San Jose Weighs Drone Policy

A controversial police drone, purchased unbeknownst to many in San Jose, may not take flight until 2017. While the City Council on Tuesday will vote on a policy governing drone use, police don’t expect the Federal Aviation Administration’s blessing until the end of next year.

The San Jose Police Department quietly acquired the $8,000 drone for its bomb squad in January 2014. When the proposal came up, it was tucked away on the consent calendar as part of a request to accept a $1 million U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant.

There was no discussion and no policy on how to use the two-foot-wide, camera-strapped Century Neo 660 flying robot. Widespread criticism from residents and civil rights groups prompted the city to form a commission to drum up guidelines on when to deploy the drone. Police acknowledged they mishandled outreach on matter and held a series of public meetings.

In March, after several of these meetings, police presented a report outlining how they would use the device. They agreed not to use it for surveillance, but rather as a tool to help the bomb squad and in case of an “active shooter or other ‘exigent’ situation.”

Drone flights would also require approval from a command officer, according to the draft policy. Flight info—including the reason for deployment, location and the operator’s name—would be logged and subject to audit. The drone would not collect real-time information or store images. It wouldn’t be flown at night and would never carry weapons, biometric scanners or electronic “noses.”

Here's the full report going to the council.

This past spring, the San Jose Neighborhoods Commission recommended that the council approve a one-year pilot program. If the council OKs the plan this week, police would then ask the FAA for permission to operate the drone.

But the FAA has yet to finalize its own policy for public agency drone use. SJPD Chief Larry Esquivel said he expects that process will be finalized at the end of 2016, which would force the city to launch its pilot some time in 2017.

Here' s a copy of the commission's report:

San Jose Police Dept Unmanned Aerial System Report

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for August 11, 2015:

  • Given the urgent lack of affordable housing, several council members called for a moratorium on mobile home park conversions. A memo signed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Chappie Jones, Tam Nguyen, Manh Nguyen and Rose Herrera directs the city to freeze conversions until they come up with a policy protecting low-income residents from displacement. “It is our belief that there is an immediate threat to the public health and welfare of mobile home park residents, particularly elderly residents who can be disproportionately impacted by such a major change in their living situation,” the memo states. “A temporary moratorium will give staff the opportunity to craft recommendations for council consideration without the pressure of an impending closure and give residents the assurance that we are working towards more coherent policies.”
  • The council will vote on terms of a Measure B alternative, to settle litigation with police and fire unions over controversial pension reforms. Councilman Raul Peralez, a former SJPD officer, said the city should reflect on what it's learned in the conflict over Measure B these past four years. Opposing arguments weren’t respectfully considered, he said, and inflammatory language incited anger and resentment. “As we see too often at the national level, the end result of the politics of resentment is bad governance,” he wrote. “Measure B might have been an effective political tool for stoking resentment, but it was not an effective policy tool for solving the city’s problems.”
  • San Jose plans to turn the old Plaza Hotel in downtown into transitional housing for the homeless.
  • Some council members want to deny a permit to open a club called Vanity SJ in downtown. The city already spends $1 million a year policing clubs, according to a memo signed by Liccardo and council members Peralez and Magdalena Carrasco. The "ultra lounge" also drew opposition from the San Jose Downtown Association. In a letter to Peralez, the neighborhood group said the club would be the wrong fit for the historic building. "We did not come to this recommendation easily," SJDTA Director Scott Knies wrote in the Aug. 6 letter. "There is a reluctance on the SJDA board to oppose business proposals by our members. Nevertheless, given the number of clubs and bars on this block already, plus the ongoing security issues around Fountain Alley and the VTA Santa Clara stations on First and Second Streets, we could not support another large club at 58 S. First St."
  • A new state law requires cities to fast track permitting for residential solar panels.
  • The city spent $4.56 million on community-based gang prevention in 2013-14.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. This is a standard move of the city council to hide agendas. Tell me how they did not know! Don’t want to be caught on camera then don’t do anything wrong! And the money did not come out of the general fund. It was Homeland Security.

    And I am waiting on the SJI comments on the Mercury news post that SJ Police kill two people when the second has not been conformed and the first was armed.

