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Drones, Radio Controlled Devices, Banned from Santa Monica Public Spaces

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 13, 2015 -- If you have a personal-use drone, don’t take it, or any radio-controlled flying device, out for a spin over a Santa Monica beach, beach parking lot, park, playground or public recreational area.

According to a statement from the Santa Monica Police Department, the agency has received “an increased number of reports regarding the use of radio controlled aircraft being flown in areas of the city where (they) are prohibited.”

Police don’t have an exact number of reports of such devices being illegally used, said department spokesman Sgt. Rudy Camarena. But he added that the police department decided to issue the warning when it received a report recently from someone who had observed a personal-use drone flying over a city park – officials weren’t sure which one.

“I guess it’s a sign of the times,” he said.

The ordinance includes model airplanes and helicopters weighing more than eight ounces.

“The City and the Police Department clearly grasp the safety concerns associated with the operation of these devices; therefore, there are no special operating permits granted in the prohibited use areas and there are no altitude restrictions in those prohibited use areas,” the statement said.

The devices are banned because they “can cause property damage and serious physical injury,” the statement said.

Authorities at all levels of government, as well as other experts, are worried about the privacy and safety implications of drones.
The FAA regulates where and how law enforcement agencies can use drones and sets guidelines for use in private businesses. But there are no broader laws regulating the everyday use of drones by hobbyists.

Camarena also cited concerns about drones or other radio-controlled flying devices straying into the airspace of Santa Monica Municipal Airport.  Airport Manager Stelios Makrides said he has received no reports of drones or radio-controlled devices flying into airspace there.

He hasn’t received any requests to do so either, and wouldn’t support them in any case, although the Federal Aviation Administration oversees airspace.

“My issue is with (potential) accidents.” Makrides said. “It’s a safety of aircraft issue.”

Violation of the code is a misdemeanor, and can result in either a $250 ticket or a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail, according to Santa Monica’s municipal code.

The problem, authorities note, is the rise of popularity of use of drones for personal use.

Makrides said his own neighbor in Thousand Oaks purchased one, much to his displeasure. Camarena also noted how ubiquitous the personal drone has become, he said.

“You can buy them at the store for a couple of hundred bucks,” he said.

Not too long ago, Camarena attended a wedding at a luxurious Malibu home that featured the buzz of a video-equipped drone tasked with recording the ceremony and the subsequent celebration.  The guests loved it, he said.

“They were smiling up at the camera,” Camarena said.

Also known as unmanned aerial systems, drones have been used on the home front for some time in public safety and for such tasks as environmental monitoring. The Department of Homeland Security reportedly uses them to monitor borders and ports.

They can feature high-powered cameras, video-equipment, microphones, infrared devices and a variety of high-tech tools.

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