Tonight: Menlo Park could ban drone use in city parks

Hobbyists, environmentalists weigh in on what's at stake

Tonight, the Menlo Park City Council will consider a proposal to ban drone use in city parks.

While such a ban would apply to all city parks, the main one affected is Bedwell Bayfront Park, where many enthusiasts fly drones and remote-controlled aircraft.

The issue met with gridlock in the Parks & Recreation Commission, which discussed the topic four times. The options the commission considered were to recommend that the council allow drones, ban drones, or restrict drone and remote-controlled aircraft at Bedwell Bayfront Park.

Restrictions could include limiting the number of operators allowed to fly drones at one time, setting specific times and days when drone use would be allowed, or designating a specific area of the park for drone takeoffs, landings and flights ● with instructions to obey FAA regulations and avoid wildlife.

The commission asked the council to take on the issue, arguing that some policy should be in effect since drone use is expected to increase in coming years.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) expects drone sales to skyrocket nationally between now and 2020, rising from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020 according to a staff report.

In May, the FAA released a database reporting that Menlo Park had 168 registered hobbyist drone owners.

The FAA reported it has seen an increase in unauthorized and unsafe use. Drones and other "unmanned aerial systems" have been banned in national parks and nearby parks, including Rancho Corral de Tierra and in the East Bay Regional Park District, the report said.

Proponents of drone and remote-controlled aircraft use say they comply with FAA regulations, which includes notifying airports within a 5-mile radius before they are operated in nearby airspace. (Bedwell Bayfront Park is within five miles of both the Palo Alto and San Carlos airports.)

Other FAA rules require drone users to fly them no higher than 400 feet and to keep them in sight while being flown, according to the report. The drones must weigh less than 55 pounds.

A number of drone and remote-control airplane operators oppose the ban. In emails to the council, they say they are respectful and enjoy that the park allows for a wide range of uses.

"I know those of us who have been at the park for years are always open to help educate others on etiquette, form and respect for the park," said David Urrutia, a recreational remote control (RC) airplane user who said he frequents the park. "Unlike many other parks, Bayfront provides an outlet for the most diverse group of people. ... There are bikers, runners, walkers, joggers, kite enthusiasts, photographers, bird watchers, dog walkers, orienteers, HAM operators, geocaching enthusiasts, and RC aero modelers," he said. "Those can co-exist."

Those who favor the ban argue that the machines are noisy and disturb park users and wildlife. Also, they express worries about safety.

According to a Menlo Park staff report, pilots at the San Carlos and Palo Alto airports have raised concerns about near misses with drones flying at heights over 500 feet, breaking the 400-foot maximum height FAA regulations. They also say that the park was intended for "passive use," such as bird watching, bicycling, hiking and kite-flying.

While drone hobbyists compare operating their machines to kite-flying, others say it is noisy and disruptive to those other activities. They cite the city's noise ordinance, which states that citizens have the right "to enjoy a reasonable peace and quiet in appropriately designed parks."

Allan Bedwell, whose father was former Menlo Park City manager Mike Bedwell and the man the park was named after, said he thinks there should be a flat-out ban of drones in the park. While some drone users are respectful, he said, "(There's) no way to effectively differentiate between responsible users and those that are irresponsible."

He said he had safety concerns about drones hitting people or wildlife or causing fires. He also said that drones with cameras can be invasive of other park users' privacy.

Years ago, he said, the park used to be the city dump. His father and a number of other city staff and open space advocates saw the site's potential and worked to turn it into the park it is today, "off the beaten path and away from the normal hustle and bustle of city life," he said.

• You can watch the meeting online, read the meeting agenda or attend the City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Menlo Park council chambers at 701 Laurel St. in the Menlo Park Civic Center.

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1 person likes this
Posted by FAA
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:06 pm

The FAA already bans drones flying within 5 miles of any airport this includes Bayfront park. Why is this even up for discussion. The signs and enforcement for banning small aircraft including drones should've been done when it was first brought to the city's attention that people were flying drones and small aircraft in violation of FAA guidelines.

