Encinitas council unanimously agrees to ban helium-filled balloons

Helium balloons blow in the wind in front of the El Norte Villas apartment complex in Escondido.
(File photo)

Proposed ordinance seeks to reduce plastic pollution on area beaches, wildlife habitat areas


The brief moment of joy that comes from having a helium-filled balloon isn’t worth the beach trash and wildlife hazards that escaped balloons create, the Encinitas City Council decided Wednesday, Jan. 19.

In a unanimous vote, the council gave its initial approval to a proposed city ordinance that will ban the use, sale and distribution of “lighter-than-air,” or helium-filled, balloons. It’ll need a second vote at a later council meeting before it can go into effect.

Council members said Wednesday, Jan. 19, that they wholeheartedly supported the proposal, which was brought forward by the city’s Environmental Commission.

“I think we need to be reducing plastics in every possible way,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said as she declared that she “absolutely” backed the idea of banning helium-filled balloons.

Councilmembers Kellie Shay Hinze and Joe Mosca both noted that Encinitas has been a leader in banning other plastic waste, including Styrofoam and single-use plastic bags, and said they were proud to support the city’s latest proposal.

“Hopefully, when Encinitas leads, others will follow,” Mosca said as he responded to opponents’ arguments that the ban wouldn’t be that effective because people could just buy helium-filled balloons from neighboring cities.

Councilmember Tony Kranz said he knows that it isn’t easy for businesses to have to change to meet the changing times — the printing industry he works for has experienced this — but there are alternatives for balloon retailers. The city’s proposed ban only will apply to “lighter-than-air-filled” balloons, so air-filled balloons can be used in arrangements, he noted.

While council members reported receiving hundreds of emails on the balloon ban proposal in recent days, only six people spoke during public comment on the item Wednesday, Jan. 19, and they were evenly split over the issue.

Opponents included representatives for the California Retailers Association and the Party City store in Encinitas, as well as a man who said he’d been involved in the balloon industry throughout his life and brought several balloon animals to the meeting.

Ryan Allain, the California Retailers Association manager of state and local government affairs, encouraged the council to pursue an education campaign rather than banning balloons, calling the proposed ban an “overbearing hardship” at a time when small businesses are already struggling. He and the lifelong balloon advocate both said that balloon ban supporters claim many things that aren’t true, including that there’s a helium shortage and that balloons are a substantial marine wildlife hazard and don’t biodegrade.

Ban proponents brought photographs and other evidence to document their concerns about balloon waste. Mark O’Connor, one of the leaders of the local Surfrider Foundation’s Rise Above Plastics Committee who’s been heavily involved in the Encinitas ban proposal, carted up to the speakers’ podium a gigantic jug stuffed with 180 balloons he said he personally collected from area beaches.

Given his own experience walking the beaches, it’s obvious that an existing state law that makes it a misdemeanor to intentionally release balloons isn’t doing enough to reduce balloon waste, he said.

O’Connor also recited a lengthy list of groups that support the ban, ranging from marine environmental organizations to desert tortoise protection societies, and said the supporters numbered in the thousands.