Parks & Recreation Rules & Ordinances and Paramotoring

A group of Paramotor friends(approximately 6) and I recently launched from a local airport and flew over a large county recreation park with water reservoirs. Shortly after landing a parks officer made herself onto the airport and wanted to talk to us.

East Bay Regional Park District Ordinance

I fly around the bay a lot and am also a commercial drone pilot. I try to make myself aware of as many of the local ordinances that can affect my ability to fly and so I’m telling this story because the officer made a threat, and it gave me a reason for pause and research.

The officer claimed a rancher had complained and alleged that some cattle had been frightened in the park and she wanted our names and colors of gliders. We asked for the location but the officer said she did not know this information and quickly requested backup and was shortly joined by another officer who arrived with his emergency lights.

‘No’ we did not interfere or scare cattle and
we flew in accordance and compliance of all FAA rules

I explained to the officer, ‘No’ we did not interfere or scare cattle and we flew in accordance and compliance of all FAA & local rules but asked her to identify the location so we might be vigilant of the livestock. I also explained that only the FAA had jurisdiction over our flights which appeared to anger the officer and who then threatened and attempted to intimidate us by stating she would ‘Find Something’ to assumably issue a citation.

The officers further made several claims about enforcement for a number of things and went further to state that if we weren’t helpful in their inquiry that they could provide information to the county and state to pass ordinances & laws and even tried to suggest that low flight over ‘water reservoirs’ could result in the use of homeland security laws to prosecute us.

The good news is everything ended well, but don’t stop reading because I’m about to get into the Rules & Ordinances that could impact you and how officers can ‘Find something’ to charge you and get away with it, even if you didn’t do anything wrong.

The officers agreed to accept just one name in our group who could be contacted to inform us of any developments of the complaint and, provide information on any ordinances they felt they could enforce. They genuinely showed an interest in our activity and asked many questions and ultimately gave us an opportunity to educate them about the sport, how we behave well and follow FAA Rules & Regulations.


Rules & Ordinances that could impact you and how officers can ‘Find something’

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed are those of the author. The information provided is not intended to constitute legal advice.

Be aware that my experiences of defending a traffic violation in court can also be the reality for other citations – officers don’t have to prove you are guilty – you have to convince the judge you didn’t violate the law and in most cases, they will be swayed to support the officer’s citation if you can’t definitively defend with evidence.

Many bay area parks are part East Bay Regional Park District and counties leverage the ordinances they have passed but some also supplement a few additional ordinances. So it’s very important to make yourself aware of the local laws.

East Bay Regional Park District regulates almost all activities in the park and even passed ordinances about Aircraft Flight over its park which I believe is probably in conflict with the fact that only the FAA may govern flight in the USA.

Parks & Recreation Rules & Ordinances and Flight

Flight Below 500 Feet is prohibited

905.1 – As you can see above if you want to stay out of the reach of the ordinances, maintain 500 feet.

The problem is the FAA could have rules that prohibit that Altitude and a park could exist within that airspace. Example: the flight of drones maximum AGL 400 feet. Since I follow FAA rules, arguably an officer may still cite you, but in this case, perhaps the FAR 107 rules would clearly protect you given its Federal.

905.2 – Could a Foot Drag be considered Practicing a landing or take-off, probably if they are hell-bent on making you not fly over the park. Worse still could you be cited for SECTION 411.

USER FEES – FAILURE TO PAY. No person other than one acting under written permission from the District shall use, occupy, or otherwise remain in a building, structure, facility, parking area, picnic area, campsite, or other area within the District for which a fee is charged and a permit required unless that person has paid the required fee and possesses a valid permit.

905.3 If you fly that low and the birds get scared and take off, then you will most certainly not be able to beat disturbing wildlife.

