A quadricopter drone. Photo: jalexartis
A quadricopter drone, one of the many models popular with hobbyists. Photo: jalexartis

At its meeting last night, the Berkeley City Council rejected a recommendation from the Peace and Justice Commission to establish a No Drone Zone in the city. Instead, the council referred the issue to three commissions — the Peace and Justice Commission, the Police Review Commission, and Disaster and Fire Safety Commssion — with guidelines for public safety agencies’ use of drones to be reviewed at a future council workshop.

During public comment more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the Peace and Justice Commission proposal, which would have banned all drones except for hobbyist use (and those would have been restricted to drones without cameras).

Councilmembers, however, argued that there could be some beneficial uses for drones.

Councilman Jesse Arreguín agreed that the technology could potentially infringe on privacy rights, and said policies to prevent that were needed. But he suggested that drones could be valuable for public safety in the event of disasters, searching for missing persons, rescue operations, and when police are in pursuit of a known suspect.

“Drones have been used for very bad purposes, but drones can serve a purpose,” agreed Councilman Laurie Capitelli.

“Berkeley doesn’t have jurisdiction over its airspace and we can’t enforce it unless we buy Patriot missiles to shoot things down,” said Councilman Gordon Wozniak, who also pointed out the potential beneficial uses of drones.

Councilman Max Anderson said it was important to have clear guidelines developed for drone use.

“Unless we are restrictive and proscriptive about how they are going to be used, we are going to be screwed,” he said.

The Council also voted to send a letter to the Alameda Board of Supervisors requesting they delay any purchase of a drone until Berkeley’s deliberative process was over.

Berkeley considers becoming a No Drone Zone [12.18.12]

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...