2 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:37 pm

I've used Bedwell often over many years, and I'm amazed the drones are allowed there. Does Menlo Park know if they're liable for injuries, fires, etc., if they've taken a pass on prohibiting these objects? I don't think a sign stating the drone user is operating and is liable for any damages. And since I live here, my tax dollars can be better spent than on an situation that could/should have been avoided.

Just because Bedwell is in Menlo has nothing to do with who uses it. And with Facebook connecting their buildings to it via an overpass, plus the hotel by Bohannon, well they best think down the road at the increase in use at the park. I'd like to know why MP hasn't acted on this.

This is a lovely park in its simplicity and lack of pretension, plus a great place to take dogs. I also believe by allowing the drones they are endangering the livelihood of the wildlife staying there. They've given the developers all they want. Now it's time to give we residents something.

1 person likes this
Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:42 pm

The city should stay out of this: its outside their competency.

For the city council to ban drones - in an area and a time where drone applications are developing and increasing - is reminiscent of the MP Luddite stance of a previous council that banned - within a downtown development agreement - self checkout stations at a potential supermarket.

8 people like this
Posted by McBan
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 23, 2016 at 1:59 pm

ban 'em all!

If not, they will be ALL over, so many that you will not be able to even predict how bad it will get.

1 person likes this
Posted by Smartypants
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 23, 2016 at 2:34 pm

McBan is right, but for the wrong reasons. People who buy drones think that they are manufactured in China. Not so! I have irrefutable evidence that they actually come from outer space. They are being sent by aliens, cleverly disguised as fun products sold to humans who think they control them. Actually, they are here to observe us to see if we are worth invading our planet for us to be a source of protein. And yes, there will be more and more of them and the FAA won't be able to ban them because they will have no control over them.

Then, there are the new and very dangerous driverless cars. Just wait until aliens admit that they are controlling these too. Don't get me started!

1 person likes this
Posted by James Taggart
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 23, 2016 at 2:43 pm

These objections on the basis of excessive noise, potential danger, hazard to wildlife, etc., are nonsense. I have used Bedwell extensively for seven years. In that time I have come to appreciate seeing RC planes flying around, just as I appreciate the variety of grasses that grow there, the occasional Raptor sighting and the kids and dogs and friendly people walking. To be honest, people throwing trash around and letting their dogs poop on the path is a lot more of a pain that the RC guys. This is an urban park resource and as such should be reasonably available for recreational use. Regulate if you must but a ban would be ridiculous.

Like this comment
Posted by Droney
a resident of another community
on Aug 23, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Hey "FAA" -- the FAA does NOT blanket ban flights within 5 miles of all airports. And in fact, new FAA rules come into effect at the end of the month. Under the new rules Bedwell Bayfront falls into class G airspace, which means people can fly under 400' with no requirement at all related to the airports. Even under the current rules, people can fly there, they're just supposed to notify the nearby airports. Most small airports don't have a notification system or know what to do when you do notify them.

1 person likes this
Posted by Wild West
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 23, 2016 at 5:04 pm

This whole discussion is such a JOKE. Why? Because if the City of Menlo Park comes up with one new law, or 100 new laws, related to the Bayfront Park, the City of Menlo Park does NO ENFORCEMENT. It's the wild, wild west out there, with no controls. That is the reputation widely known throughout the Bay Area - on a regional basis. Why do I say this - just look at the FACTS. Without a Park Ranger, there is NO ENFORCEMENT of anything. Cars are being broken into, dogs run wild without a leash, there is likely drug dealing going on, cars, RV's and other vehicles park there ALL NIGHT, even though the park is supposedly closed at sunset. Should I go on? Thus the City is wasting everyone's time, and their own, in taking hours to come up with a new law- that many IGNORE, DISREGARD and otherwise do as they please. What we need is a Park Ranger to do enforcement, the park needs more signs, the park needs a Master Plan "implemented" (and not put on the shelf to gather dust). It's purely another fine example of "paralysis by analysis." Wake up, we need "action" not simply more words that go nowhere. The City is insulting the community with this process. Folks, nothing is going to change. Keep in mind, if you stand at the Bayfront Park property line, and fly a drone, radio controlled aircraft, etc. into the Park, only the FAA has jurisdiction. Do you think for a moment that they have the staff to monitor and control every city park in the nation? Nonsense. Get used to it. Drones are here to stay. As a practical matter, you can't control BIRDS flying around the park, pooping on your head, anymore than you will be able to control insects, drones and god only knows what other inventions are yet to come. Also, what about the Fire Department, Police Department, Homeland Security, the Military, the SWAT Team and others needing to fly a drone into the park? Does the law PROHIBIT THEM TOO?