Officers will usually if possible cite offenders with as many laws as they can in an attempt to make something stick. Having been in law enforcement I can verify this. So while they might not be able to prove you flew below 500 feet which a judge might accept, they could also site you for other things that the judge could agree with even if it’s not true. They could actively cite you for almost anything (Miscellaneous Regulated Activities) they deem as unsafe or undesirable.

409.6 – Engage in any activity or operate any device recklessly or negligently so as to endanger the life, limb or property of any person.

Section 409.6 of East Bay Regional Park District ORDINANCE 38 Rules and Regulations

In regard to Livestock, East Bay Regional Park District ORDINANCE 38, Section 800.1 Animal Protection can get you into trouble if your actions disturbed the cows.

No person shall molest, disturb, harass, harm, remove or kill any farm animal

Chapter Viii – Park Features – Protection Section 800. Animal Protection 800.1

Santa Clara County does have an additional ordinance that prohibits molesting livestock.

Sec. B14-24.5. – Molesting livestock prohibited.
No person shall molest, harass, or injure livestock in any part or portion of any Park Area.

Division B14 – PARKS AND RECREATION ( Ord. No. NS-702.93, 1-9-18 )

I interpret this as active intent to molest, harass, or injure and therefore if cattle run when passing over or near them momentary we are not doing any of those things.

Referring back to the East Bay Regional Park District ORDINANCE 38 Rules and Regulations here is a list of ordinance sections you should read if you are going to fly over an East Bay Park. They could use any of them to cite you even if you don’t break any rules. Some may seem totally absurd, but if they are trying to ‘Find something’ they will.

  • Section 409 Miscellaneous Regulated Activities
    • 409.3 Operate (motor driven) model airplanes or boats, automobiles, or other model craft
    • 409.4 Operate missiles, rockets, projectiles, or kites
    • 409.5 Hang glide, parachute; rope swing; or operate a hot air balloon
    • 409.6 Engage in any activity or operate any device recklessly or negligently
  • Section 411 User Fees Failure to Pay
  • Section 603. Trespasses
  • Section 800.1 Animal Protection
  • Section 801.1 Prohibited Areas
  • Section 902. Operation of Motor Vehicles
  • Section 905. Aircraft Flight
    • 905.1 Height Restrictions
    • 905.2 Practicing
    • 905.3 Disturbing Wildlife
  • Section 908.8 Declaration of Noise Policy

After reading all these sections of the ordinance it left me feeling that I should only fly at 500 feet above East Bay Parks to avoid any chance of being accused of doing anything wrong. So in reality they achieved what they set out to do which is to not have us fly low over the park.

That said, it’s predicated by the one specific ordinance which appears in direct conflict with the FAA’s charter – altitude restriction. I make the argument that we could get the FAA to ask them to remove or modify the ordinance. That would probably lead to it being modified or replaced with something or worse the FAA adopts the restriction as East Bay Parks cites Federal Regulations for UAS under FAR 107.

I’m still researching to find the Federal Regulation they are referring to.

Ultimately, this event wasn’t good news for our Paramotor group and its likely everyone will be considerably more careful if they do fly over the park. We fly a lot of places and therefore we will fly other places for a while until the dust clears, but overall I felt our liberties are clearly on notice.

Sadly it seems one complaint or decision of a few local persons in authority that can result in restrictions that impede our freedom.

On this occasion, I took the decision to push back on the officers because they threatened us and made arguments that weren’t relevant. That said, another member of our team did the recommended approach which is to defuse the situation. Usually being co-operative and giving your name even though you are not required to if no laws were broken is easiest. This helps them just write it up as ‘they talked to someone’ and they warned or found no reason to cite.

Just remember Jeff Goin’s Risk & Reward video…

  • Be Polite
  • Don’t volunteer information
  • Deny Allegations
  • State that you were in compliance of all FAA & local rules & regulations

I plan to ask the FAA about the specific ordinance and see what they say. If I get an update, I will append it to this blog.

Fly Safe and be careful, mindful of others and our freedom.

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