San Francisco doesn’t want you to fly drones in their city parks.
The seemingly tech-forward city has been the source of much confusion around whether or not it is legal to fly drones there. But a San Francisco Recreation and Park Department spokesperson confirmed to The Drone Girl that it is issuing citations of up to $192 for flying drones in city parks.
The Northern California city has among the nation’s best parks, including Golden Gate Park, Alamo Square Park (famous for being lined with the houses you see in Full House) and hipster enclave Mission Dolores Park, which offers stunning views of the downtown skyline. The city even ranks No. 3 in a poll by the Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit that helps fund and protect parks, for best parks.
All that said, don’t fly drones there (without a commercial permit).
Numerous Drone Girl readers have written in, saying people are getting $125 tickets for flying drones citing the outdated City Municipal Park Code 3.09 and 7.04(a)(1). to back up the ban. Here’s the full text of those codes:
SEC. 3.09. AIRPLANES, HELICOPTERS, HOT AIR BALLOONS, ETC. PROHIBITED. No person shall launch nor land any air- plane, helicopter, parachute, hang glider, hot air balloon, nor any other machine or apparatus of aviation in any park, nor shall any person bring into any park any balloon with a diameter of more than six feet or a gas capacity of more than 115 cubic feet, without permission of the Recre- ation and Park Department. This Section shall not be applicable to a helicopter being used to transport persons or supplies because of an emer- gency situation. (Added by Ord. 603-81, App. 12/18/81)
SEC. 7.04. ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES REQUIRING PERMITS. (a) Attention is called to other provisions of this Code which require persons engaging in certain activities to obtain a permit, including, but not limited to, the following: (1) Launching or landing any airplane, helicopter, parachute, hang glider, hot air balloon or other machine or apparatus of aviation, in any park, or bringing into a park any balloon with a diameter of more than six feet or a gas capacity of more than 115 cubic feet (See Section 3.09)
Readers have stated that park rangers claim that drones fall under “Machine or apparatus of aviation”.
The SF Rec and Parks does allow the commercial use of drones with a permit from the Film Permit Office (you can get more information on procedures, rules, fees and the application link for a film permit here). A spokesperson also said you can contact Jim Jackson at (415) 831-6870 or by email for more information on getting a commercial drone filming permit.
But if you want to fly recreationally, give up now.
“The Department does not provide permits for recreational use of drones due to the impact on the public,” according to an SF City Parks spokesperson. “Because this is an urban area, there are significant safety concerns and the effects on other park users. At this moment, drone use is limited to any city agencies.”
To add to the confusion, sites like Know Before You Fly, the Federal Aviation Administration’s official site for marking airspace as clear to fly in, don’t account for the San Francisco park ban and consider SF City Parks as a “safe zone.”
The San Francisco parks ban is just another example of the ongoing issue of local governments imposing drone laws that often conflict with the FAA.
The FAA regularly criticizes state and local governments for attempting to regulate drones.
“If one or two municipalities enacted ordinances regulating UAS in the navigable airspace and a significant number of municipalities followed suit, fractionalized control of the navigable airspace could result,” according to a 2015 memo from the FAA. “In turn, this ‘patchwork quilt’ of differing restrictions could severely limit the flexibility of FAA in controlling the airspace and flight patterns, and ensuring safety and an efficient air traffic flow.”
The FAA publicly addressed the issue again this summer, stating that Congress has provided the FAA with exclusive authority to regulate drones, adding that “state and local governments are not permitted to regulate any type of aircraft operations, such as flight paths or altitudes, or the navigable airspace.”
So how is it that San Francisco City Parks are able to issue citations?
The FAA does not have the power to regulate aircraft landing sites, which involves local control of land and zoning. Laws traditionally related to state and local police power – including land use, zoning, privacy, and law enforcement operations – generally are not subject to federal regulation. That means cities can determine the location of aircraft landing sites through their land use powers.
The Tl;dr version of this (and do not take this as official, legal advice): it looks like San Francisco is issuing citations for taking off and landing in their parks. But technically you can still fly drones in them — if you can find a way to take off outside of them.