Like this comment
Posted by Trunks
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 23, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Some user who go by the name FAA in his post said that it is ban wiithin 5 miles from the airport is not true. You have to call the airport before you can fly. They even have this at the other park I fly at.

7 people like this
Posted by Catherine McMillan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 7:59 pm

My main objection to drones used to be when they interfere with planes, hot-air balloons, and other manned flying "objects." Then we were having dinner out on our patio earlier in the summer and could hear a strange sound for a good 10-15 minutes. It took us a while to even identify what it was because the noise was unfamiliar. It felt incredibly high, yet seemed to hover. Regardless of what the operator was looking at or for, or just practicing skills, it was quite unsettling. Interesting to witness the nexus of technology and local communities.

3 people like this
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 23, 2016 at 10:56 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

The city council just contradicted the FAA which EXPLICITLY warmed cities that THEY are the ONLY agency with jurisdiction for airspace.

In addition the FAA warned cities that they CAN regulate whether drones can take off from public property. but not where they fly.

Shame on the city council for wasting all this time for a law that will not stand.

Web Link

I have attached the FAA fact sheet.

Roy Thiele-Sardina

26 people like this
Posted by Menlo Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:14 am

When cities start regulating commerce then they inhibit commerce to the point of choking the economic engine. The FAA has jurisdiction. I believe the State of California and not Menlo Park should have safety concerns addressed at a Federal level to preclude having Cary Grant "North by Northwest" scenarios- as an extreme example.

So I propose that Federal legislation be introduced by Congress to allow the States to join an FAA Drone Working Group (with the FAA being the lead) to develop rules of operation that do not inhibit commerce while ensuring public safety.

11 people like this
Posted by McBan
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 24, 2016 at 9:36 am

"When cities start regulating commerce then they inhibit commerce to the point of choking the economic engine."

Yes, Menlo Park is choking the economic engine by regulation. We should allow unfettered capitalism. Like Hong Kong. Yee-haw! Ride 'em, cowboy!

Street vendors get to set up tables anywhere they like on Santa Cruz. Some of them may need to sleep the night beneath their table of course, to keep the prime spot reserved. Some will even bring porta-potties. Some won't. Some will have tables of newly legal 'herb' for sale. Medicinal use only!

Economic Engines! Stop regulating commerce!

Stop choking them!

Don't get "to the point of choking!!"


"When cities start regulating commerce then they inhibit commerce to the point of choking the economic engine."

Want to try that again? Or are you sticking with that absurd statement?

But - props for the Hitchcock reference.

Suggesting the states and feds put a working group together also borders on the absurd. It's a red herring for: no local rules now or ever.

Ban 'em until the rules are in place. The unintended consequences, of no rules, are real.

Like this comment
Posted by Supreme Court
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 24, 2016 at 11:41 am


Previous Supreme Court precedent (United States v. Causby) has established that the FAA's ability to regulate airspace closer to the ground (up to about 365 feet) is severely limited by property right holders. The property owner has free use of airspace above his property in which the FAA cannot have its regulations intrude without compensating the property owner. If the FAA wants to let the public use private airspace, it has to pay up. If it doesn't pay up, the regulation is unenforceable in a court of law.

Frankly, the FAA's blanket rule is not well thought out. It was basically passed because the industry it regulates wants the freedom to fly drones wherever it wants.

A couple examples where the FAA rule is problematic:
1) In national parks and protected wildlife areas, am I allowed to fly my drone near animals, nesting grounds, etc.? According to the FAA, this is not a problem. However, I'm sure the Interior Department says it is.

2) Can fire districts limit public drone use over active fires? The FAA regulation says no. But there's a clear public safety need. Fire districts must clear the airspace over fires so that they can fly their own helicopters and drones without fear of colliding with another aerial object.

Localities and states will pass their own laws. Defendants will cite the FAA rule and ultimately, the courts will side with Supreme Court precedent.