  2. So, how many tax increment dollars did the now defunct SJ RDA pay for the Plaza Hotel, which has been sitting empty since April 12, 2008? “Last October 2014, staff released a request for qualifications (RFQ) to find an operator for the master lease program, but no agencies responded.” “Last” October 2014? How many October 2014s have there been. More importantly, what does it tell you when not a single person or agency responds to an RFQ? It tells me that no-one believed this could pencil out financially. But since staff is spending other peoples’ money, WTF, eh? The Plaza Hotel would be a great place for housing the homeless—it’s in the same building as The Caravan, one of DT SJ’s true dive bars, along with Cinnabar; but not to be confused with The Dive Bar, which is not a dive bar at all. A shot and a beer would be just steps away for the newly non-homeless who will reside there at taxpayer expense. And think what a boon for business that would be for The Caravan, whose owner should get solidly behind this proposal. “5. This action would activate a site that has been vacant and underutilized.” If it’s vacant, it is not UNDERutilized, it’s UNutilized. Your taxpayer dollars at rest. So, they plan to use The Plaza for only five years, while they muddle about for a permanent housing solution. What will be the annual operating loss the taxpayers will be on the hook for those five years, after which the property will become UNutilized again? Staff probably neither knows nor cares, since it’s not considered “real money” to them. It’s just a line item on a budget. The term “permanent supportive housing” is an amusing euphemism for “permanent taxpayer supported housing.” Don’tcha just love bureaucratese? “Abode Services estimates it will cost approximately $1,300,000 to make the Plaza Hotel habitable. Taking into account the estimated acquisition cost of $600,000 – $800,000 coupled with the approximate rehab cost of $ 1,300,000 this amount translates in an approximate monthly cost of $1,400 per hotel resident over a five year period.” Staff has conveniently neglected to factor in the acquisition cost in 2008 plus the time value loss of that money. “POLICY ALTERNATIVES…Cons: The City would not be able to house 42 homeless individuals.” The City is not housing those 42 folks. The taxpayers are housing them. Will hardworking middle class taxpayers ever be able to loosen their grip on their ankles and stand up straight again?

  3. > A memo signed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members blah blah blah directs the city to freeze conversions until they come up with a policy protecting low-income residents from displacement.

    You want a policy protecting low-income residents from displacement? Well, here’s a policy that protects low-income housing residents from displacement.

    RESOLVED: The City of San Jose shall create a Special Low-Income Housing SWAT Team that will kick down the doors of the residence of any mobile home park owner, seize his or her papers, and assign ownership of the mobile home park property to the residents.

    You want policy? We got policy.

      • Are you the TOBY1981 that people are supposed to listen to?

        Or, are you just some inconsequential little pissant masquerading as TOBY1981?

        I’m sure that if TOBY1981’s mother knew you were doing this, she would be mortified.

    • SJOutside,

      The mayor is proposing something plainly unconstitutional, unless the city fairly compensates the property owners.

      The mayor’s shenanigans are due to the Winchester Ranch mobile home park conversion. As I understand it the park was inherited, and a developer offered the beneficiaries far more than the value of the land as a place to rent trailers.

      It’s sad when people have to move. But if the mayor had inherited land worth multi-$millions more than its current use, does anyone think he would go into the personal charity business, and subsidize the renters’ lifestyle? Or would he sell it? The owners decided to sell, just like almost anyone else in their position would.

      Then there are self appointed activists who have no skin in the game at all — self-styled “community organizers” who think they should have a say in how other people use their property (are you listening, Kirk Vartan?) They like to call themselves “stakeholders”, because they own no shares; none of their own money is involved, or at risk — and they would never dig into their own pockets to help renters with moving expenses. They’re just busybodies who found a new cause.

      If the government wants to subsidize mobile home rents, that’s one thing. Or the mayor and Council could buy the land at its current market value using eminent domain laws. But they would likely get booted out of office next election, so of course they won’t do those things. Instead, they want to steal a big part of the land’s value from the owners, while patting themselves on the back for ‘sticking up for the little guy’ (meaning robbing one party and handing the loot to another party). The park has lots more voters than a few beneficiaries, so it’s a no-brainer to an ethics-challenged politician.

      When the mayor listens to self-styled “community organizers”, and tells property owners they must forfeit a large part of the value of their property for nothing in return then he’s just pandering, and that makes the mayor and any Council members on board with this no more or less than official thieves.

  4. SJI must not have gotten word from the 18th floor that the Council will NOT be voting on the Measure B settlement proposal this week.

  5. Imagine if, instead of mobile home park owners, the city had directed its memo at Adobe.

    — A memo signed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and council members Chappie Jones, Tam Nguyen, Manh Nguyen and Rose Herrera directs the city to freeze layoffs until they come up with a policy protecting Adobe workers from unemployment. “It is our belief that there is an immediate threat to the public health and welfare of working people, particularly those supporting children, who can be disproportionately impacted by such a major change in their economic situation.” —

    When it comes to private property rights, exactly how much must owners pay politicians to keep them out of their business?

  6. Hey, remember when SJPD was trying to capture a wanted felon who refused to come out of house… And someone (not the police) started flying a RC gyrocopter which interfered with the operation?

    Remember when gyrocopters a made it unsafe to fight fires last month?

    Why won’t media admit the obvious… These things are line of sight, short flight time, loud enough to be heard and not at all “surveillance” like they want to scare you into believing. They’re a nuisance. If they had value, then the Murky Mews and SJI would be operating them 24-7, catching the racist cops on video red-handed, right?

    • You are a SJPD employee that’s why you use our name reversed. Our Attorney’s monitor you and your comments under the name reversal. You ISP has identified you and we are just waiting for damages to build over the last two years, dummy.

      J.J. Cohen
      Counsel to Jaeger Enterprises

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