In a unanimous decision Tuesday, the City Council formally adopted a modified version of its metallic balloon ban that it first introduced for review weeks ago.
Starting on Nov. 30, Glendale businesses are barred from selling the balloons — colloquially called Mylar balloons — if they are inflated with helium or any gas “lighter than air.” Further, such balloons inflated with air may only be sold when affixed to some sort of decorative structure, like a post or balloon arch; otherwise, they are to be sold uninflated.
The council adopted the ban at the urging of Glendale Water and Power as well as residents frustrated with power outages and damages to electrical systems as a result of wayward Mylar balloons entangling themselves in lines or equipment.
“There is a really good reason why we’re looking at this kind of a ban,” Councilwoman Paula Devine said, highlighting the importance of some residents to have medical equipment or air conditioning powered consistently.
However, the ban also came at the frustration of local distributors and retailers who say their balloon sales throughout this year especially have helped to carry businesses throughout the downturns of the coronavirus pandemic. Representing the Glendale distributor L.A. Balloons, Steven Mayhew challenged a prior assertion from Devine that there were significantly higher sales of latex balloons in the state anyway.
“This is correct,” he said, “but since Mylar balloons are sold at a much higher price, it results in three times the revenue. It is a difference of $440 million. Mylar balloons make up the highest percentage of balloon revenue in the state.”
According to Mayhew, who is a marketing director at L.A. Balloons, Mylar balloon sales generate more than $70 million in sales tax revenue for California each year. He also stressed that customer education is a practice heavily promoted by the balloon lobby and criticized California jurisdictions for failing to enforce statewide laws penalizing residents who let their balloons loose and float away.
“It is on the honor system, and no city or state government enforces it,” Mayhew said. “While so many follow the law, a ban penalizes everyone when there are just a few violators.”
In a prior presentation, GWP General Manager Steve Zurn told the council that Mylar balloons caused nearly 19% of the city’s power outages, more than trees or animals did. Since 2007, according to GWP, there have been at least 170 balloon-related outages.
However, Mayhew also challenged those numbers on Tuesday, claiming that GWP deliberately separated categories normally considered as one to magnify the proportion of balloon-related incidents. Mayhew said trees and small animals are typically one category, and here in Glendale, they account for more than 24% of outages.
Additionally, Mayhew said Edison International’s list of eight most common reasons for power outages do not include Mylar balloons. He also said upgrades to the power grid would also help make mitigate the problems.
When considering options, the council opted to forgo the outright ban and instead permit only sales of the deflated balloons or those with just air — meaning they won’t float away. Mayhew indicated this was the most favorable option the city was offering, but still felt it too onerous.
Council members were sympathetic to the economic worries but still argued they had to consider the city as a whole.
“I never like being in a position where we’re having to do something that harms the revenue appropriations for our residents,” Councilman Dan Brotman said. “None of us like to do that. There’s a negative impact on a few, but if we don’t make this move, there’s a larger negative impact upon many. We’re in this position where we have to weigh two sides and I think it’s clear where the greatest impact is.”
Added Mayor Vrej Agajanian: “I don’t want to see the layoff of workers in Glendale. It’s a hard time. People are having problems, and now we want to create a situation that more people will be laid off? I’m upset with it. We have to create jobs, not cut jobs in Glendale.”
Notably, the ban is specifically written regarding metallic balloons with conductive attributes. As Mayhew explained Tuesday, there is work underway between the industry and power providers to develop a balloon material that retains the appeal of metallic variants while not being conductive.
“So, when these nonconductive materials come into the market, those balloons would be automatically exempt for our ordinance,” pointed out Dorine Martirosian, the senior assistant city attorney who worked on this ordinance.
Councilman Ara Najarian also highlighted this exemption-to-be.
“I do sympathize with the industry,” he said. “However, it’s encouraging to see they are on a cusp of creating a non-conductive Mylar-type balloon.”