2 people like this
Posted by Kevin Elliott
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 24, 2016 at 12:17 pm

I would like everyone who is anti-drone (but really we are talking about UAVs here, not drones) to take into consideration that most of the Bay Area is already banned from flight in some form or another. All of the SAFE places to fly (big fields with lots of nature and few people) are banned, such as National Parks, State Parks, and even many Regional Parks (like East Bay).

What this leaves is a lot of densely populated areas, such as your neighborhood. I bet you don't like it when UAVs (or even airplanes) fly over your house. I bet you wish that drones were banned everywhere for every purpose because you are afraid they will fall out of the sky or they will take pictures of you nude sunbathing in your backyard (come on, no one actually does that). The sad truth is they aren't going to disappear.

I bet you wish they'd fly them somewhere else. But there is quickly becoming nowhere else to fly them! The *legal* places to fly are 350-400 feet above your home. If more beaches, more parks, more hills, more forests, more lakes, and more open spaces allowed drone flying, you bet your bottom that drone pilots would be flying there instead of over your home.

And that's the real problem here. Large park organizations have blanket banned them without any consideration to the ability of people to preserve nature's beauty through aerial photography and cinematography. I can greatly understand that monuments and other touristy portions of parks should have bans in place, and that nature (including animal habitats, etc) should not be disturbed. I'm a card carrier of the National Parks system, and I contribute monthly to various parks organizations. But these park systems could establish areas in their parks that are drone-friendly, so that not only does there become a growing social awareness of the parks (due to their use in drone media), but people are safe and nature is preserved. There are countless parks and trails for people to wonder around without concern of drones overhead -- just about 95% of the parks in the Bay Area are already drone-free. That's why we should allow drones here, even if restricted to one side of the park.

More importantly, you would see a lot less drone traffic over your home. Drone pilots need safe places to fly and practice, but also need something beautiful to take a photo of. Before you say "why should we care about their aerial photography hobby?" -- would you be so quick to dismiss the tens of millions of amateur photographers that use their mobile phones at parks and other public locations? You are probably one of them, so I bet you can understand and appreciate that people enjoy the art.

All I'm calling for here is some safe places to fly. I can only think of two or three other spaces in the Bay Area that allow it and they are far away (Treasure Island, Berkeley Marina, Sunnyvale Baylands Park). Every time I consider going out to fly my expensive aerial photography UAV I struggle to come up with places to fly. I have spent hours and hours driving around the Bay Area looking for safe places to fly. If you ban it here then you will effectively shrink out the places to fly... and I can say with certainty you will see increased flight traffic over the residential neighborhoods of Menlo Park -- which is after all, very legal.

At the end of the day, I would prefer to fly over a beautiful low-population area than an urban densely-populated one.

Best to all of you... Kevin

Like this comment
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 24, 2016 at 1:38 pm


While some parks have created a blanket ban, I doubt these laws are regularly enforced. It's like some other rules you see. Many parks require bikes not to be ridden on walking paths, yet I see kids do this all the time. Many dog owners keep their pets off leash in the park, even with rules that say they are supposed to be on leash. People are supposed to pick up after their dogs, but some don't. Many people speed on the freeway in front of cops, but they aren't pulled over.

In essence, the UAV ban is one that is only enforced if someone complains or the pilot does something unsafe or socially unacceptable. Realistically, this is very low on the list of public safety priorities. Go ahead and fly away, but be respectful of others.

15 people like this
Posted by McClarity
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2016 at 12:53 pm

McBan, using his tortured logic, seems to think that each city should cavalierly pass ordinances that affect the region without regard to the impact those ordinances may have on other cities. That is myopic thinking. Menlo Park should be able to pass any ordinance that solely affects Menlo Park. However, it should not pass ordinances that adversely affect nearby cities without working with those cities to iron out their differences and reach a mutual agreement.

His Hong Kong Statement is a non sequitur.

Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 25, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

@Supreme Court

Until there is a Supreme Court ruling cities and states can not enforce their laws. Even Diane Feinstein (who never met a government regulation she didn't want to fight) could NOT get an amendment to the current law that was approved by Senate/Congress in April.

So this article says MPK's new law is unenforceable.

Web Link

Roy Thiele-Sardina

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