Retailers within city limits are soon expected to have to cut off their sales of Mylar balloons, assuming that a second reading of an ordinance goes without a hitch before the City Council.
The proposal to ban their commercial sale gained unanimous approval this week by the council, which hopes to curb the frequency with which the decorative pieces float into power lines and transformers and send portions of the city into darkness. The ordinance permits latex balloons to continue to be made available to Glendale shoppers.
“There are so many negative impacts from Mylar balloons that I really think it’s time for us to take the first step in a proactive leadership role,” Councilwoman Paula Devine said Tuesday.
The ordinance, as proposed, notably does not penalize ownership or use of such balloons in the city; officials avoided that step so as not to add the burden of enforcement. Rather, officials aim to both reduce their immediate availability to residents and send a message to the balloon industry that it needs to do better.
The nature of Mylar balloons’ material makes them particularly hazardous when they become snagged in power lines, with the electrical arcing often enough to disable power transmission in the area and at times capable of creating an explosion. In the week leading up to Tuesday’s meeting alone, the balloons were responsible for two power outages in Glendale neighborhoods.
Some council members were open to revisiting the issue should there emerge an alternative that preserves the desired qualities of Mylar balloons — their attractive sheen, ability to carry images and efficiency in retaining helium.
“I think this is their Apollo Project moment to come up with an alternative,” Councilman Ardy Kassakhian said.
Amid a flurry of residents who supported the council’s decision, the balloon lobby also was well represented Tuesday night, with calls coming in from local proprietors and distributors as well as outside wholesalers and organizations.
“This stands to negatively impact small business owners in Glendale and surrounding areas,” said Lorna O’Hara, representing the New Jersey-based Balloon Council, a national industry group that promotes balloon education.
Scott Johnson, president of Glendale-based distributor L.A. Balloons, told the council his business’ clients includes 200 small businesses in the city, and said many have counted on the party novelties for steady income during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This balloon ban would be utterly devastating to my business,” Johnson said. “A ban on balloons would also devastate these 200 small businesses. Collectively as a group, here in Glendale, we have all invested millions of dollars into our businesses and into the city of Glendale. Is it reasonable to bankrupt our Glendale businesses during this time? I believe our city will suffer millions of dollars in economic damage, along with multitudes in job losses, and that’s not factoring the half a million dollars in sales tax revenues generated just by balloons.”
Steven Mayhew, a marketing director with L.A. Balloons, added that the city’s report on balloon-related power disruptions “greatly overinflated” the numbers, and added that the businesses likely to be affected worst were owned by women and minorities.
“I understand that you do not work with balloons, but the balloon industry is highly active in our city,” Mayhew told the council. “This ban could ultimately wipe out so many small businesses in our city and in the surrounding cities. The solution? Educating the public is the best way to reduce outages.”
Councilman Dan Brotman said he was sympathetic to the plight of those businesses but added that he had to think about the benefit of the city at large.
“Nobody likes to take anybody’s revenue away,” Brotman said. “Mylar balloons are fun, everybody loves them, but I think it’s an issue of the benefits to a few coming at the expense and costs of many. There are real costs to transformers and equipment.”