Menlo Park bans drones, remote-controlled aircraft from parks | News | Almanac Online |


Menlo Park bans drones, remote-controlled aircraft from parks


After hearing passionate comments by more than 22 people, among them numerous model airplane hobbyists and birdwatchers, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0 on Aug. 23, with Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith absent, to ban remote controlled aircraft and unmanned aerial systems, or drones, in city parks.

The ban comes with a couple of caveats. First, drone use by emergency response agencies, such as the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, will be exempt from the ban.

Second, the ban could be modified as Bedwell Bayfront Park undergoes a master planning process, which is expected to start soon and might last into the fiscal year that ends June 30, 2018, according to Assistant Community Services Director Derek Schweigart.

A violation of the ban will be considered an infraction, which, according to City Attorney Bill McClure, means that the first offense will come with a $50 fine and will rise to $100 and $500, respectively, for the second and third offenses within 12 months. The ban will not take effect until a month after the second reading of the ordinance, which is expected to happen on Aug. 30. The park has no ranger, so enforcement will come from the Menlo Park Police Department.

While the ban will apply to all city parks, the main park that will be affected is Bedwell Bayfront Park, where numerous drone and remote-controlled aircraft enthusiasts fly their contraptions.

Like a kite

Of the opponents of the ban who attended the meeting, most were hobbyists who fly remote controlled airplanes, including gliders, rather than drones. Many said they scrupulously follow safety rules.

Appeals to the City Council came on numerous fronts. Richard Bright gave a multimedia presentation showing footage of model airplanes being flown to the jubilant tune of "Let's Go Fly a Kite" from Mary Poppins.

Andrew Harris, a San Carlos resident, told the council that as a kid, playing with model aircraft inspired him to work in aerospace and pursue work as a mechanical engineer. Now, he goes to Bedwell Bayfront Park to fly model airplanes with his daughter.

Hobbyists emphasized that there are different classes of such machines. Remote controlled airplanes and gliders have small batteries in them and are lightweight, with small propulsion mechanisms to control the height and direction of the planes once aloft. Drones, by contrast, can weigh up to 55 pounds, often contain cameras, are considered noisier and can climb high enough to enter federal airspace.

In response to expressed concerns that such machines can distress local wildlife, Ansis Upatnieks, a remote-controlled aircraft hobbyist, said that other potential threats to wildlife, such as bikes or dogs, are given rules to follow, rather than outlawed: dogs must be on leashes and bikes must stay on designated paths. "Why don't we regulate it like other activities in the park?" he asked.

Safety and quiet

Proponents of the ban said that drones create safety risks and noise that can be disruptive to wildlife and people.

One of the big issues is the risk that high-flying drones pose to airborne planes. YouTube videos offer evidence that drones at the park have flown higher than the 400-foot height limit. One recorded example shows a drone that reached 3,400 feet, said Mr. Schweigart.

Bedwell Bayfront Park falls within five miles of the Palo Alto and San Carlos airports. It is also near the flight routes of larger commercial aircraft that use San Francisco International Airport.

Allan Bedwell, a member of the city's Environmental Quality Commission, whose father was former Menlo Park city manager Mike Bedwell and the man for whom the park was named, said he supported a flat-out ban.

"(There's) no way to effectively differentiate between responsible users and those that are irresponsible," he said.

Drones could hit people or wildlife or cause fires, he said. He also noted that drones with cameras can be invasive of park users' privacy.

Years ago, he said, the park was 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 a park.

Jo Killen, a Menlo Park resident, said that as urban environments become more dense with traffic and housing, there is a greater need for places to enjoy a quiet communion with nature. "This cannot happen with drones," she said.

Despite the ban, Michael Otrada, who flies a quadcopter, often called a drone, said he plans to keep flying. The hobby for him is a satisfying mix of art, engineering and being outside. "It's definitely not a hobby I'm going to give up because of one ban in one city," he said.

According to the staff report, other locations to fly remote controlled airplanes are farther away and include the Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, Baylands Park in Sunnyvale, and the Santa Clara County Model Aircraft Skypark in Morgan Hill.

