Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

San Diego Council Committee Unanimously Backs Drone Regulations

San Diego Council Committee Considers Making Drone Rules Enforceable
San Diego Council Committee Considers Making Drone Rules Enforceable GUEST:David Garrick, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune

I am Maureen Cavanaugh it is Wednesday, February 8. Our top story on midday edition. Several drone incidents in recent years were accidents waiting to happen in the eyes of law enforcement to the officials. Today the San Diego's city Council's Public Safety committee is considering an order that this is patterned after Federal Aviation Administration regulations and joining me as David Garrett welcome. What kinds of restrictions on drone flying is the city considering? The city is mostly focusing on reckless behavior and irresponsible they have been concerned about privacy implications. Some have been complaining that of drone flying over could maybe take pictures. San Diego is focused on people who use these in a reckless way that could endanger public safety. What does the FAA consider reckless flying of drones. What do they need to do? You need to keep them out of airspace. It could be a factor that could have dreamt flights interfering. Also more importantly because of our wildfires need to keep them away from public safety emergency responses. There have been words in the past for California department to densely return and water on fires and because of the drone in the area they thought it was unsafe so they ordered the planes drowned -- grounded. Why does San Diego have to have a local ordinance. Some said that San Diego does not but in San Diego's opinion so local police can cite them right now the practice in general for the police is for them to call the FAA when they have a problem and then seek permission to do an investigation and it typically does the investigation. If there was a severe incident the police with step in and it gives them the confidence and clarity that they know that they can do it and that there are laws on the city's books that will allow them to enforce. Are there some specific drone incidents that prompted this move by the city Council. This has been in the works for more than one year it began in fall of 2015. The FAA that reports radically on the number of incidents and there were about 22 incident that I found but there were three in particular that were very important. One of them was at Lindbergh field where a drone was spotted by a Delta Airlines flight on the left side of the plane. Likely the plane had already moved in the opposite directions of the and did not have to change its course but it is still obviously a scary situation. If a bird could not complained on obviously a drunkard as well. Another one was and it -- a school employee was flying above a high school in the Lindbergh flightpath and was flying about the school in order to take teachers coming down he was not aware of the flightpath implications but the FAA became aware and they were very concerned. As the public safety committee considers this public ordinance what with the penalty before reckless drone flying. It is unclear from the legislation. It would be a misdemeanor potentially but it could also be prosecuted as an infraction Mike a lower-level thing. I guess the city has not decided are it will be at the city attorney's discretion case-by-case. If it is a misdemeanor the maximum fine is $1000 or six months in jail or a combination of those two. If it's an infraction it's only $250 for the second offense within the same year would be 500 What have you heard in terms of criticisms of these proposed rolls. The general criticism from the FAA is that if there is more local ordinances he will have a sort of patchwork quilt of ordinances all across the state and the County and it will be difficult for users to figure out what the rules are where they are. The FAA would like one straightforward set of rules as opposed to principalities making different roles that very. The advocacy groups feel like the rules are a slippery slope they should let the FAA handle it. The technological changes are happening so rapidly that if you put it on the bus that will become archaic in like a month. So it is maybe the wrong move. In order to avoid the kind of patchwork quilt of regulations you were talking about either any statewide regulations in the works. They are in the works but a bunch were proposed last year and they got no traction. I'm not an expert on a weekly what each of them proposed but it has been hard for Sacramento to have consensus and that's where there have not been any steak lot -- state laws passed. Right now the city Council Public Safety committee is going to be considering this ordinance. I want to thank you very much I have been speaking with San Diego Union Tribune reporter David Garrett. Thank you. Inc. you. -- Thank you.

Regulations that would allow local agencies to enforce safe operations of drone aircraft in San Diego were given unanimous initial backing Wednesday by the City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee.

The proposed amendments to the municipal code would allow local police to enforce Federal Aviation Administration rules governing so-called "unmanned aerial vehicles." According to Tiffany Vinson of the city's Homeland Security office, local authorities don't currently have such power.

The rules stem in part from a proliferation of drones in the skies above San Diego. Staff cited a projection by the U.S. Air Force that UAV operations would surpass manned aircraft flights by 2025.

If approved by the full City Council, the proposed law would prohibit careless or reckless operations of drone aircraft, violations of FAA flight restrictions or operations that inhibit law enforcement officers, firefighters or other emergency rescue activities.

Offenses would be prosecuted as misdemeanors or citations, and the City Attorney's Office would have the discretionary power depending on whether an incident was willful or simply operator error.

Vinson and committee Chairman Chris Cate said the intent was only to promote safety, and not hinder growing commercial and recreational uses.

Councilman Chris Ward said the vast majority of drone operators perform their work or hobby in a responsible manner, and expressed concern that the proposed rules are subjective.

"I am actually more worried about any members of the public who might be annoyed or otherwise hate drones and see this new law as an opportunity to go out there and get neighbors and really compound the challenges for our public safety responders to be able to decide — do I enforce, do I not enforce, do I show up?" Ward said.

The rules don't address privacy concerns, which staff said was best left to existing law.

The legislation is the product of a working group formed in 2015. The group, made up of representatives of the police and fire departments and other municipal agencies, studied federal and state rules, plus local ordinances already adopted in Poway, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Pittsburgh.

According to staff, there have been three significant drone-related incidents in the skies above the San Diego region in recent years — one in which a UAV came within a few hundred feet of an airliner approaching Lindbergh Field, another in which one came within 100 feet of a light aircraft and a third in which a drone buzzed between gates at Lindbergh Field.

In 2015, the FAA reported 15 encounters between drones and commercial, military or private aircraft in a six-month period in San Diego. The incidents generally occurred while the airplanes were taking off or landing.

FAA regulations require drone hobbyists to provide prior notification to airport and air traffic control officials before flying within five miles of an airfield. Operators are also supposed to keep the unmanned aircraft within sight at all times, yield to manned airplanes and stay within an altitude of 400 feet above ground level.

The FAA report on San Diego encounters said many of the incidents took place at altitudes of 2,000 feet or higher.

Vinson said the law could serve as a model for other local jurisdictions, so that drone operators would have uniform rules instead of a patchwork between various cities.