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La Cañada City Council limits drone use

Drones in La Cañada

An aerial shot of La Cañada Flintridge’s Memorial Park, taken by Pasadena real estate agent Philip Coombes via a camera-equipped quadcopter, or drone. Drones of any kind will be prohibited from Memorial Park during city-sponsored events, according to an urgency ordinance passed by the City Council.

(Photo courtesy of Philip Coombes)

Drones of any kind will be prohibited from Memorial Park during city-sponsored events, according to an urgency ordinance passed Tuesday by the La Cañada Flintridge City Council in the wake of recent complaints regarding public safety and annoyance.

City Manager Mark Alexander said city staff received multiple complaints from residents after a pilotless aircraft was spotted buzzing around La Cañada’s Memorial Day commemoration ceremony, causing a noise disturbance. Another complaint came after a similar device was seen hovering over the crowd during a “Music in the Park” concert earlier this summer.

Rushing to respond to the matter of drones in public, which Alexander said could pose a threat to the safety of residents in the event of malfunction or loss of control, staff was unable to find restrictions applying to airspace below the Federal Aviation Administration’s 400-foot altitude threshold.

“It became very apparent that the best way to deal with this issue is to have the City Council enact an ordinance that would regulate the use of drones under 400 feet, particularly over these large assemblies,” Alexander said.

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Currently, FAA guidelines prohibit model aircraft within 3 miles of an airport and regulate them when they fly above 400 feet. Last month, state Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) co-introduced legislation that would allow drones interfering with emergency response, such as firefighting, to be immediately disabled. Another law would expose similarly offending owners to hefty fines and possibly jail time.

But locally, there is little in the law to guide the use of quadcopters, which are powered by remote control and may or may not contain video cameras, in public airspace below 400 feet.

Alexander said the new ordinance is intentionally restrictive, to address local concerns and to allow state and federal lawmakers time to legislate the many issues drones stir up with more diligence.

“We don’t want to necessarily be out front, to be the test case on regulating drones for a variety of reasons. But certainly the safety issue pertains to the large assembly of people at city-sponsored events,” he told the council. “Drones would still be allowed at Memorial Park for private events.”

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Council members unanimously voted to adopt the urgency ordinance to take effect immediately during any events sponsored or co-sponsored by the city, including Sunday’s scheduled “Music in the Park” concert.

Violation of the ordinance subjects drone operators to fines and administrative citations, while offenses could be punishable as a misdemeanor, according to resolution language. The regulation defines a “drone” as any unmanned aircraft flown by a remote pilot or GPS device, including model airplanes and helicopters used as personal or recreational devices.

City Atty. Mark Steres said that while the city of Los Angeles enforces prohibitions of model aircraft at its beaches using existing law regarding aircraft takeoff and landing, La Cañada staff was unable to find a municipal precursor on which to pattern its own policy.

“We weren’t able to find any jurisdiction that actually has adopted an ordinance regulating or prohibiting drones,” Steres told the council.

He added that the restrictive ordinance written simplifies enforcement, whereas rules regarding drones in residential areas would require a more comprehensive response plan. In fact, members of local law enforcement are exempt from the new ordinance, should departments develop drone technology sometime in the future, staff said Tuesday.

Mayor Pro Tem Jon Curtis briefly shared his own viewpoint during a roll call vote.

“I commend staff … for actually bringing this to the council in a very timely manner,” Curtis said. “I think this type of measured approach is the right approach.”

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Sara Cardine, sara.cardine@latimes.com

Twitter: @SaraCardine


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