Cleveland City Council is considering a law against balloon releases

balloons in a tree
Cleveland's proposed ban drew some pushback from members of council who questioned whether residents were being properly informed of the possible rule change. [PnPy / Shutterstock]

Cleveland City Council is considering a law that makes releasing 10 or more balloons a minor misdemeanor, carrying a $150 fine.

The legislation was introduced in November and considered Wednesday in a safety committee meeting.

“Unlike other cities, we have waterways and a lake where these balloons end up,” said the committee’s new chairman, Mike Polensek. “We’re not here to hamper anyone’s birthday parties or celebration events, but at the same time we’ve got to make sure that our infrastructure is protected and our environment is protected.”

In 1986, the release of a million and a half balloons in Public Square to break a world record infamously resulted in a safety and environmental disaster that was the subject of a short documentary.

Councilman Brian Kazy co-sponsored the bill and said balloons frequently get caught in power lines. Council had considered a ban on mylar balloons, which are particularly damaging to power lines, he said, but decided against it.

“Not that we don’t see single balloons every once in a while, but the majority of cleanup and the majority of what we see getting caught in utility lines is balloons in bunches,” said Kazy, who now chairs council's utilities committee.

Some councilmembers questioned whether the city had done enough outreach to residents who release balloons as part of memorial services and other events.

“There’s a lot of African Americans in our communities that release balloons. We have a lot of tragedies in our neighborhoods,” said Councilman Joe Jones. “The older generation, not necessarily the younger generation, gather around sites of tragedies, everyone has balloons and they release those balloons.”

Jones supported a proposal by newly elected Ward 7 Councilmember Stephanie Howse to conduct outreach before the ban on balloon releases receives final approval.

“If you are trying to stop a practice that people have been doing probably for generations, I don’t think it suffices to say, ‘Look at a website,’” said Howse. “I really think it’s insensitive to just say, ‘You can’t do it’ without any outreach.”

The ordinance passed committee without objection and goes to the finance committee next. Polensek said council will consider ways to educate the public before the ordinance is considered in finance.

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