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Encinitas to consider banning helium balloons

Helium balloons blow in the wind that are attached outside an apartment complex in 2009.
(Charlie Neuman / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Aim is to reduce amount of plastics on beaches and wildlife areas

The Encinitas City Council will debate Wednesday, Jan. 19, whether to ban the use, sale and distribution of “lighter-than-air,” or helium-filled, balloons.

Backed by the city’s Environmental Commission, the proposed ordinance aims to address “the critical local and regional concerns” created when helium-filled balloons escape their owners, soar into the sky and ultimately end up in the ocean, on area beaches and wildlife habitat areas, a city staff report notes.

The proposed ban seeks to reduce “plastic pollution, marine debris, marine life impacts, land animal and bird impacts, negative economic impacts and wildfire dangers,” the report continues. The council meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 505 S. Vulcan Ave.

Balloons themselves wouldn’t be banned by the proposed ordinance. People still could purchase and use balloons that are filled with heavier substances and thus can’t soar away. Paperwork created for a city Environmental Commission meeting last fall and attached to the council report, https://encinitas.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=7&event_id=3491&meta_id=133564, contains pictures of balloon arches and tabletop displays that would be permitted.

Reaction to the proposal has been mixed. Opponents have said that the city is engaging in vastly excessive government over-reach into people’s private purchasing decisions and eliminating a bright spot of joy from their lives, while proponents have said the ban will make the planet a better place for all living things.

Rachel Michelin, president of the California Retailers Association, warned in a letter to the city that a government ban is “by definition an extreme policy” and said history shows that prohibitions often cause more harm than the problem they seek to solve.

“The people of Encinitas should be free to choose whether they want to purchase helium balloons while being educated on how to use and dispose of them responsibly,” she wrote.

Encinitas resident Susan Hazel wrote that she thought the ban was “unnecessary” and the city should at most only consider a ban on balloons at the beach.

Their views, however, were vastly in the minority amid the hundred-plus pages of written public comment submitted to the city on the issue. Surfers, beach walkers, environmental group leaders, a landscape contractor and even a triathlon coach have all sent emails to the city urging passage of the ban. Many proponents noted that Encinitas has been a leader in reducing plastic pollution, said this was the next logical step for such an innovative city, and mentioned that it’s surprising how much balloon waste they collect.

“The need for a helium-filled balloon ordinance is highlighted by the number of balloons I find on the beach every time I do a cleanup,” Surfrider volunteer Janis Jones wrote. “I found three just yesterday, and I saw a couple of other people carrying balloons off the beach as well.”

Rachelle McLaughlin, a field biologist who works in riparian and sage scrub habitats in San Diego County, wrote that she finds “countless balloons each week” while working in remote areas, while several people wrote that the ban would also help reduce the nation’s shortage of helium.


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