Disneyland, Universal Execs Rip State's Rules for Reopening

October 21, 2020, 2:56 PM · All options are on the table for California theme parks as they look for permission to reopen, industry leaders said today in a press conference.

The California Attractions and Parks Association hosted an online briefing with the presidents of Universal Studios Hollywood and the Disneyland and Legoland California resorts, as well as the regional vice president for Cedar Fair's parks in California. The executives were reacting to yesterday's announcement by California Health and Human Service Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly that their parks would not be allowed to reopen until their counties reach the state's Tier 4, or Yellow Tier status, where Covid-19 transmission is "minimal."

"At the heart of it we don't see the guidelines is based in science or facts. We've proven that we can open and operate our park safely and responsibly, and we've designed detailed health and safety protocols that are successfully in practice now in our theme parks in Orlando, Osaka, and Singapore," Universal Studios Hollywood President and COO Karen Irwin said.

"I also think it's a little bit disingenuous for the state to say they've collaborated with parks on these guidelines. Despite being told that we would see reports and feedback following the state's visits to several of our sites in the last couple of weeks, we expected those to be used for the basis of discussion and formulation of rational return to work protocols. That didn't happen. Those reports were never issued, and the guidelines that were released yesterday seem to have ignored, frankly, much of that input," Irwin said.

"The restriction of 25 percent capacity for indoor restaurants at our parks is an example of kind of an arbitrary guideline that contradicts guidance for all other California restaurants that can be seated up to 50 percent in Tier 4, including those just outside of our gate in CityWalk. The insistence that opening our parks will draw guests from outside California ignores the fact that parks are already operating elsewhere and see predominantly local attendance. We all know, and a lot of data supports this, that the international visitation to California is unfortunately not going to return to 2019 levels for many years to come. We're also seeing that the outer U.S. attendance is vastly reduced. And on top of that, Southern California parks, generally rely heavily on local visitors even pre COVID."

Legoland California Resort President Kurt Stocks continued the theme of comparing theme parks to other industries that have been allowed to return in the state.

"If you take a look at similar entertainment venues such as zoos, museums, aquariums, and family entertainment centers — all have been able to open outdoors, and many indoors, since Tier 1 without any distinction between the size of the facility," Stocks said. "I should be clear that we're very pleased that these facilities have been able to open, and I'd have to say that I think they've done a great job in their reopening protocols and how they've delivered their experiences to their guests. We just want the administration to treat us the same as industries of a very similar nature.

"Take a look at [a] very different entertainment venue that the administration is allowing to reopen ahead of amusement parks that are easily higher risk and encourage transmission more than theme parks — beaches. There's no enforcement of physical distancing or face coverings and they regularly draw hundreds of thousands of guests across a weekend from all over. Card rooms and race tracks have been allowed to open their doors in Tier 1 and indoors will be will be allowed to open in Tier 3. Large shopping centers have been opening doors in Tier 1 and by the time they get to Tier 3 they'll be open indoors with absolutely no capacity restrictions whatsoever."

"Theme parks create a 100 percent controlled environment with temperature checks for all guests, mask enforcement, increased sanitization protocols, [and] social distancing measures that far exceed most daily life experiences and any other leisure activities. So we are very much ready to open and we would implore the administration to allow us to do so," Stocks said.

"We really do appreciate the administration's desire to keep transmissions down, by the way — we're not at cross purposes," Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock said. "We believe in that. We're just not aligned on what I call a collaborative and balanced approach that is driven by science and data."

"We really do need to be judicious with with how we're making decisions, and really understand the breadth of the impacts that are happening to so many different people," Potrock said. "We're strongly advocating for science and a real-time database approach to achieve what I think is a holistic and balanced solution. Ultimately, we all want to get people back to work, that getting them back to work helps from a health perspective."

Irwin said that Universal Studios Hollywood has considered reopening food and retail operations in the park in an effort to get some employees back to work, as Knott's Berry Farm has done. "It is something that we are looking into. That should not though, in any way, mitigate for the problem of not having our entire park reopened."

"It's microscopic compared to opening our parks," Potrock said of the affect upon cast employment of having a food and merchandise event at Disney.

"We want to be safe," Cedar Fair Regional Vice President Raffi Kaprelyan said. "We have integrity around that, and to be told that we're not and not able to operate is offensive."

When asked about potential legal action against the state to help reopen parks, CAPA Executive Director California Attractions and Parks Association said, "I think that all options are open at this point. We're going to continue to explore our options. Our number one goal is to be allowed to reopen responsibly. Obviously, we'd love to keep that conversation going and come up with a reasonable timeline for reopening, but at this point, any options are viable."

