Following a unanimous vote this week, the Burbank City Council will consider regulating Mylar balloons, which utility representatives said are often the cause of brief power outages.
Burbank Water and Power has a 99.99% reliability rate, meaning outages are fairly uncommon, BWP executive assistant Lyndsey Kramer said during the council’s Tuesday meeting. But when outages do occur, there’s a chance that they were caused by metallic Mylar balloons floating away and coming into contact with power lines.
Since 2000, Mylar balloons have been the No. 1 cause of outages — 206 of them, accounting for 189 hours of service interruption. Between January 2016 and December 2020, Mylar balloons have been responsible for 36 “momentary outages” — more than any other cause — which last less than 60 seconds.
During the same period, Mylar balloons caused 19 sustained outages, the fourth most common cause behind blown fuses, unknown causes and palm fronds.
Councilman Konstantine Anthony, who requested some weeks ago that a report on Mylar balloons be presented, moved to request that staff members bring back options for an ordinance regulating the items. The motion, which was fully supported by Anthony’s fellow council members, also asked that city representatives continue to advocate regulation by the state and neighboring cities.
Anthony also directed city staff members to model a potential ordinance after the one in Glendale, whose council passed a ban on the sale of Mylar balloons filled with helium or a gas lighter than air in October. Mylar balloons inflated with air can be sold, but must be attached to a decorative structure. Uninflated Mylar balloons can still be sold in Glendale.
“Glendale has really led the charge locally, and Pasadena and Burbank have just continued to watch the issue,” Kramer said.
Councilwoman Sharon Springer said she was surprised the state hadn’t banned the balloons yet, considering California’s longtime difficulties with wildfires, and suggested a regulation could require them to be filled with air, lowering the chance they will float away.
California law has required for decades that metallic balloons be attached to a weight when they’re sold, with violations punishable by fines. But after a “rash of outages” caused by Mylar balloons in 2007, according to a 2008 staff report, the BWP board recommended that the City Council restrict or ban the sale and use of the items in Burbank.
Such a move was then opposed by the Balloon Council, an advocacy group of balloon manufacturers and retailers, and the local Youth Board also expressed concerns that a ban would hinder fundraising efforts that involved selling Mylar balloons.
The City Council decided then to direct the municipal staff to partner with district representatives to advocate a statewide ban on the balloons, but Kramer noted that the California Legislature has been reluctant to enact one. She added that, even if Burbank were to regulate them, Mylar balloons can drift in from other cities and land on municipal power lines, a point Councilman Nick Schultz reiterated.
“I think that we need to act locally because this is another instance where Sacramento hasn’t acted in the way that we need them to,” he said. “So we need to take this step but … I think that success is going to be getting our regional partners on board, because these Mylar balloons can travel.”