Operators of drones and of equally noisy and obnoxious powered model airplanes have a history of disturbing park visitors, dogs, and wildlife. The latest incident took place Friday 12/13, when park visitor Carol Denney, a member of the Chavez Park Conservancy Board of Directors, was walking in the park with a friend. She reports:
I saw a man right by the west end of the parking lot flying a large drone over the pathways. I noticed the sound before I saw it, and walked toward the man to let him know he should avoid flying over the paths.
He was wearing headphones so I walked up close to talk to him, but when he heard me suggest he not fly the drone over the pedestrian pathways he got angry. When I took his picture he got even angrier, and began to curse. I gave up and walked back to where a friend was watching thinking we could just keep walking, but he drove his aircraft right over the people again and then right by me, crashing it into the grass nearby me, an astounding thing to see and very frightening. It seems he disabled the drone entirely. I finally walked over to it to take its picture so I could have a clue what kind of drone it was, and he went off again, cursing, coming up very close to me if I took a photo, etc.
Carol was absolutely within her rights. FAA regulations (not to mention common courtesy) prohibit flying unmanned aircraft systems to harass or threaten anyone. Drones and similar noisy powered airplanes are notorious for destroying the values that parks bring to a community. This is why the East Bay Regional Park District, along with all state parks and the National Park Service — strictly bans such aircraft.
The East Bay Regional Park District reminds park visitors that drones – motorized, remote-controlled aircraft – are illegal in all parks and open space areas in the District.
Drones are extremely dangerous for helicopters and airplanes. Even a small drone could shatter a windshield or collide with an aircraft’s propellers or fuselage, causing the aircraft to crash and potentially killing all on board. The East Bay has four busy airports – in Oakland, Hayward, Livermore and Concord – as well as several hospitals with helipads, and a drone-related accident could be catastrophic.
“As more and more people get drones, they’re becoming an increasing safety hazard for aviation,” said East Bay Regional Park District Police Lt. Lance Brede. “It really can be a life and death situation, and we’re very concerned about the public’s safety as well as our own.”
Drones are also disruptive for wildlife, especially birds. The Park District is home to several re-bounding populations of special-status birds, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, and protecting them is a high priority.
“Recreational drones can scare birds away from essential activities like feeding, roosting, and nesting,” said Cindy Margulis, Executive Director of Golden Gate Audubon Society. “While a single drone flushing birds into flight may not seem disruptive, when this happens over and over, birds are unable to get the food and rest they need to survive.”
In addition, drones can pose a safety threat and be annoying and intrusive for other park visitors.
Citations for violating the drone ordinance cost about $300.
Motorized model airplanes are also illegal in the parks, but non-motorized remote-controlled gliders are allowed in specified areas in three parks: Coyote Hills Regional Park and Mission Peak Regional Preserve in Fremont, and Del Valle Regional Park in Livermore.
Effective Dec. 15, 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration requires owners of drones to register with the agency before flying outdoors. Drones are illegal in East Bay Regional Parks regardless of whether the owner has registered.
The National Park Service, as well as dozens of state and local park districts across the country, have banned drones. Drones are banned in the California State Parks, including Mt. Diablo State Park, except with a film permit.https://www.ebparks.org/civica/press/display.asp?layout=11&Entry=392
Somehow, the City of Berkeley, despite its “progressive” reputation, has got its priorities in a knot about things that fly in the park. There are regulations limiting how many strings you can have on a kite, but it’s the Wild West when it comes to drones. Anything goes. It’s the only park in the East Bay where drone owners rule and everyone else has to suffer.
Drones in Berkeley as a whole have been a contentious issue for almost a decade, with the Peace and Justice Commission (among others) pushing (so far vainly) for a no-drone zone covering the whole city. The cops and firemen oppose it because they use drones in their work. There are issues of privacy. None of those tangles complicates the issue of drones in the parks. It’s a clear-cut issue. Berkeley: just do it. Follow the East Bay Regional Park District, the state parks, and the National Park System. Declare Berkeley parks a no-drone zone. Do it now.
A footnote: For years, model glider enthusiasts (“soarheads”) have been flying their silent model aircraft from a hill on the west ridge of the park. There has never been a complaint about that. Silent model aircraft of this type should be allowed to continue.