"The theme park industry is not in an entrenched position," Potrock said. "We are flexible. We are open minded. We are looking for data and science-based solutions. And we stand ready to do that at a moment's notice."

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Replies (26)

October 21, 2020 at 3:18 PM

What’s a “Family Entertainment Centre”? Is it an Arcade, soft play, or something else?

October 21, 2020 at 3:29 PM

@chad H - They're talking about places like Dave and Buster's, Chuck E Cheese, and go-cart facilities that have indoor arcades, mini golf, and food. I'm not sure if trampoline gyms, rock climbing facilities, and/or tumbling/ninja gyms would be categorized as family entertainment centers under California's rules (there's some indications that they could be FECs) or if they fall under gyms, which are still allowed to operate with restrictions (even indoors under the RED tier), unlike theme parks, which can't operate at all.

October 21, 2020 at 4:25 PM

Allow me to say what Ms. Irwin did not say ... (ahem) ... The Governor of California and the state's Secretary of Health & Human Services are liars. They cannot be trusted to tell the truth. And their pathetic political games are hurting the families of park employees.

Universal Studios Hollywood President and COO Karen Irwin said. "I also think it's a little bit disingenuous for the state to say they've collaborated with parks on these guidelines. Despite being told that we would see reports and feedback following the state's visits to several of our sites in the last couple of weeks, we expected those to be used for the basis of discussion and formulation of rational return to work protocols. That didn't happen. Those reports were never issued, and the guidelines that were released yesterday seem to have ignored, frankly, much of that input."

(THC stands and acknowledges the applause)

October 21, 2020 at 5:25 PM

I would love to see Disney and Universal (and other parks) work together in a lawsuit against then state of California. I suspect the state would back down real quick.

October 22, 2020 at 11:40 AM

You would think that a governor would want to help his state prosper. Instead, Newsom is 'being stubborn' about sticking to his 'health first approach'. His draconian measures guaranteed to tank the economy are reminiscent of other Democratic governors and mayors who oversee and in many instances, approve of and support 'mainly peaceful but fiery protests'.

Their M.O. needs to be called out, they simply don't to give T the credit of an improving economy. I predict this will change after the election, and maybe that's when Newsom will start to realize that he needs to do something to save the state. Right now he's tone deaf, even answering a reporter's question about people and companies leaving the state by saying, "Well the happiness index in California is high".

October 21, 2020 at 8:59 PM

Disdain.

Your position to me hits both of the telltale signs of conspiracy nonsense.

1. Come up with something “they” might want to do
2. Come up with the single most ridiculous way of achieving it, and insist it’s true.

Come on. California isn’t a competitive state, and winning it by a little more does the democrats no good. The idea that this is some conspiracy requires a massive failure in reasoning to put together... that I don’t event know where to start.

Plus the measures are consistent with what many governments are doing over the world. They’re not that unusual, even if we did accept they’re on the higher end.

Prioritising health and wanting prosperity are not opposites. If people need to take time away to care for family, isolate, or are dying, this does the economy no good and drags it down

October 22, 2020 at 12:21 AM

ugh Disfan. This has NOTHING to do with Trump whatsoever. Please don't try to turn this into a political left vs right discussion. That's not what this is.

October 22, 2020 at 11:43 AM

Chad, I'm not suggesting it's a conspiracy on any level, I'm just pointing out the mindset of Democratic governors and mayors. For one example, why would the Portland mayor refuse help from the federal government for so long? Because the presence of federal troops would make the protests worse? That mindset is pertinent to the draconian measures. Ok, you don't want to make it political, but once the Governor enters the picture, I will claim that it's fair game to discuss his policies and possible motivations. I'll just leave it with this, we shall see what happens.

October 22, 2020 at 5:47 AM

>> Chad, I'm not suggesting it's a conspiracy on any level, I'm just pointing out the mindset of Democratic governors and mayors.

Their mindset is keeping people alive. Like most governments around the world.

>> For one example, why would the Portland mayor refuse help from the federal government for so long? Because the presence of federal troops would make the protests worse?

Yes. Escalation can make things a lot worse.

>> That mindset is pertinent to the draconian measures.

Are you suggesting sending armed agents to stop a protest is of itself not draconian? You might want to stop and pick one direction to argue.

>> Ok, you don't want to make it political

Keeping people alive in a pandemic shouldn’t be political.

October 22, 2020 at 9:28 AM

Chad those protests turned into riots a long time ago and the citizens of Portland deserve to have law and order in their city. Anarchy should not be tolerated escalation or not.

October 22, 2020 at 9:24 AM

. The question was asked if the assistance was refused to avoid making things worse. Escalation does make things worse. A specific answe and a specific question.

Now at what point they became riots is a completely different question, and beyond the scope of what I was asked and responding to. However, they hardly calmed the situation, did they?

