California Lawmakers Look to Change Theme Park Rules

February 4, 2021, 2:03 PM · Two legislators in California have introduced a bill into the state Assembly that would allow theme parks to reopen earlier than currently planned.

The bill, introduced by Sharon Quirk-Silva, a Democrat from Buena Park - home of Knott's Berry Farm, and Suzette Valladares, a Republican from Santa Clarita - home of Six Flags Magic Mountain, would move large theme parks from the state's least-restrictive Tier 4 to Tier 3, potentially allowing them to reopen earlier.

"We deeply appreciate Assembly Members Quirk-Silva and Valladares for their leadership and for introducing legislation on Safe Theme Park Reopening,” California Attractions and Parks Association Executive Director Erin Guerrero said. "California's iconic theme parks are important economic drivers for the state and local regions. AB 420 is needed so theme parks can plan to reopen responsibly and get back to contributing to the economic recovery of our state."

California has a four-tier system for ranking the outbreak of Covid-19 in individual counties, with more than 99 percent of the state's population living in counties now in Tier 1 - the widespread, "purple" tier. Under Governor Gavin Newsom's current rules, large theme parks may reopen when their county reaches Tier 1 - the minimal spread, "yellow" tier. To reach the yellow tier, a county's Covid-19 test positivity rate must be less than two percent and the adjusted rate of new cases each day in the county must fall under one per 100,000 residents. To reach the "orange" Tier 3, positivity rates must fall below five percent and the adjusted case rate must be below four new cases per 100,000 residents.

Right now, in Disneyland's Orange County's the positivity rate stands at 10.9 percent, with the adjusted case rate at 39 per 100,000 residents. Numbers in Los Angeles and San Diego counties are similar: 11.3 percent for positivity and 38.7 for adjusted case rate in Los Angeles and 10.5 percent for positivity and 42.5 adjusted case rate in San Diego.

In other words, the homes of California's top theme parks remain far, far away from Tier 3, so even if this bill magically became law today, it would be a while before Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Legoland would be allowed to reopen. SeaWorld San Diego has reopened its animal exhibits on weekends under rules that allow zoos to reopen.

I don't want to get into the business of predicting the California Legislature, but even if the bill did pass both the Assembly and the Senate, it's hard to see how Governor Newsom would sign it, since if he agreed with the switch, he could make that happen at any time by his own order. While the state appears to be turning the corner on case rates and now even deaths from Covid-19, if increased vaccination rates could help bring a quick descent in the numbers, the time between reaching Tier 3 and Tier 4 might not amount to much, anyway.

So if you want to call a lawmaker to help get theme parks open more quickly in California, perhaps your time might be spent better by calling your U.S. Representative or Senator to demand more money for vaccine acquisition and distribution rather than asking a California Assembly Member or Senator to move the goalposts for theme parks' return ever so slightly.

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