What on Earth Is Happening With California's Theme Parks?

October 1, 2020, 9:12 PM · In a classic example of "be careful what you wish for" (because you might get it), leaders of California's major theme parks are now asking Governor Gavin Newsom not to issue guidance for reopening parks in the state.

Say what?

Yep, my colleague Brady MacDonald over at the Orange County Register has the story. The California Attractions and Parks Association, which represents the major parks in the state, is asking Newsom to hold off after the governor's press secretary said that the state would reveal the guidelines tomorrow. This comes after weeks of demands from industry leaders that Newsom release the new rules.

Apparently, the parks do not like what they saw in a draft of the proposed guidelines, which would govern when and how theme parks can resume operations in the state. Despite the lack of such guidelines, four of the eight locations represented by the association have reopened their gates for special events with partial operations, under guidance issued for other industries: SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California, Knott's Berry Farm, and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom.

"We ask the governor not to finalize guidance for amusement parks before engaging the industry in a more earnest manner, listening to park operators’ expertise and collaborating with the industry on a plan that will allow for amusement parks to reopen responsibly while still keeping the health and safety of park employees and guests a top priority," CAPA executive director Erin Guerrero said in a statement quoted by the Register.

Now throw in this. Apparently Disney Chairman Bob Iger has resigned from Newsom's economic recovery task force, reportedly over the theme park guidance issue.

If the state choose to go ahead with the new guidance, you will be able to find it on the state's Covid-19 website Friday.

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Replies (25)

October 1, 2020 at 9:38 PM

If Elon Musk were CEO of Disney that place would be open lol.

October 1, 2020 at 10:58 PM

Um, okay, guys, if you want help to get open, giving the idea you don't agree with the rules you have to work with is not the right image.

It just sounds like whining about rules and then "wait...you mean we have to actually follow them?!"

October 1, 2020 at 11:02 PM

In seriousness, the idea is to work with the governor on this, not act like it's a huge inconvenience. Illinois places have had to adapt like museums and such, did Disney and Universal honestly think they'd be given more carte blanche to handle it on their own?

October 1, 2020 at 11:03 PM

@the_man: Musk thinks he's the real-life Tony Stark when he's really a poor man's Thurston Howell III.

October 1, 2020 at 11:32 PM

I do not claim this to be entirely accurate, but from bits and pieces I've heard, this is roughly what went down:

Theme parks in California have been working on reopening for some time, and have been led to believe guidelines would be similar to those on other outdoor tourism-related businesses. For over a month, they've been preparing for a reopening based on policies approved for use in other parts of the country where parks are operated, as well as any additional restrictions California has placed against other businesses currently operating in the state. However, in recent weeks Sacramento has grown very quiet on the topic, increasing frustration. Today, park operators were presented with guidelines that included all of the expected requirements, but some additional restrictions none expected, the most significant of which are...

-Theme parks may not open until the county they are located in gets to the yellow tier (1 case per 100k and under 2% positive tests).
-Once open, capacity must be limited to 25% of normal operational capacity.
-Additionally, parks may only welcome guests who reside within a 120 mile radius of the property, and may not advertise beyond that region while this restriction remains in effect.
-All of these rules will remain in place until the pandemic has been declared over.

Naturally, every single operator objected to these guidelines. Not only are these guidelines more restrictive than any other business sector in California, but they rely on something that is statistically improbable without a theoretical intervention in order for parks to even open (in fact, Vermont is the only state in the country that has achieved numbers that low). Furthermore, they would likely extend the closure for several more months, with no guarantee an opening would be permitted at that time. Essentially, under these guidelines, avoiding bankruptcy is virtually impossible unless things got better very, very quickly.

Right now, park operators are currently looking into legal options to force an opening, and depending on the success of such it could potentially result in California's entire reopening plan being declared unconstitutional. Reportedly they are willing to settle on the current criteria for operation in the red phase, with a capacity increase to 50% and dropping of the distance requirement at orange. However, they are at the point where they need a definitive path that will result in a likely ability to reopen in the near future, and they are willing to take legal action to get that if playing nice won't work.

Personally, I side with the parks here. In a state that currently allows all businesses except bars and offices to open in some form in the red tier, and also permits the operation of family entertainment centers, restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, museums, zoos, and aquariums (among other businesses) in that same tier with much looser restrictions, the guidelines on theme parks are frankly draconian. I hope Newsom realizes how much of a blunder he has made and works with parks to release a workable set of guidelines by the end of next week (at the absolute latest), or there is a fair to good chance we could wind up undoing any benefit to the pain endured over the past six months.

