After discussing a number of safety, noise and privacy concerns including that drone technology could allow would-be burglars to virtually "case out" a home Atherton's City Council has asked the town attorney to draft regulations on the use of drones in town.
The fact that the federal government already regulates most drones limits the town's ability to further regulate them. But, after reading a more than 700-page staff report and following a study session discussion that took up most of the meeting on July 6, the council asked for regulations that the town could enforce.
The Federal Aviation Administration in late June released regulations for commercial drones and will soon release regulations for government-owned drones. That leaves the town free to regulate hobbyist drones only, city attorney Bill Conners told the council, and to regulate privacy concerns, which the FAA hasn't yet done. The FAA requires all drones over 0.55 pounds to be registered.
Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Larson prepared her report on drones in April, but before the council saw it, the FAA and Department of Transportation issued drone regulations in late June.
Ms. Larson said that in addition to dangers from falling drones or drone collisions, drones can collect information that could include scoping out a security system or filming someone punching in a key code.
Mr. Conners said someone could use a drone to check if a property is occupied, or where valuables are kept.
"There's a real issue there we might want to look at," he said.
Councilman Bill Widmer said he is concerned. "The drone explosion is not only an impact on privacy issues; it's an impact on safety issues, too," he said. "Some of the drones are awful loud as well."
Councilman Rick DeGolia was most interested in protecting privacy. "I want to make sure that we're not allowing a drone to hover," even over the operator's property, if that allows it to view someone else's property, he said. "I think we should be protecting our residents."
The city attorney mentioned some practical limitations that could be put on hobby drones, including some inspired by YouTube videos showing backyard drones using guns and flamethrowers.
"At least one other city in California has prohibited firearms being attached to a drone," Mr. Conners said. "They shouldn't be able to have a flamethrower or something that could start a fire."
"It's OK to prohibit those."
Mr. Conners said the town can choose whether it wants to allow drones in its park and ask commercial users of drones to pay a business license tax to use them in the town.