Erk. My home town, Berkeley, wants to establish a "no drone zone"

Silly political gestures (banning model airplanes with cameras!) are par for the course in Berkeley, where I live and the 3D Robotics Bay Area offices are located. Thankfully, they usually don't pass or aren't enforced.

From Patch


Even as the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department considers buying an unmanned aerial vehicle, Berkeley City Council will discuss declaring the city a No Drone Zone

Arguing that drones are unsafe and pose a threat to civil liberties, Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission is recommending that the city council adopt a resolution this month proclaiming: 

"1. Berkeley a No Drone Zone and instructing the City Attorney to perform the necessary legal tasks to transform this declaration of a No Drone Zone into an Ordinance for the City of Berkeley wherein drones are hereby banned from airspace. 

2. That drones will not be purchased, leased, borrowed, tested or otherwise used by any agency of the City of Berkeley over the City of Berkeley, including drones in transit.

3. That exemptions will be made for hobbyists to continue to fly remote controlled model aircraft in specified areas, away from dwellings and the urban cityscape of people and buildings as long as those devices are not equipped with any kind of camera or audio surveillance equipment."

It’s not clear what the “legal tasks” establishing Berkeley as a No Drone Zone would be, of if such an ordinance could be enforced. While the Federal Aviation Administration is still drafting the rules that would regulate what the agency calls unmanned aircraft systems, local law enforcement agencies and other institutions across the co...

Earlier this month, Alameda County supervisors opted to examine the merits of a cop-operated drone in more depth before approving the purchase of the $31,000 laptop-sized flying machine the sheriff said he needs.


(image from No Drones Illinois)

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Comment by Josh Potter on December 11, 2012 at 4:06pm

Peter, while I agree 95% of what you said.  In most cases, drones shouldn't be flown over populated areas, and have unskilled pilots is a bad thing, I don't agree that city has any right to make rules to try and govern Federal Airspace.  If they want to hinder their local police and emergency response, good for them, but they have no say in federal matters. The same goes for the state level; it all goes back to that old civil war thing we had a while ago :) 

Comment by Peter Meister on December 11, 2012 at 4:13pm


Sure the city may not stop the federal airspace, I agree. But they should have the right to govern the airspace to the state level. Again, I am not a lawyer so I do not want to assume the boundary - but I think cities under state law should have a say as to what flys over them and what it is doing. Hope that clarifies. Its a good discussion for sure and I look forward to seeing how it evolves in this case with Berkeley and whether is spreads to other city councils for discussion. I know here in Seattle it is already a heated topic for the city councils due to citizen outrage.

Comment by brakar on December 11, 2012 at 5:45pm

Politicians are off course entitled to vote for what ever they like, (on behalf of those people who elected them).

But, since they are apparently arguing; "that drones are unsafe and pose a threat to civil liberties", and therefore should be banned, it must be assumed they are in general against "things" "that are unsafe and pose a threat to civil liberties".

So, what else is on the ban-list?

Comment by Jay Bryon on December 11, 2012 at 5:47pm

Well, the Berkeley ordinance prohibits FPV entirely.  Fail.  This is what happens when you allow non-technical lawyers try to regulate something they don't understand.  Since I'm from Berkeley I have a healthy disrespect for the local government, it's almost entirely ineffective, corrupt and full of it's own importance, rather than a desire to actually serve the public in reality.  (By the way, this is coming from somebody who is generally liberal, so they don't even have that excuse).  

As for Mr Meister's comments, I will politely disagree with him on his end points, while agreeing that testing is good, and piloting skills are also a good thing.  However, saying that AP's are bad because they are making bad pilots is like saying you should learn how to drive in a formula 1 car.  AP's are a valid tool, but one that even the airline pilots are now coming to grips with how to use properly, in order to preserve their own skills.  

It would be more constructive to say, hey, here's a plan on how to use this stuff properly.  Make it easy to do the right thing, and it'll be done.  

What has been entirely ignored in this debate is what *kind* of camera is on the drone?  If it's a gopro or similar, I really don't give a damn where it is because it's so wide angle I'm just an unidentifiable speck unless it's close enough for me to grab and take home (cool, new camera!).  If it's a 20X HD spy cam, on the other hand, that's a problem.  Also if I have a wide angle FPV cam on the plane, it gives me another tool to fly it safely without presenting any sort of privacy issues.  So if that becomes illegal, we've reduced safety for no valid reason.  

Finally, I'll note that, as a pilot, I understand the reasons behind the regs for a hard deck over populated areas for small planes, and I agree with them.  But a 5 pound model aircraft is a much lesser threat, and should be treated more liberally.  The "safety at all costs!!!" mentality has cost this country enough.  It becomes a danger to itself and others by removing the practice of acting and living, and managing risk sensibly.  

Comment by Alex Hills on December 11, 2012 at 8:56pm

So Brookstone in that community would have to give you a slip with a disclaimer everytime they sell an AR Drone that says you have to place tape or something over the camera?  People fear what they don't understand.  Sure drones pose risks, but that doesn't mean you say no or never.  Say yes, but with reasonable restrictions.

Comment by Bill Patterson on December 11, 2012 at 9:43pm

First of all, there are enough laws to cover any, and everything, a plane, copter, quad what-ever, can do. 

Smash into an airliner? Last I heard that would be illegal. 

Peek into windows with a camera? Pretty sure you can't do that either.

Smash a windshield? Smack someone in the head? I may be way off base here, but I wouldn't do either of those with a base ball bat, and I haven't heard of any anti-bat laws lately, even though it's a favored weapon of street hoodlums. 

Point is, we have enough laws. 

Comment by lee nagle on December 11, 2012 at 11:23pm
Berkeley should ban eyes, because by having eyes you might see something you shouldn't and you'll also be invading people's privacy by looking at them!
Gi wish govt would wake up to them selves

Comment by Mark Harrison on December 12, 2012 at 6:19pm

@Alex, no danger of a Brookstone in Berkeley!  As the Berkeley "Daily Planet" commented, "The Berkeley City Council development policy has created a thriving retail district.  Unfortunately, it's in [neighboring community] Emeryville."

There's a great interview with one of the Peace and Justice Commissioners here, on another topic.

Comment by ikrase on December 12, 2012 at 10:59pm

Is anybody interested in actually doing anything about this? It's a public meeting. Alternatively, the police might like to have a protest that is kind of on their side for once?

Comment by Markus Järve on December 13, 2012 at 5:51am

Can not agree with peter. I understand for the need of legislation, but this kind of fear induced attitude is not the way to do it. Banning something will not work. Getting a license is another thing. For urban flight higher than x and further than y should not be a problem as it is not right now. Of course there are dangers, but this is not the way to handle them. 

Correct legislation for unmanned flight is what is needed, not some random fear of being spied on etc... 


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