October 1, 2020 at 11:52 PM

Frankly draconian

You clearly have no idea what "draconian" means if you think this counts. Another thread pointed out how Disneyland happens to be in a high infection zone, they're not going to be as lax as Florida is. And San Diego not much better with Sea World.

Again, Newsom wanted to relax back in June then a new eruption of cases, so he's erring on the side of caution because if cases do rise around the parks, they'll have to shut back down anyway.

October 1, 2020 at 11:59 PM

My proposal for guidance that would make no one happy but that everyone might grudgingly agree to: Nothing in purple, outdoor facilities at 25 percent and indoor closed in red, outdoor at 50 percent and indoor at 25 percent in orange, outdoor with six-foot spacing and indoor at 50 percent in yellow. Masks for everyone at all times, except when seated at least six feet from other parties and eating outdoors. Temp checks at entry. Add a 50-mile visitor limit at red, 150 miles at orange and no limit at yellow.

October 2, 2020 at 12:19 AM

@mikeW you guys keep quoting yourselves like an echo chamber with no actual source. OC is not a high infection rate area and has been dropping down the colored tiers as quickly as they're allowed to. Im not sure where this nonsense is coming from about a hot zone. Knott's has been operating their food parties effectively not far from Disneyland, safely and successfully.
@AJ I agree completely.

October 2, 2020 at 12:27 AM

By the way...

The President of the United States tested positive

You really think folks are going to be that concerned about theme parks reopening right now?

October 2, 2020 at 12:42 AM

One loud mouths health is significantly less important to me than an industry that creates thousands of jobs and revenue that support the community I live in... So yes, I think people will still be concerned about theme parks reopening.

October 2, 2020 at 1:01 AM

@AngryDuck: Yes he's a loudmouth. He's also the President who may very well have also infected the VP, White House staff, scores in Congress and others. The stock market is already feeling a huge hit so I think Newsom has a good reason to put off a decision for a few days....

October 2, 2020 at 1:20 AM

MikeW,

Draconian: Excessively harsh and severe.

I'd say that fits perfectly. Let me give you an example...Currently, Knott's Berry Farm is operating a food festival. With the exception of rides and shows, the entire park is open, and if somebody across the country wanted to fly to California for the event, they would be welcome to do so. The event is so popular it sold out every single day a month in advance, and even some of the extra Thursdays added sold out completely. However, for Knott's Berry Farm to open up a single ride (even one completely outdoors like Silver Bullet, or a mode of transportation like the Calico Railroad), the park must wait until Orange County reaches the nearly impossible to achieve yellow tier, and at that point people out in Bakersfield will no longer be able to visit. If you don't think that's draconian, please explain to me what part of it makes any sense.

My argument this whole time has not been that theme parks should absolutely be open. Instead, it has been that given everything else currently open in California, much of which is considered to have a higher risk for viral spread, it does not make sense for theme parks to stay closed. Personally, I think following similar guidance to zoos, museums, and aquariums makes a lot of sense (outdoor only in purple, indoor at 25% in red, indoor at 50% in orange, full operation in yellow), as theme parks are little different than these facilities other than that they offer interactive exhibits that guests can ride rather than passive exhibits where guests observe. Besides, rides can operate outdoors at family entertainment centers right now...putting a gate up and charging admission shouldn't change that.

As for Orange County being a high infection zone, let's look at the numbers (and since citations are a good idea, I'm pulling from covidactnow.org). These are the numbers as of right now:

Orange County: 6 cases per 100k, 2.5% positive rate, 0.97 infection rate
Los Angeles County: 9.9 cases per 100k, test rate not reported, 1.02 infection rate
San Diego County: 7.5 cases per 100k, 2.3% positive test rate, 0.94 infection rate
California overall: 8.2 cases per 100k, 2.8% positive test rate, 0.96 infection rate

Now, let's compare that to some other states:

-California's numbers place it 38th among the 50 states, with 1 being the worst. As a comparison, Florida is 32nd, with 10.7 cases per 100k, an 11% positive test rate, and an infection rate of 0.94.
-Orange County's numbers are on par with Arizona, which despite blowing up over the summer, now ranks 46th out of the 50 states.
-Los Angeles County, the worst of the three So Cal counties with major theme parks, still has numbers better than Florida and is therefore experiencing less severe Covid than approximately 2/3 of the country.

So while you could say that Los Angeles is a hot zone within California, when looking at it on a national scale that is pretty misleading. Saying Orange or San Diego counties are high is simply untrue when they're below the state average. Now, you could argue the numbers are so low simply because we've been locked down, but California's numbers are very similar to Maryland and Ohio, two states that opened far more over the summer.

