In the coming weeks, the City Council expects to take up a possible ordinance banning an innocent-looking party product that can cause nuisances that have frustrated Glendale officials for decades — the Mylar balloon.
City Attorney Michael Garcia will, at the unanimous request of the council at its Tuesday meeting, prepare an ordinance that would ban outright the sale of the metallic balloons — known to drift into power lines — in city limits. The council, for now, eschewed a ban on possession, citing enforcement issues for such a law.
“These products have unfortunately become a nuisance and we have to do the right thing by our residents and by the users of our utilities,” said Councilman Ardy Kassakhian, adding it was a “no-brainer” to enact a sale ban. “I don’t think we can do anything about the possession of them, and I think the enforcement of that becomes a little bit more difficult and troublesome. Our code enforcement is already stretched thin. Our police are now enforcing our mask guidelines and rules. I think now is not the time to add anything of this sort to their plate.”
The move followed what was originally just an informational presentation by Steve Zurn, general manager of Glendale Water & Power, on how Mylar balloons have disrupted the utility’s operations for decades — and his agency is not alone.
“There has been legislation trying to address this issue since 1990,” Zurn said. “That’s quite a long time. I don’t know how many times we’ve talked about it, but I can assure you we have in the past because it has been an ongoing issue. Until we’re able to do something either individually or collectively, I think it’s something we need to address, because it’s going to continue to be a problem for us.”
Zurn called the balloons among the highest causes of forced power outages in Glendale, pointing out that 18.8% of such events since 2007 — that’s 168 outages — have been caused by wayward balloons. That’s a higher percentage than outages caused by tree branches, birds or rodents and wind gusts, Zurn added, power interruption.
The very thing that makes Mylar balloons popular alternatives to their rubber counterparts — that they retain helium for substantially longer — is what makes them so dangerous, Zurn said.
“These metallic balloons have become a safety hazard when they come in contact with, or even close to — they don’t even actually have to touch — high-voltage distribution power lines within the city,” he said.
Last week, a cluster of 13 balloons took down the Tropico Substation, which took “only” two days to fix after the resulting power outage. Zurn recalled the rolling blackout of a year ago after a transformer meltdown substantially hampered power distribution for the city of 200,000-plus residents.
“This could have been catastrophic,” he added. “This could have actually impacted this substation much the way that our substation was affected last July, when we had an auxiliary transformer failure. We dodged a bullet, but we had two days of work and we still had an outage.”
Zurn noted that the majority of Mylar balloon issues typically occur in May, June and July — likely due to graduations and warm-weather parties — and that the COVID-19 pandemic this year did not curb their unwelcome presence.
“If anything, it probably made it even more prevalent, because as graduation ceremonies were interrupted or not put on at all, folks had their own separate little parties and drive-by parties and there were a lot of balloons,” he added.
Councilwoman Paula Devine decried the state Legislature for not having taken stronger action against the product and quipped that the Mylar balloon lobby must be a formidable force in Sacramento.
“I think we can be the leader on this issue,” she said. “It happens in every city in California, and to not have legislation to ban this product is alarming to me.”
The council reached pretty quick consensus on seriously exploring the sale ban.
“I think it would be great and make me proud to be part of a council that was the first city to go forward with a Mylar balloon ban,” Councilman Dan Brotman said. “I understand that it’s not going to solve our problem, but it’s certainly going to start the ball rolling.”