Drone ban ordinance first addressed in Nevada County court | TheUnion.com

Drone ban ordinance first addressed in Nevada County court

Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer

A water collecting drone with it's three containers hovers at a testing site in Lincoln, Neb., Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. A team led by Nebraska university scientists has won a federal grant to further develop aerial drones that could hover over and sample water from lakes, ponds and streams that people can't easily reach. The team have already developed a drone that can collect and carry three samples. They'll use the USDA money to perfect algorithms to improve its safety and reliability. The drone is tethered by a pink rope per FAA regulations. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Legal representatives of Nevada County's government were in court Friday, setting the stage for their opposition to Grass Valley attorney Lorraine Reich's proposal to ban drones.

Nevada County Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling granted a stay of the county's requirement to prepare a ballot title and summary within 15 days of Reich's submission of her ordinance banning the use of civilian unmanned aerial vehicles. The stay will be in effect until a legal ruling is made on whether the county even has the authority to regulate airspace, said county Counsel Alison Barratt-Green.

The county argues that it has no authority to regulate airspace — a regulatory power that rests with the federal government, according to the county's perspective as argued in court documents.

"It remains to be seen whether local communities can enact regulations," Reich told a Libertarian luncheon when discussing drones Friday. "We may be a testing ground for that."

In February 2012, Congress passed the Federal Aviation Administration Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, which called on the agency to integrate unmanned aircraft by 2015, according to the Associated Press. The airspace agency in turn mandated that states integrate drones into their airspace by that year, Reich said.

In the meantime, California has two proposed bills making their way through the state legislature. No laws are on state books governing unmanned aircraft technology and its employment into airspace beyond those already applying to radio-controlled planes, Reich said.

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"The problem is that the technology has far surpassed what that law was designed for," Reich said. "The law has not kept up."

Reich argues that the FAA grants some authority to local airports to regulate the use of the lowest altitudes of airspace — the airspace where drones fly, she said.

Reich originally submitted a proposed ordinance July 16 that would have banned all civilian unmanned aerial vehicles and require public agencies to get an FAA licence to operate them. The county responded with a "pretty significant legal challenge," Reich previously told The Union, so she redrafted an updated ordinance and submitted it Aug. 23.

"I will be fighting the battle in court," she said.

In addition to banning all unmanned civilian aircraft, Reich's proposed drone ordinance would also require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant from a judge before peering into private property from above with a drone, she said.

"I think it is critical that we enact legislation to restrict law enforcement use of these," Reich said, noting hypothetical unwarranted searches and seizure violations.

The U.S. military and the White House have come under scrutiny in recent years for their use of so-called drones in combat situations with opponents decrying the oversight structure that allows the use of technology that has been implicated in the deaths of civilians.

Two Nevada County residents, Sharon Delgado and Shirley Osgood, were among five protesters against U.S. drone warfare arrested at Beale Air Force Base last October and subsequently found guilty of trespassing Aug. 12 in the first trial of anti-drone protestors in California.

The five will be sentenced Monday in U.S. District Court in Sacramento. They face up to six months in jail.

Reich pointed out that the multimillion-dollar drones the military uses overseas are far superior to the much smaller, commercially available aircraft operated domestically.

Law enforcement agencies eye the technology for everything from border patrol to suspect pursuit. Reich said local officials could use drones to spot marijuana grows and check building code compliance.

Unmanned aircraft proponents argue that they could be used for everything from monitoring oil rigs to farming.

Firefighters battling the Rim Fire along the rugged river canyons of Yosemite National Park's northern border employed a drone to detect and direct resources to new blazes they otherwise wouldn't have seen so quickly, the Associated Press reported.

While hobbyists, farmers and professional photographers could make commercial use of drone technology, Reich points to potential nefarious uses as her cause for concern.

"To allow the drones anywhere is to give them access to anywhere they can see," Reich said.

Drone use could lead to invasions of privacy, trespassing, sound nuisance and even crime, Reich said. Drones could be used by stalkers, pedophiles and sexual predators, as well as burglars, she said.

"You can have all kinds of weirdos getting ahold of these things," Reich said.

With Judge Dowling's granting of a stay, a hearing on Reich's ordinance has been set for Oct. 18, according to the county counsel's office.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.

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