I stand by what I said previously: Given what else is open in California and what the data is saying (both on Covid in general and on the miniscule amount of transmissions over months of park operation in places with worse outbreaks), it's very difficult for me to call extending the theme park closure anything but draconian.

As for Trump testing positive for the virus, I wish him the best (even if I don't support him), but I have a hard time feeling sorry for someone who gets infected after behaving so irresponsibly.

October 2, 2020 at 1:18 AM

And again, Newsom wanted to be open in June, was ready for it and a spike so he has very good reason to be wary, especially as still the idiots treating it like it's no big deal and such. This idea he's enjoying seeing his economy crater is foolish, he just recognizes that another shutdown can be more devastating and trying to keep that from happening via safer guidelines for places that can still be considered high risk for infection like theme parks.

October 2, 2020 at 1:27 AM

MikeW, if far fewer businesses were operating, I might be able to buy that. However, when the number of closed businesses is much smaller than the number of open ones, I just can't help but feel the motive behind keeping the parks close is misguided at best and a direct attack against the industry at worst.

October 2, 2020 at 1:32 AM

@MikeW higher risk than what? The Family fun centers are open, restaurants are open, hair salons are open, nail salons are open (the last two of which actually do have evidence against them as to being higher risk). As AJ pointed out, there are literally theme parks already operating just not allowing guests on rides. This isn't science, it's a show. Maybe our dear governor's aunt can visit a theme park and prove to him that mortals can visit one without dying like she did by visiting the salon.

October 2, 2020 at 1:52 AM

As important as it is to slow the spread, its gotten insane. California was already a laughing stock before, and they don’t event try to get people to take them seriously anymore. 30% park capacity, 50% outdoor capacity, 25% indoors, social distancing and masks required except when eating and with people in a group. Reservations required for entry at specific times to avoid crowds. If you are late you can’t get in. Problem solved.

October 2, 2020 at 5:21 AM

Out of curiosity I checked hotel prices in Anaheim and even with everything closed the hotels are still expensive. I know in general everything in California is more expensive than Florida, but right now you can stay in a nice hotel Orlando, where everything is open, for less than a similar hotel in Anaheim, where all of the attractions are locked down and there is nothing to do.

October 2, 2020 at 5:37 AM

>> If Elon Musk were CEO of Disney that place would be open lol.

It also wouldn’t have a sustainable path to profitability.

October 2, 2020 at 6:35 AM

>% Orange County: 6 cases per 100k, 2.5% positive rate, 0.97 infection rate
Los Angeles County: 9.9 cases per 100k, test rate not reported, 1.02 infection rate
San Diego County: 7.5 cases per 100k, 2.3% positive test rate, 0.94 infection rate
California overall: 8.2 cases per 100k, 2.8% positive test rate, 0.96 infection rate


I can’t agree with you AJ on those numbers. An infenction rate that close to one (and over in one case) suggests there’s no real wiggle room.

October 2, 2020 at 8:15 AM

From the various stories and accounts I've read about this situation, it sounds like California pulled a bait and switch on the theme parks. The parks were working with the state in establishing guidelines, and with D'Amaro's final plea earlier this week, it was believed that the consensus agreed to by the parks and authorities would finally become official. However, the state decided that what was mutually negotiated (and consistent with what other businesses in the state are operating under) was not enough, and decided to add some more requirements without consultation that essentially make it impossible for theme parks to open until the pandemic is over.

The theme parks, a key revenue generator for the state, are being treated like second class citizens here, and are being expected to simply "stand by" while other tourism related businesses are allowed to operate. It's almost as if the state WANTS theme parks to go bankrupt and their tens of thousands of employees to join the unemployment rolls.

I do think some of the leaked operational requirements are fair, but the biggest one for me is the visitor radius requirement. How in the world is a theme park (or ANY business for that matter) supposed to enforce that? Are they checking IDs at the gate with CMs typing in addresses on their iPhones to make sure the address is not more than 120 miles away? If that address is in Santa Barbara (121 miles away), will the guest be denied entry, while a guest from Barstow (109 miles away) is allowed in? What about guests who are homeless or don't have their current residence listed on their driver's license? What about people that do reside locally, but have traveled around the world in recent weeks as part of their job? The logistics of managing and enforcing a visitor radius is absolutely impractical without utilizing the types of screenings that so many in this country abhor and have fueled the systemic racism that came to a head over the summer.

