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.