October 22, 2020 at 11:05 AM

If that person thinks theme parks and BEACHES are analogous they're on drugs. You don't stand in a tight line to get into a beach; there are no indoor portions of beaches; at the beach you don't ride in a little cart directly through airflow of the 1000 people in front of you.

Keep up the great work Gavin. Look at the national map: California is one of literally TEN states where the virus currently isn't going UP. We call that SUCCESS OF LEADERSHIP.

Need to go to a theme park? Go to one in Wisconsin, or Oklahoma. Remember to wear your N95 mask, you're gonna need it.

Also: why do people keep saying the theme parks should "sue" California? You can't-- the state government has every right to regulate businesses when there is a deadly pandemic. You people would have been clamoring to sue Churchill because he made you turn your lights off during the London bombings.

I wish there were two sections to this comment board, the Fox News wackadoo section and the section for normal Americans.

October 22, 2020 at 11:33 AM

"You don't stand in a tight line to get into a beach; there are no indoor portions of beaches; at the beach you don't ride in a little cart directly through airflow of the 1000 people in front of you."

Really??? When's the last time you've been to the beach?

Lines? There are plenty of lines at the beach where people stand without social distancing markers to get ice cream, french fries, and other treats.

Indoor portions? The last time I checked, bathrooms at the beach are INDOORS. Restaurants, arcades, tattoo/piercing shops, and other stores allowed to operate even under the RED Tier are INDOORS.

Little carts? What about the thousands of beach-goers that ride bikes, skateboards, rollerblades, scooters, and dozens of different types of "little carts" down the boardwalk and beach, sometimes along narrow pathways with little airflow? What about indoor go-cart tracks that are part of Family Entertainment Centers that are allowed to operate under the Orange Tier?

Again, all of those activities are allowed with ZERO enforcement of social distancing, ground markings, or mask usage, which a fully controlled facility like a theme park would, and could force guests to follow with the threat of expulsion for non-compliance.

Also, how many beach-goers walk through security and temperature checks before sticking their toes in the sand? How many beaches have marks on the sand to ensure people are properly spaced apart? How many beaches know precisely where guests visiting on a specific day came from? How many beaches are kicking guests out for not wearing masks? Theme parks around the country are doing this as part of their Standard Operating Procedure that California supposedly researched before issuing these new guidelines.

So tell me again thecolonel, what's more safe, a lawless, free-for-all beach where no one is accountable and it's every sun-bather for their self, or a theme park where operators are abiding by a strict set of procedures to ensure that EVERY guest feels safe?

October 22, 2020 at 11:32 AM

"Also: why do people keep saying the theme parks should "sue" California? You can't-- the state government has every right to regulate businesses when there is a deadly pandemic."

They can absolutely sue the State of California for unfair treatment of their business. As the USH President noted in her response to the guidelines, when theme parks are allowed to open under the Yellow Tier, restaurants within theme parks can only operate at 25% of their posted capacity while every other restaurant OUTSIDE the gates of the theme park can operate at 50% of capacity. This rule alone is an unfair restriction of commerce levied directly at theme parks. You do realize that there are franchise restaurants located both inside and outside theme parks (let's take Starbucks for example)? So why does a Starbucks in CityWalk allowed 50% of their dining room to fill while a Starbucks in USH can only allow 25%, even though guests entering USH would go through an additional layer of security and contact tracing (through the ticketing system).

The hypocrisy could not be more blatant, and the parks have every right to seek damages for being treated unequally compared to other similar businesses. Even when theme parks are able to open, they will be forced to operate under rules and restrictions that IDENTICAL facilities outside their gates do not have to abide by, which will result in a loss of revenue. Theme parks would therefore have every right to force California to recoup those losses because of these uneven, unfair, and hypocritical guildelines.

October 22, 2020 at 11:53 AM

>> Also: why do people keep saying the theme parks should "sue" California? You can't-- the state government has every right to regulate businesses when there is a deadly pandemic. You people would have been clamoring to sue Churchill because he made you turn your lights off during the London bombings.

A couple of years after Churchill’s first spell as PM, the Courts of Appeal handed down “Associated Provincial Picture Houses Ltd v Wednesbury Corp” which established that when using the power to regular (not legislate) they must do so in a way that is not so unreasonable that no reasonable authority would do so. I’m sure similar thinking exists over there. Given it was very likely the same jurists on the court, maybe in different circumstances that decision would have been made earlier.

I’m not saying that this does, or does not, reach that standard. But when talking about using regulations (again, distinguishing from legislation) it’s not a straight Carte Blanche.

October 22, 2020 at 12:04 PM

I do find it amusing/interesting that many in California view our Republican President and our Democratic Governor for many of our Covid issues.

