Split vote on Evanston drone ban unexpected, aldermen say

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) championed a drone moratorium ordinance that the City Council narrowly approved Tuesday despite opposition from aldermen including Ald. Ann Rainey (8th).

Daily file photo by Ciara McCarthy

Ald. Jane Grover (7th) championed a drone moratorium ordinance that the City Council narrowly approved Tuesday despite opposition from aldermen including Ald. Ann Rainey (8th).

Edward Cox, Assistant City Editor

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The chief supporter of Evanston’s ban on drone activity was surprised by the amount of dissent it faced during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

“(The vote) reflects some of my colleagues’ discomfort in taking a stand,” Ald. Jane Grover (7th) said. “I think they were deferring to (Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington) and his needs.”

Grover brought up a resolution proposed by the North Shore Coalition for Peace and Justice that would sharply limit the use of the drones by police but allow them for recreational and research purposes. The resolution passed in a 5-4 vote Tuesday after receiving unanimous approval from the Human Services Committee.

Opponents of the drone moratorium said it would stifle technological progress in the city. Ald. Judy Fiske (1st) and Ald. Mark Tendam (6th), both Human Services Committee members, voted to move the resolution to council but voted against it Tuesday.

“I don’t think we want to appear to be unfriendly toward technology,” Tendam said.

At the May 6 committee meeting, Eddington said although the drones could serve as useful technology, EPD does not have plans to acquire a drone in the immediate future. Under the resolution, the department could ask for city approval to use drones in emergency cases, such as search-and-rescue operations, Grover said.

The resolution, which is the third of its kind in the country, includes exceptions for drone hobbyists and academic research.

“We’re just happy to live in a community where our city council … agreed that there is a potential for abuse of our rights to privacy is serious enough,” coalition member Dickelle Fonda said.

However, Tendam said he did not expect the resolution to pass. With existing legislation already addressing privacy issues, this statement would further limit technology, he said.

Some Associated Student Government leaders have discussed similarly worded legislation on drone regulation. Grover said she hopes to develop a joint resolution between the council and ASG before sending both statements to state officials.

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) has sponsored a bill regulating drone use that will likely be voted on next year, she said.

Grover said she does not think the city will have to renew the two-year moratorium because state and federal regulations on drones will probably be in place by then.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said she still felt torn during the council vote on the drone moratorium. She eventually voted to support the moratorium.

“I wasn’t sure,” Holmes said. “I don’t want to stand in the way of technology, and Evanston is on the cutting edge.”

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