Laguna Beach will ban the sale, distribution and public use of all balloons starting 2024, which city officials contend will prevent ocean pollution and wildfires in enacting one of California’s strictest city balloon bans. 

After a unanimous final vote by the City Council in late February, Laguna Beach will prohibit all public use of balloons, as well as their sale at local businesses, regardless of material or use of helium versus alternate inflation gases. Council members expressed hope that the ban, which responds to balloons’ role as a fire hazard and ocean pollutant, may start a trend among neighboring cities. The decision garnered support from environmental organizations and some residents, despite opposition from some business owners who claim the ban disproportionately harms local sellers. 

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Jeremy Frimond, assistant to the city manager, told the council the grounds for the ban were community concerns over fire safety and marine protection. According to a Jan. 24 staff report, metallic balloons cause power outages and explosions when coming near or in contact with power lines. Additionally, the Ocean Conservancy, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit, lists balloons as the second most dangerous debris item since it’s frequently mistaken as food by birds, mammals, and marine life. In 2021, the City Council prohibited single-use plastics in food service to prevent debris but balloons have been overlooked.

On June 21, 2022, the City Council instructed staff to draft a restriction on only certain balloons. However, after recommendations from the city’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, the council decided Jan. 24 to update the restriction to all balloons – latex or foil –  regardless of air or lighter than air filling, such as helium. The council voted 5-0 to adopt the updated ban on Feb. 21. 

While balloons can be used on private property, use on public property, like beaches and parks, is prohibited. Local businesses cannot sell or distribute the product. However, residents can still order balloons online or from non-Laguna Beach based sellers. 

Violations of these restrictions can result in any resident, business, or group paying up to $100 for a first offense, $200 for the second, and $500 for each following offense within one year. After four offenses, one’s business license may be revoked, according to the city staff report.

Laguna Beach is not the only city taking steps to regulate balloons in California. Other cities have installed their own bans, such as Solana Beach and Encinitas’ ban on latex and foil balloons filled with gas lighter than air. Additionally in 2022, the California Legislature passed a bill to standardize foil balloons by 2028 in an effort to prevent destructive collisions with power lines. 

During the Jan. 24 meeting, Councilmember Mark Orgill explained that, while they cannot control if residents purchase balloons from nearby cities, he hopes that other cities in Orange County duplicate Laguna’s ban.

“Maybe we are going to start the trend. Somebody has to step up to the plate,” Orgill stated. 

The ban garnered support from both local organizations and municipal committees. Matt Lawson of the city’s Emergency & Disaster Preparedness Committee, told the City Council that it was essential to prevent potential fires from foil balloon and power line collisions. 

“With nearly 90% of the city within Cal Fire’s highest fire risk classification, we are literally a spark and a gust away from what happened in Paradise. Laguna Beach helium-filled mylar balloons are very dangerous devices,” said Lawson, referencing the most destructive wildfire in California’s history. 

Rich German, a resident and founder of Project O, an ocean conservancy nonprofit based in Laguna Beach, told the council that it’s not just helium-filled mylar balloons that endanger Laguna’s natural environment. German said that balloons are detrimental pollutants regardless of material or fill and whether they’re on land or ocean. 

Judie Mancuso, a resident and the vice chair of the city’s Environmental Sustainability Committee, echoed German’s sentiments. 

“When I see these balloons in the open space behind my house on a regular basis … I don’t know if they are latex or foil, I don’t know the type of air they had in them and neither does the animal whose stomach [the balloon] is in,” Mancuso said. 

However, the ban was not uncontested. Tim James, representing the California Grocers Assn., told the council the restrictions will hurt local business while rewarding those outside city limits. Additionally, he stated that with alternative retailers such as Amazon, the ban may not decrease pollution. 

“With access to balloons mere minutes outside city limits or a few clicks away online, any environmental gain is very unlikely,” said James. 

Frimond, the assistant to the city manager, told the council that staff consulted local businesses and concluded any economic impact from the ban wouldn’t be detrimental. 

The ban will go into effect Jan. 1, 2024. The council has expressed a desire to begin educating city staff working at beaches and parks, businesses, and residents on the ban immediately, such as posting signage on public property.

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