Needed: No Drone Zone

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.

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5 thoughts on “Needed: No Drone Zone

  • December 21, 2019 at 3:50 pm
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    This is an exception, not a rule. If you believe everyone who flies a drone will act like this, you’re mistaken. I’ve flown at a local park (not a registered field) for years and everyone who sees it is polite and curious. Many come down early in the morning to watch us and to go for rides through VR-type goggles.

    Now to your other arguments:
    “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.”

    If you ban people from flying anywhere, they’ll fly regardless. Either you can pick a controlled and regulated area similar to, maybe, a flying field, or you risk people being forced to fly elsewhere in unsafe areas.

    “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. ”

    Extremely dangerous? I would like to request the source of information that leads you to this conclusion. There have no drone related deaths. At all. In contrast, 219 people have died and 200 aircraft have been destroyed by bird strikes. Next, busy airports? Yes, the East Bay has four busy airports and yes, there are several hospitals with helipads. However, the altitude they overfly this area at is astronomically higher than any drone flight, and the frequency of these flights are also limited. If the police are still worried about drone-strikes, they should look into establishing a safe area (hint: like a drone zone) where responsible hobbyists will ensure everyone operates their equipment safely.

    ““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.” ”

    If we look at the numbers, yes, more people are purchasing drones, and by default, yes their infinitely small hazard to general aviation grows infinitesimally larger. I will argue that this is however not a life and death situation. (remember those zero deaths?) If we continue on this trend of thinking, we might as well ban everything that could possibly cause a hazard to us. Cars? Gone. Food? Gone. Fun? Definitely gone. Those gliders you “allow” to remain in the park have actually killed people, yet they are deemed less of a hazard.

    “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. ”

    If you’re aiming to protect them from humans, it’s too late. A basic understanding of how an ecosystem works shows that any human interaction at all is overwhelmingly negative. Local parks that aren’t preserved is an unfavorable option for many animals. And if they are seemingly “fine” with human interaction, a designated space for drones will not effect them the slightest.

    ““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.” ”

    Again, a park is by no means the entire natural habitat for hunting, roosting, or resting. Even then, a designated area would reduce an impact.

    “In addition, drones can pose a safety threat and be annoying and intrusive for other park visitors. ”

    This park is a “dog-friendly” park. According to Wikipedia, “30 and 50 people in the US die from dog bites each year, and the number of deaths from dog attacks appear to be increasing. Around 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, resulting in the hospitalization of 6,000 to 13,000 people each year in the United States.” As someone who is often kept up by dogs barking in the middle of the night and annoyed by them at local parks, allowing a much safer ‘activity’ in the park seems justified. This also applies to “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. ”

    All this does is actually counteract your main argument. An incentive to not break the rules usually works. How many times do you voluntarily run a red light?

    “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. ”

    Ah yes, the dangerous motor. Any fatal injury from a model would occur from a large amount of speed coupled with a lot of weight. Like a glider. Most sloping gliders are actually ballasted with solid lead to fly in high winds. It seems like this is more of a misdirection of facts to attempt to ban drones for the sake of noise.

    “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. ”

    This registration is meant to help prevent or help identify the cause of an accident. If anything it simply makes this hobby safer.

    “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.”

    This means nothing. These entities simply do this to remove the responsibility that comes with drone flight. How effective was it? Fairly effective. However, the pilots that don’t fly there are responsible ones, pilots whom wouldn’t pose a danger. People who will and do fly in national parks are irresponsible and an exception, not a rule. Creating an area of regulated and legal drone zones actually increases safety.

    Please don’t continue this. Public land is meant for public use and enjoyment, not to be treated like a wildlife refuge.

  • December 18, 2019 at 9:08 pm
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    This is the danger of a single story, if one person is not responsible with his drone, the parks don’t need to ban all drones. When I used to fly my drones at a park,and the people there loved it. There can be restrictions on drones like weight but we should compromise one something less extreme.

  • December 18, 2019 at 2:51 pm
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    On the contrary, I’ve been harassed by unruly dogs that were off leash in a NON off leash area while operating model aircraft.

  • December 18, 2019 at 11:48 am
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    The article is bias with a no compromise stance. I believe the progressive nature of Berkeley is to be inclusive while protecting the rights of all.

    The incident as DESCRIBED is unfortunate and the operator of the drone acted without common courtesy nor empathy towards other park goers. At no time should safety of self or others be treated with disregard.

    I’ve flown at the park several times over the course of a few years and during these flights I’ve never once flew over or near someone. A group I’ve flown with at the park uses the opportunity to educate pilots on rules and the etiquette of flying in a shared space.

    I believe based on the information provided in the OP’s article, a solution similar to what is used for dog owners could work: post signs providing rules/regulations/etiquette. For example, pickup your dog’s waste, leash must be on at all times, etc. Another solution is to define an area of the park that allows drone operation, and specifically demarc areas not to operate from.

    The incident was unfortunate but that individual should not represent all drone operators. We should all come together to develop a solution that works for all before proposing an outright ban.

    J

  • December 18, 2019 at 6:40 am
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    I disagree. Drones can be operated with respect and consideration for those around. Cesar Chavez park is ideally situated for drone flights and has lots of space that people and drones can share. Rather than banning drones completely, instead setup a specific area for drone flying. We have rights too. The fact that the east bay park system completely bans drones is why we have to fly at Cesar Chavez. There are very few legal parks to be able to fly them in the east bay. Drone pilots are tax paying citizens and we should have our rights respected as well. This disagreement does not defend the actions of the pilot you describe in your article. That pilot was behaving poorly and should have his actions corrected. There are plenty of us drone pilots who have been flying safely and respectfully at Cesar Chavez, sharing the park with others without flying near or over pedestrians. There is room for compromise.

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