Nearly 700 residents lost power to their homes for three hours in the Southern California City of West Hollywood three months ago. It was a nerve-wracking experience as equipment and machinery that needed electricity to work were cut off. Production couldn’t continue at factories, and life-saving equipment at the hospitals simply shut down. The residents were shocked to discover it was a drone that had crashed into some electrical wires, cutting one to the ground and causing power failure.
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The city was livid, prompting city officials to pass an ordinance at the West Hollywood’s City Council meeting, requiring every drone operator flying in the city to get a permit from the city officials before they can fly their device. This permit didn’t invalidate the permit given by the Federal Aviation Authority but would rather add that city officials will give an identification number on a sticker to every drone that would be clearly visible from the ground.
The ordinance from the City Council meeting harped on the right to privacy and how everyone including operators of drones must be made to respect it as it went on to forbid taking photographs, video, or audio footage of any person that has a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Drones are admittedly not well liked in the city and reports that a West Hollywood resident was disturbed by a drone while he was sitting on his home’s terrace in a bathing suit reading his paper didn’t help matters. He complained that the drone was hovering about 15 feet away from him, and when he approached it, it flew away.
The City Council’s ordinance also requires that drone operators comply with FAA regulations by avoiding piloted aircraft, maintaining a line-of-sight view of the dome and flying the dome no higher than 400 feet above the ground. It also specified that drone pilots can’t fly their drones at night without explicit permission from the FAA.
After reports from California of drone operators flying their aircraft over wildfires and disrupting flight of fire-fighting planes surfaced, the US Forest Service has prohibited drones to fly in any temporarily restricted area.
Drones are also prohibited from flying “in a manner that interferes with firefighting, police activity, or emergency response activity.”
The governor of California, Gov. Jerry Brown, disagreed with plans to punish scofflaw drone pilots more harshly by increasing fines, penalties, and jail time, saying, “Each of these bills create a new crime usually by finding a novel way to characterize and criminalize conduct that is already proscribed.” He further added that “Before we keep going down this road, I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.” It was agreed that a violation of the ordinance will be considered a misdemeanor.
It isn’t just the California that is regulating the use of drones, Los Angeles is cracking down on drones as well. The city has made it a misdemeanor for anyone to violate any of the FAA’s drone flight rules. Just recently, a couple of men were found violating these rules by flying their drones too close to the hospital heliport and interfering with an LAPD air unit. While these may be distinct cases, under the new ordinance, these men may face penalties of up to 6 months each.