First published in the Jan. 15 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Burbank City Council voted unanimously this week to severely limit the sale of metallic balloons, which electric utility officials said have caused power outages.
The ordinance bans businesses from selling the balloons, often referred to by the brand name Mylar, unless they are filled with air only and are attached to a post or similar decorative structure. The rule, approved Tuesday, will go into effect on Feb. 11.
The policy has taken almost exactly a year to reach approval after the City Council examined the role of Mylar balloons in Burbank’s power outages on Jan. 12, 2021. Representatives of Burbank Water and Power estimated in October, when the council held its first vote on the ordinance, that metallic balloons coming into contact with power lines were responsible for about 15% of service outages since 2000 — the No. 1 cause of outages in Burbank.
Those outages included one on Nov. 12 that affected 734 customers, BWP legislative analyst Tiffany Titus told the council.
Groups representing balloon retailers and manufacturers asked the City Council not to approve the ordinance, arguing that the panel should wait for potential state legislation that would require balloons to be made out of material that won’t disrupt electrical systems. The groups also said that the ordinance would burden small businesses.
But council members noted that it is unclear when or if that legislation will reach approval, and that retailers can still sell Mylar balloons under the specified conditions.
Officials modeled Burbank’s ordinance after a nearly identical one in Glendale, whose City Council approved the restrictions in October 2020. Titus said that while Glendale representatives believe that the policy has reduced power outages, they do not yet have hard data. The pandemic, she explained, has made parties — during which balloons can be inadvertently released — less common. Also, balloons can float over from other cities.
“In [Los Angeles], you can release a Mylar balloon and it can end up in Burbank’s utility lines,” she added.
Burbank city staff members estimated that creating and distributing educational material on the new policy — to the fewer than 300 businesses that might by affected by it — will cost up to $25,000, though they added that the regulations could reduce costs associated with responding to outages caused by metallic balloons.