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Drones won’t fly at fairgrounds

DEL MAR — Told that drones and other radio-controlled devices present “major safety and security” issues, the 22nd District Agricultural Association board of directors unanimously agreed at the Aug. 12 meeting to ban them at the Del Mar Fairgrounds unless written permission is granted.

Fairgrounds staff looked into creating a policy after several drones, including one used by a promoter, were spotted on the midway during this year’s San Diego County Fair, General Manager Tim Fennell said.

“This seems to be a new item that’s not on people’s radar, but it should be,” Fennell said. “It can become a major safety and security issue.”

The policy states the “operation or use of any drones, unmanned aircraft/flying systems, and remotely-controlled or radio-controlled flying machines” motorized or not, is prohibited under all circumstances unless written permission is issued.

It applies to all individuals, companies, businesses, promoters, visitors and tenants. Permission to remain on the state-owned property may be revoked for violators.

The policy extends from the ground to 500 feet in the air, or to the point where the Federal Aviation Administration jurisdiction begins.

That stipulation will be added to the final policy to address concerns officials, including Deborah Fletcher, the deputy attorney general who serves as legal counsel for the 22nd DAA, had about devices being used remotely from a mile or so away.

My concern is how you deal with people who are off the property, Fletcher said. “Five hundred feet will give you a leg to stand on.”

The fairgrounds owns a drone, which could be used for weddings or large events.

“The goal is not to have unidentified drones flying around,” Fennell said.

Directors said the policy should explicitly spell out the process for gaining permission to use the devices and it shouldn’t be burdensome.

The policy makes sense generally, but if someone wants to use a drone to collect environmental data, they should be able to get permission without it being too onerous, Director David Lizerbram said.

Director Russ Penniman suggested looking at how others are dealing with the devices. Fennell said he would “reach out and chat,” but he wasn’t sure many other agencies had addressed the issue yet.

“We may be the tip of the spear,” he said.

Director David Watson said the policy is a first step. “We need something to start with,” he said, adding that it can evolve as needed.

In other news, directors approved a letter of support for the Interstate 5 improvement project that will be sent to the California Coastal Commission and construction of a new tent to house the Wave Volleyball Club.