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Rancho Mirage debates drone ordinance

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. - The Rancho Mirage city council is set to readdress a proposal to ban drones in city limits that was brought up in the beginning of the month. The proposed ordinance bans the flying of "unmanned aircraft that can fly under the control of a remote pilot or by a geographic positions system (GPS) guided autopilot mechanism. "This proposed legislation is going to make it illegal to use drones or any flying device," said Steve Quintanilla, the city attorney for Rancho Mirage.   "Any unmanned aircraft that has a camera attached from invaded somebody's privacy."

The proposal has drawn frustration from hobbyists who fly "quadcopters" or a remote-controlled model aircraft with four propellers. It also uses GPS and can take high-quality video from an attached camera. The proposal would also ground them.  "This just an outlet, a creative outlet to have fun, do something out in the desert when there's no wind," said Rich Shelton, who builds and flies several of the quadcopters.   "Just take up some time."

The Rancho Mirage proposal was spurred by complaints from a resident who believes the quadcopters invaded their privacy.  Now, the ban may be out of the hands of the city.  State lawmakers are now looking at legislation to regulate drones and the quadpods. One piece of legislation wants to clarify that drones should fall under existing invasion of privacy laws. Shelton argues that people are looking to ban what they don't know.  "I think people are just confused about these things, they don't know enough about them," said Shelton. "So they put these quadcopters in with military."

The other part of state legislation could also ground drones used by  law enforcement. If passed, it could require authorities to get a warrant before using a drone for surveillance. "If this legislation passes requiring search warrants before the use of drones, that certainly will hamper their efficiency when conducting an investigation," said Quintanilla.

Quintanilla said he will encourage the Rancho Mirage city council to table the proposal until the state makes a decision.

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