The whole point of the parks working together with the government was for them to reach a compromise that would allow operation within a reasonable and predictable amount of time. Instead the state pulled an okie-doke by adding unrealistic and unattainable metrics at the last minute without discussion. Yes, the state has added some of the same unattainable metrics to the guidelines of other industries, but those are for the businesses to get back to full operation/occupancy, not simply to open their doors. The hypocrisy of this whole situation cannot be more obvious.

October 2, 2020 at 10:01 AM

The only thing I disagree with is the 120-mile radius.

Last I saw, Orange County California has an infection rate of 5.2 per 100,000 people. So if I live 442 miles away (which I do), but live in a county with 2 cases per 100,000 people (which I don't know, because I don't know where to find that statistic, but our county has had a grand total of 312 cases with a population of just over 48,000 people, and one death since this all started -- so "2" is an arbitrary number and not meant to be an accurate representation), I cannot visit Disneyland under the rules as drafted.

I mean, I'm not sure I would be willing to visit right now under the circumstances, especially if it means visiting an area with a higher case rate than where I live.

I also work in a casino, where there is sustained close contact (in a smoke-filled room). Which means I probably take a much larger risk showing up to work every night than I would be taking by visiting Disneyland if they had the same restrictions in place that Florida theme parks have in place.

I TOTALLY get the need to proceed with caution, but the 120-mile radius rule seems to be over the top.

October 2, 2020 at 4:43 PM

"""" .....My proposal for guidance that would make no one happy but that everyone might grudgingly agree to: Nothing in purple, outdoor facilities at 25 percent and indoor closed in red, outdoor at 50 percent and indoor at 25 percent in orange, outdoor with six-foot spacing and indoor at 50 percent in yellow. Masks for everyone at all times, except when seated at least six feet from other parties and eating outdoors. Temp checks at entry. Add a 50-mile visitor limit at red, 150 miles at orange and no limit at yellow. .....""""
Now, Robert, you sound like 100% political and 0% scientific !! ... :-) ... except when it was meant as ultimate sarcasm :-)

October 2, 2020 at 5:28 PM

@AngryDuck

I'm going to need you to moderate duck for a minute. The County Disnelyand resides in just fell below 8% Which moved them into tier 4 to tier 3. I projected that their current 7 day was 4.21% which still has to be adjusted with a 7 day lag. If that holds they will drop into tier 2.

Unfortunately, we need to get to tier 1.

You can see the scale on the page below.

https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/COVID-19/COVID19CountyMonitoringOverview.aspx

If you have a NY Times subscription, you can see the current country rates. Yesterday, they had a 7 day current of 1338 cases. Still too many.

October 2, 2020 at 5:49 PM

Purple (Tier 4 CLOSED)

Red (Tier 3 OPEN)
In-experience contact tracing,
72 hr pre-covid testing prior to entry [no general esplanade access]
No contact ticket purchase, mobile food ordering
Park entry reservations, 20% capacity or 17,000 max.
Entry to residents 250 mile radius based on zip code
Ride queues must be outside only
Dinning outside only
Mask 2+ 10 ft social distance

Orange (Tier 2 OPEN)
In-experience contact tracing,
72 pre-covid testing or testing onsite [@Downtown Disney] prior to entry [no general esplanade access]
No contact ticket purchase, mobile food ordering
Park entry reservations, 35% capacity or 29,000 max.
Entry to residents 250 mile radius based on zip code
Ride queues must be outside only
Dinning outside only
Mask 2+ 10 ft social distance

yellow (Tier 1 OPEN)
In-experience contact tracing,
Temperature checks [no general esplanade access]
No contact ticket purchase, mobile food ordering
Park entry reservations, 40% capacity or 34,000 max.
Entry to residents 250 mile radius based on zip code
Dinning outside only
Mask 2+ 10 ft social distance

Post-vaccination

In-experience contact tracing,
Temperature checks [no general esplanade access]
No contact ticket purchase, mobile food ordering
Park entry reservations, 60% capacity or 51,000 max.
Indoor dinning with restrictions
Mask 2+ 10 ft social distance

100% operating capacity
Vax cert or card
In-experience contact tracing,
Temperature checks [no general esplanade access]
10 ft social distance

October 4, 2020 at 7:06 AM

i would hope they've been keeping a close eye on the FL parks. although the FL governor is playing fast and loose with people's health, the parks from what i've experienced, are making it work, and very safely. trust me, i am a stickler so i have not been going to restaurants or bars, pretty much just the supermarket and the theme parks. i will say out of the big 3, sea world could step it up and enforce mask wearing a lot better than they have and i have yet to make it to busch gardens or legoland so not sure what it's like there or fun spot, who i hear isn't enforcing anything so i have steered clear of them.

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