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Banning Balloons

Those big inflatable balloons you often see on the top of car dealerships will soon be a thing of the past. Houston councilmembers enacted a ban on the so-called attention-getting devices. But the balloons put up a good fight.
Laurie Johnson has more.


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Somehow, somewhere along the way in a heated discussion on attention-getting devices, councilmembers locked onto the mental image of a pink gorilla in a bikini.

“Whether a business has this on top, no one still has been able to prove to me that having a pink gorilla in a bikini brings more business. I just — I haven’t seen it.”

That’s Councilmember Sue Lovell, who frequently challenged comments from those who oppose the ban.

Council spent three hours listening to testimony from 29 different speakers on the subject.

The majority of them, like Bob Wright, were against the ordinance.

“I own Party Boy on I-10 and Studemont. We’ve been using balloons for the past 12-15 years. And people ask if there’s any proof that we’ve got any increase in business. We go up anywhere from 20-30 percent when we put a balloon on the wall.”

The ordinance bans everything from inflatables to streamers, banners, tinsel, pinwheels, strobe lights — basically any attention- getting device on a commercial property. There are exceptions for seasonal holiday displays.

Councilmember Melissa Noriega says this is really about whether the community likes these things.

“Our community is telling us they don’t like them and that they’re tacky. And we have had several instances where we’ve had feedback about Houston not being respected.”

Resident Lonnie Mercer had this to say in response.

“And with all due respect, each and every councilmember has cluttered out streets, parks, schools and roadside common areas with election signs, which could easily be considered much more of a distraction than an advertising balloon. You choose to advertise yourselves in campaigns without restriction. But after the elections are over, the signs remain without penalty as clutter to deteriorate throughout the city. Obviously it was necessary for each of you to have caught someone’s eye, so why don’t small businesses deserve the same opportunity it gives each and every one of you?”

Representatives from groups like The Quality of Life Coalition, Greater Houston Management District and Weingarten Realty, along with Olga Moya of Scenic Houston, spoke in favor of the ban.

“Attention-getting devices may have been at one point amusing and acceptable. But our community now, both the business and the neighborhood civic leaders, communities have now found that they are an eyesore, a distraction and visual blight.”

After hours of input, and months of task force research, the city approved the ordinance with Councilmembers Pam Holm and Anne Clutterbuck voting against it. It goes into effect May 1st, 2009.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.