The drone ordinance goes to the city council

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Police Chief Jason Benites (photo courtesy of the Oxnard Police Department)

Oxnard — The Community Services Public Safety Housing & Development Committee approved the city’s unmanned aerial systems (drones) ordinance on Tuesday, September 27.

DRONES are used for law enforcement, firefighting inspections, environmental monitoring, and disaster management.

Commander Rocky Marquez presented the video of the object and said drones will be integrated into the airspace for commercial, recreational and public safety purposes.

“A growing number of commercial companies are now using drone technology, including outdoor photography, surveying, visual inspection of infrastructure and real estate,” he said. “In the near future, the City of Oxnard may also encounter retailers looking to use drone technology to expedite package delivery.”

He pointed out that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must meet significant standards and usage requirements for drones. The FAA regulates drones through the use of commercial pilots under the Code of Federal Regulation Title 14, Chapter 1, Subchapter F, Part 107.

“It’s more commonly referred to as Part 107,” he said. “These regulations can only be enforced by the FAA. Conversely, hobbyists have significantly fewer requirements when it comes to operating drones. The law requires all recreational flyers to pass a flying knowledge and safety test; However, it is reasonable to state that there are likely to be a large number of recreational drone pilots who have not met this drone requirement.”

Marquez said the FAA had reported 865,505 drones registered in the United States as of May 31, 2022, and that number is expected to increase.

“Of those registered drones, about 538,172 are for recreational use,” he said. “It is reasonable to assume that many more unregistered drones are operating in our national airspace.”

He said the Oxnard Police Department has been using drones in certain operational roles since 2019, with a high level of safety and success through thorough, structured training and effective policies and standards for their drone pilot.

“All of the Oxnard Police Department’s drone pilots are licensed FAA Part 107 UAS pilots,” he said. “OBD-UAS pilots provide air support to improve the safety of officers and communities, document crime scenes, and assist with traffic and collision investigations.”

Marquez said the department has received complaints about drones operating over crowds at Dallas Cowboys summer training camp, outdoor concerts and schools when people are present. FAA regulations prohibit operating drones over humans due to the potential danger of a 2- to 8-pound plane with spinning propellers falling on an unsuspecting crowd.

“Drones have also disrupted essential operations of police department drones working in support of public safety and/or emergency response,” he said.

“On July 4, 2022, an unauthorized drone approached an Oxnard Police Department UAV providing close air support for an enforcement operation at a dangerously close range,” he said.

If the drones collided, one of them could have fallen out of the sky and possibly collided with vehicles or people.

“These types of reckless drone operations have become exponentially more dangerous when they would disrupt one of the many manned aircraft operating over the city of Oxnard every day,” he said.

The police department regularly receives complaints from community members about concerns about drones invading their privacy by flying near people above their homes or near windows.

“In recent years, many cities have introduced drone ordinances to address these issues,” he said. “Some of those cities include Hermosa Beach in 2016, the city of Calabasas in 2017, Los Alamitos in 2017, and the city of West Hollywood in 2015. Similar to those ordinances, this proposed ordinance does not prohibit the use of drones.

Instead, it promotes the responsible and safe operation of drones within the city of Oxnard.”

He said the department is proposing that no person operate a drone within 1,500 feet of a publicly owned drone or operate a drone around the city in a manner designed or intended to harass another or to pursue.

“No person will operate a drone in a manner that violates a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy as set forth in all applicable state laws,” Marquez said. “No person may operate a drone in the city outside of the line of sight of the person operating the drone. Except for takeoff or landing, no person may operate a drone closer than 25 feet to a person, and no person may operate a drone while under the influence of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs or intoxicating substances.”

In addition, he said the regulation proposes that no person should operate a drone in a careless and reckless manner intended to endanger the life, safety or welfare of another person, or any person’s property.

“No one may operate a drone over or near any protected location, including city hall, the police department, fire stations or schools while there are school activities, churches, special events, utility lines, the Ormond Beach Conservation Area and other government buildings,” he said .

He said anyone violating a drone ordinance would be guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in prison per offense per day, or an administrative fine of up to $1,000 -dollars per offense per day.

“Any drone found to be in violation of this article may be seized and held as evidence in an enforcement hearing,” Marquez said.

Chairman Bryon MacDonald said when he joined law enforcement 30 years ago, he never thought he would see this day.

“Now we’re talking about autonomous vehicles that drive themselves,” he said. “We see all this technology changing our lives drastically, and who would have thought that you have to protect a crime scene not only from people tampering with your evidence, but also from people in the area flying there with their own unmanned aerial systems see what’s going on and potentially disrupt an investigation. I think it’s a great idea.”

Committee member Mayor John Zaragoza said he heard this while serving on the board of supervisors and concerns about drones flying over windows, behind houses and crowds at events.

Police Chief Jason Benites said over 800,000 drones were registered in the country.

“A large portion of people who haven’t registered their drones and aren’t following some of the rules mandated by the FAA,” he said. “There are some ground rules they set. Some of the basics include not flying over crowds and not flying more than 400 feet above the deck. This includes not flying at night and not leaving line of sight. Some people send their drones to places where they can’t see them. Those are some safety concerns, and crowds are one of them.”

He said they’ve taken those issues and codified them into regulations so they can regulate and control the drones and the people who fly them for security and privacy breaches.

Committee member Oscar Madrigal expressed concern about the hobbyist and his drone use.

“I understand that people abuse her and I should face the consequences,” he said. “Even when I went to the Cowboys event, I know there were several drones in the air and not all of those drones belonged to the city of Oxnard.”

He asked what would happen in situations like organizational events and family reunions where people use a drone to take a picture.

“Under the wording of the law, they would be breaking the law because others will be around,” he said.

Benites said officials had “enormous discretion” in applying the law.

“The situation you outlined is something where discretion would play a role,” he said. “We focus on the dangerous or irresponsible behaviors; Flying intoxicated and skimming crowds such as a training camp, stadium or high school game and at night. These are the rules fundamental by the FAA.”

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