News

California City Proposes Drone Rules After Rash of Incidents

Recent events involving unmanned aerial vehicles are prompting Oceanside officials to consider new rules around the devices.

by Phil Diehl, The San Diego Union-Tribune / November 3, 2017
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(TNS) -- Oceanside agreed this week to set some rules for flying drones in public places, the result of recent incidents, including one that injured a beachgoer.

“We just want to establish some protocols so we can be sure people are safe,” police Lt. Aaron Doyle told Oceanside City Council members at a meeting Wednesday.

The rapid spread of remotely piloted aircraft has some cities looking for ways to control them. Poway was one of the first cities in the area to set limits in 2015, and San Diego adopted its regulations in April. The Federal Aviation Administration also sets regulations for drones, but those rules are administrative and can’t be enforced by local police.

Oceanside’s proposal would require operators to get a permit before flying drones over the beach, the pier and a few other places. Among other restrictions, it would require drones to remain within the operator’s line of sight, outside the flight path of any occupied aircraft, and only operate during daylight.

Oceanside City Council members unanimously supported the proposal, which would be effective 30 days after a second presentation to the council expected later this year.

Three incidents over the summer prompted Oceanside police to request the ordinance, Doyle said.

A drone fell onto a beachgoer causing minor injuries in July after the pilot lost sight of his flying machine and it crashed into a palm tree near the city pier, he said. Another narrowly missed a young girl on the beach in August after the operator lost control.

Perhaps the most serious problem occurred in June, Doyle said. City and county firefighters were battling an 85-acre blaze near the border of Oceanside and Camp Pendleton. Crews in aircraft delivering water drops on the fire spotted a drone in their flight path, and all aerial operations had to cease for about one hour until it was gone.

Not only does the delay hinder firefighting efforts, but a mid-air collision between a remotely operated drone and an occupied aircraft could have tragic results, with fatalities and extensive property damage, the lieutenant said.

The proposed ordinance also prohibits drones over occupied schools, or to transmit visual images or audio recordings of anyone who has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Drones must remain within the line of sight of the operator without the use of binoculars or other vision-enhancing devices, and cannot approach any closer than 25 feet to any person but the operator or an assistant.

Also, the ordinance requires a pre-approved, one-time city permit to operate a drone over the beach, the pier, the City Hall complex or police and fire stations. The cost of the permit is expected to be about $150, but Councilwoman Esther Sanchez said the amount should be less.

Some beautiful videos have been made with drones over Oceanside’s pier, mission and beaches, Sanchez said, and she wants to encourage people to make more of them. Posted on the internet, the videos can boost the city’s image and help attract tourists to the area.

Councilman Jerry Kern said the cost of the permit should be enough to recover the city’s costs for regulating the activity, and that the amount can be adjusted later, if necessary.

“The technology is moving so rapidly, we’re playing catch-up,” Kern said.

The proposed regulations should not prohibit the average person from flying drones they receive as gifts or buy for hobbies, Councilman Jack Feller said.

“This does not prohibit a guy who gets a drone from flying it in his cul de sac,” Feller said.

Violators of the ordinance could be subject to fines of $1,000 for each violation, and could have their drone impounded as evidence.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.