researched by Susan Davis Greene, Dallas Jamison and Rick VanderKnyff / Los Angeles Times; Graphics by Doris Shields / Los Angeles Times

Offer to sell a large Orange County home--within putting distance of a country club--for less than $250,000 and lots of folks would break out the smiles and the checkbooks, right?

Not quite.

Spacious homes of 2,600 to 3,000 square feet, many with Southern plantation-style facades and expansive lawns, line streets with names like Orchard and Cypress and Acacia, but buyers are not lining up. The reason seems inexplicable unless you happen to be standing outside one of these houses at 7 a.m. as a 135,000-pound Boeing 737 shudders into the early morning air.

The residents of Santa Ana Heights, an unincorporated area wedged between the Newport and Corona del Mar freeways, have been waking up to the roar of mammoth metal birds every morning since jet aircraft started flying out of nearby John Wayne Airport more than 20 years ago. Noise reduction devices fitted to modern jets have lessened the roar of individual planes, but the increase in traffic (now about 2,600 departures each month, most of which take off over Santa Ana Heights) has negated much of the effect.

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Everything from telephone conversations to television viewing is blanketed by the roar of engines. One 26-year resident packed away his outdoor barbecue, retreating to the relative quiet of his dining room for the meals and entertaining that he once conducted in his pleasant back yard.

And noise has not been his only problem. Nitrous acid from jet exhaust was corroding the lanterns and wind chimes that swung around his patio. Now these adornments have joined the barbecue in storage.

The omnipresent buzz of jet traffic over this otherwise placid neighborhood may have resulted in life-style changes for some residents. But many more worry about the effect of the noise problem on real estate values. According to one homeowner, houses in Santa Ana Heights sell for an average of $199,634, whereas homes in nearby areas, not within the flight path, sell for between $300,000 and $400,000.

The county has offered to retrofit the homes of interested residents with the latest sound-proofing gadgetry, or to buy the houses at “fair market value.” So far, though, relatively few homeowners have taken up the offer.

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Frustrated by the obvious problems and yet ambivalent about the thought of ever leaving, one Santa Ana Heights resident quietly reflected: “Our friends, our churches--everyone is here. This is home. . . . We’ve lived with the jet noise since 1968, and I guess we’ll just have to put up with it.”

Population Total: (1988 est.) 2,869 1980-88 change: +9.9% Median age: 33.5

Racial/ethnic mix: White: (non-Latino) 90% Latino: 7% Black: *% Other: 3%

By sex and age: MALES Median age: 33.9 years FEMALES Median age: 33.0 years

Income Per capita: $15,530 Median household: $34,141 Average household: $35,104

Income Distribution: Less than $25,000: 34% $50,000-74,999: 23% $25,000-49,999: 37% More than $75,000: 6%


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