First published in the Oct. 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank City Council advanced a potential ordinance this week that would severely restrict the sale of metallic balloons, a policy that the local utility believes would reduce power outages.
The potential ordinance, which the council unanimously approved on Tuesday, would ban the local sale of balloons made of “electrically conductive materials” — commonly called by the brand name Mylar — unless the balloon is filled with air and attached to a post or other decorative structure.
The conductive material of Mylar balloons can cause explosions, fires and even outages when it is in contact with power lines. Such balloons are the most common cause of power outages in the city, according to Burbank Water and Power. The utility said in a staff report that Mylar balloons have caused 212 outages since 2000, representing about 15% of total outages and 201 hours of service interruption. BWP has recorded six Mylar-caused outages since the council requested a potential ordinance on the issue in January.
The draft rule is very similar to one passed by the Glendale City Council in October 2020, though it is unclear whether that ordinance has resulted in fewer outages, according to BWP General Manager Dawn Roth Lindell. She told Burbank council members that Glendale doesn’t have any data showing the effect of its restriction, though she added representatives of the city have said there is anecdotal evidence suggesting outages caused by stray Mylar balloons have become less frequent. However, Lindell noted, that decrease could also be a result of fewer parties and other festive events during the pandemic.
The restrictions would go into effect on the 31st day after adoption; the council is scheduled to consider whether to adopt the item on Oct. 26. Councilman Nick Schultz, who led a discussion on the topic this week, also requested that city staff members provide examples of similar ordinances passed in other cities during the future meeting.
Schultz and Vice Mayor Jess Talamantes, along with a number of other city officials and staff members, recently attended a meeting with the Balloon Council, a national group that represents balloon manufacturers and retailers. The organization, according to a staff report submitted to the City Council for this week’s meeting, expressed concern about a ban’s effect on small businesses that sell Mylar balloons.
In their staff report to the City Council, BWP officials contended that though the city would need to spend about $25,000 to create and distribute educational materials regarding an ordinance to affected businesses, the benefits of protecting local power lines outweigh the costs.
“Regulating the sale of Mylar balloons may decrease the potential for Mylar balloons to come into contact with power lines, mitigating the risk of safety hazards and interruptions to electric service,” the staff report read. “This would save staff time and would also mitigate additional stress to the electric system, further enhancing reliability.”
Since 1990, a California law has prohibited vendors from selling Mylar balloons filled with a gas lighter than air without attaching them to a weight. More stringent statewide restrictions, including complete bans on electrically conductive balloons, have failed to reach implementation.
The council’s interest in Mylar balloons began when one of its members, Konstantine Anthony, requested the item in January after a discussion that he also sought. Each of his colleagues supported his motion directing city staff members to craft the potential ordinance.