October 22, 2020 at 12:21 PM

Chad, this is America, not the UK. The governor of Michigan has already been sued and lost for similar policies as those in CA.

October 22, 2020 at 8:41 PM

@thecolonel and @Russell-

FWIW I went to a beach in California on a super busy sunday and it was jam packed crowded. I also went to SFFT on a busy saturday and it was pretty crowded. The only difference is that since Six Flags is a private company, they can control alot of social distancing measures and sanitation methods. Beaches are public property. There were absolutely so social distancing markers, hand sanitizer stations, and the sand was filled with people. I honestly felt pretty uncomfortable. However I'd take going to SFFT anyday over the crowded beach.

Funny how since the beach is virtually state property that Newsom would care enough to put another order out so social distancing markers are placed, and enforced, and sanitizing stations...

October 22, 2020 at 4:55 PM

Russell's success at consistently first-round-dropping thecolonel is one of the reasons God invented the internet.

October 22, 2020 at 6:08 PM

"They can absolutely sue the State of California for unfair treatment of their business."

They cannot. Cite the statute under which the state government can be sued for enforcing public health guidelines. None exists. Your whining about lack of fairness is just that: whining.

As for lines at the beaches: no one is talking about the businesses around the beach. At the beach, there are no lines, no indoor areas (other than bathrooms, which have open-air passthroughs here in California), and people are six feet apart (unless they're idiots who don't know better, and then you have to ask them to move down). Compare that to the Snow White ride, where hundreds of people travel the same indoor path every hour. You think those are analogous? You must watch Fox News.

America, the land of the self-righteous fools who think their opinions are facts.

October 22, 2020 at 7:03 PM

thecolonel (howling from the floor): "Cite the statute under which the state government can be sued for enforcing public health guidelines."

Me: They certainly can. They can appeal that the guidelines are misapplied or the alleged violations are without grounds. Do you believe restaurants cited by inspectors have no means for appeal. Additionally this is an atypical situation. Your claim the parks can't lawyer-up is ridiculous.

thecolonel: "At the beach, there are no lines, no indoor areas (other than bathroom ...)"

Me: Translation: There are no indoor areas at the beach ... Except those situations where there are indoor areas at the beach.

October 22, 2020 at 8:31 PM

"America, the land of the self-righteous fools who think their opinions are facts."

Oh, the irony.

October 23, 2020 at 12:53 AM

"They certainly can. They can appeal that the guidelines are misapplied or the alleged violations are without grounds. Do you believe restaurants cited by inspectors have no means for appeal. Additionally this is an atypical situation. Your claim the parks can't lawyer-up is ridiculous."

For the love of god: cite the statute. Link us to a single authority that says businesses can sue the state government for imposing public health regulations. Do restaurants who violate public health guidelines have a "means for appeal"? Sure they do _TO THE STATE GOVERNMENT_.

Christ, the level of ignorance is disturbing. Go to North Dakota and shake some hands, I'm sure you'll be fine.

October 23, 2020 at 9:06 AM

"For the love of god: cite the statute. Link us to a single authority that says businesses can sue the state government for imposing public health regulations. Do restaurants who violate public health guidelines have a "means for appeal"? Sure they do _TO THE STATE GOVERNMENT_."

It's hard to argue when it's clear thecolonel never took civics nor understands the roles of the three branches of government.

Legislative - Writes laws
Executive - Enforces laws
Judicial - Interprets laws

Without that fundamental understanding, which thecolonel obviously doesn't have, you would never comprehend how a business could sue a state for imposing unreasonable, unfair, and uneven restrictions on a specific entity/industry.

I will say that challenging such restrictions would not have a good look in the court of public opinion, because it would appear like businesses would be fighting for money over public safety. However, the reality of this situation is that theme park companies are being unequally treated compared to other similar businesses by the State of California without any specific or publicly available rationale.

October 23, 2020 at 10:22 AM

The Universal president makes salient points. They have proved in other states/countries that they can be good and safe stewards to their guests.
I think that they are well within their rights to sue.
California's constituents can vote. Either at the polls or with their feet. The state is depriving the parks the ability to safely operate their business and depriving their staff a way to stay employed and feed their families.
I know Disney and Universal occupy valuable real estate in southern California. Would they be better serve to sell the land to developers who would build something else that might be more amenable to the restrictions? Condos?

October 23, 2020 at 10:45 PM

Wow, Just WOW! CRETID zombieland.

I dont even need to comment, many comments here are echoing my sentiments in much more cordial and PC ways, enough said. I have disagreed with TC on a lot here, but everything he has posted recently, EVERYTHING, I'm in 1000% agreement. Also, I understand that in no way makes him agree with me!

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