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10 people like this
Posted by James Taggart
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 29, 2016 at 12:26 pm

So let me get this straight; the decision to be force an outright ban rather than to regulate - by designating acceptable hours or days - is based on the fear that these RC gliders and tiny helicopters "could hurt people or wildlife or start fires". Is there any instance in all the time people have been flying them there that this has happened? I still see the same raptors I've ways seen there and the surely aren't scaring the jack rabbits anymore than any other plane flying over. Bedwell shouldn't be the first choice for those seeking serenity and communing with nature;there are lots of places in the Bay Area tondo that. It was intended to be an urban recreational area suitable for multiple uses. The counsel has chosen the easy way out to placate the few who fail to recognize the Bedwell fronts a very busy section of roadway and is never going to be quiet. I'm sure the Menlo Park PD is thrilled with their new responsibilities.

8 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Aug 29, 2016 at 1:09 pm

MP has a new branding campaign: "No fun of any kind!"

12 people like this
Posted by 10th ave
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Aug 29, 2016 at 1:10 pm

Ban them.

Wait until the fed and state regs are decided, with good public input, and some time spent studying this problem, and revisit. Just because someone can afford a new toy doesn't give them some right to inflict on others.

As a previous poster said:

"Yay! the nerd with the obnoxious drone is back!"

Said No One Ever.

8 people like this
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 29, 2016 at 1:13 pm

I've gone to Bedwell Bayfront Park a few times to fly kites ... the drone and rc aircraft operators didn't seem to be bothering any birds (especially the planes ... some of the gliders aren't any more intrusive than a kite). I'm surprised the ban extended to this park. I'm not sure why they didn't stick with a few appropriate rules.

4 people like this
Posted by Trunks
a resident of another community
on Aug 29, 2016 at 2:07 pm

I was at Bayfront Park Saturday morning and got a chance to meet some of the RC flyers. It is a shame that the city council members did not bother to survey the area and I can tell the way the questions were asked during the live webcast did not bother to visit Bayfront Park. I looked around at the park and I did not see any other species of bird nesting in the park. The only birds I saw was a Canadian Geese and Pigeons grazing in the field and I have video proof that the environmentalist was providing miss leading information to the city council. I see no reasons for not allowing them at least fly a non motorized gliders since it is quiet and much safer. At least the other parks such as East Bay Regional Park and some school districts with permission during the weekends only allow them to fly non motorized gliders.

10 people like this
Posted by Throw
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2016 at 9:06 am

Me and my friends are disappointed because we can not fly our 10 oz. RC controlled hand launch gliders. That is about the weight of a hamster and could easily be knocked out the sky by a kid. They also are very bird friendly and I have never heard of a bird getting hurt or even bothered by a glider.

Silicon Valley is Mecca for engineering talent. It is too bad that Menlo Park does not let the safest forms of this engineer friendly hobby even exist. They really should have waited before doing such a heavy handed regulation to see the real cost in problems caused before eliminating the enjoyment we used to be able to have in at Bedwell Bayfront Park.

2 people like this
Posted by Long Disappointed
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Sep 3, 2016 at 8:18 am

yet another example of Menlo Park city government out of touch with all reality. Just the latest example. Our downtown is a wasteland, our parks are off limits to our own citizens, our streets are not welcoming to business or the public. Look at any other city on the peninsula...all have undergone major renovations and expansions to be welcoming to businesses and the citizens. We have shuttered businesses, rug stores and real estate offices.... and the largest collection of abandoned car dealerships in America. Menlo Park city government continues to keep its head in the sand, and run our city into the ground.

Like this comment
Posted by Cs
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 13, 2017 at 9:37 pm

Gliders are safe and quite aircraft. This is super sad.

Like this comment
Posted by Kirill
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 4, 2017 at 3:38 pm

I wish we have a system where we can change individually how our property taxes are distributed among different recipients. I'd allocate everything in my bill to schools, police, and fire and exactly $0.0 to our parks, so called "city planning" and other "activities". Our downtown is a zombieland, El Camino in MP looks like the worst streets of Detroit, but our "city council" is banning battery powered toys from parks. Like there was not enough stuff banned from parks already.
Our city apparently believes that money is being dropped on them from aliens spacecrafts.

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