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Encinitas unanimously approves county's first balloon ban

Encinitas on Wednesday became the first city in the county to ban lighter-than-air balloons. North County reporter Alexander Nguyen has more on what that means.

The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday became the first city in the county to enact a lighter-than-air balloon ban.

The motion passed unanimously. It was the culmination of a campaign that the San Diego Surfrider Foundation had fought hard for since May.

"We're stoked," said Mitch Silverstein, the San Diego Surfrider chapter manager. "This is a win for Encinitas and really for the entire ocean, wave and beach-loving community in San Diego County."

RELATED: Encinitas considers ban on helium-filled balloons

The Foundation said lighter-than-air balloons, such as helium-filled balloons, can often float away and end up in the ocean, where animals mistake them for food. The balloons are then lodged in the animals' stomach lining, slowly starving them to death.

They also contribute to plastic pollution, ending up on beaches. With this win, the Surfrider Foundation plans to pursue more balloon bans in the county.

"One city down, 17 more to go," Silverstein said.

Balloon Ban
Robert F. Bukaty / AP
In this Thursday, April 25, 2019 photo, a balloon sits tangled on the rocky coast after washing ashore in Biddeford Pool, Maine.

Other Surfrider chapters have already contacted him for help on a similar ban in their communities.

The ordinance brought out lively debate among residents. Before Wednesday night's meeting, the city received more than 300 public comments — both for and against the ban.

Party City, the only national retailer in Encinitas that sells helium-filled balloons, was one of the big opponents of the ban. The company said latex balloons were biodegradable and urged the council to consider other options besides an outright ban, such as a public education campaign for residents not to intentionally release balloons and to properly discard them.

"The economic impact of banning helium-filled balloon sales would be devastating to our Encinitas store and business would have significant impact with the loss of revenue, sales and additional products and jobs," Party City district team leader Terri Bannon said.

RELATED: California scores well on Surfrider Foundation report card

She said balloons also bring joy to children and that's one of the reasons people use them to mark special occasions, such as birthdays.

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear did not buy that argument. She said protecting the environment was more important than the temporary joy balloons bring.

“We are going to find ways to celebrate birthdays and to mark occasions," Blakespear said. "And we always have and we always will. We do not need these types of balloons in order to make that an important event.”

The ban does not apply to air-filled balloons, and retailers such as Party City can continue to sell them, she said.

The ordinance will go into effect 30 days after the second reading, slated for Feb. 9.