A new bill with bipartisan support would accelerate the reopening of Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and other theme parks in an earlier tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, overriding prior guidelines. In this post, we’ll share details and offer commentary, including a prediction for when the ongoing closure might end.
By way of recap, the state issued separate reopening guidelines for small and large theme parks last October as an update to California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy reopening plan. Under those rules, small parks with a capacity of less than 15,000 visitors can reopen in the orange/moderate tier 3, whereas large theme parks must wait until the yellow/minimal tier 4.
Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and every other ‘brand’ park falls into the latter category. This plan was swiftly and emphatically denounced by those park operators and the California Attractions and Parks Association. It was also panned by Orange County, which predicted that Disneyland would “hopefully” be able to open by Summer 2021.
Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu also quickly spoke out quickly on the ramifications of California’s theme park reopening rules. “These guidelines fail working families and small businesses,” he in a statement to ReOpenOCNow. “Too many Anaheim hotels, stores, and restaurants will not survive another year of this. The labor unions of the Disneyland Resort understand these impacts and support the reopening of theme parks in Tier 3 – not Tier 4, which would wipe out jobs and destroy lives,” concluded Mayor Sidhu.
The rules were also lambasted on the “Ready to Reopen Responsibly” conference call by theme park executives from Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Legoland, and Cedar Fair. During that, Erin Guerrero, Executive Director of the California Attractions and Parks Association said that the organization was considering legal action to reopen or to change the state’s reopening guidelines.
Fast forward to this week, when Members of the California State Assembly Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) and Suzette Martinez-Valladares (R-Santa Clarita), introduced California Assembly Bill 420 to adjust state reopening guidelines for amusement and theme parks. The text of this bipartisan bill is concise, interesting, and easily digestible, so we’d encourage you to read that.
Essentially, the bill cites the economic impact of the closures, post-reopening safety track record of Walt Disney World, transmission trends, and more in support of an accelerated reopening for large theme parks. In pertinent part, the bill states that California’s amusement and theme parks contribute heavily to the economy, generating $12.6 billion in revenue impact to the state and paying approximately $1.5 billion annually in taxes.
The bill goes on to indicate that public health officials in California consistently cite household gatherings, household transmissions, and congregate settings as being primary sources of outbreaks, but none have presented scientific evidence or data pointing to amusement parks as an activity bearing a high risk of transmission.
Finally, the bill calls on the executive branch adjust California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy reopening guidance for Amusement Parks and Theme Parks, and place all parks, regardless of size, within “Orange – Moderate – Tier 3” instead of in “Yellow – Minimal – Tier 4.”
Our commentary here is pretty much the same as it has been since last October–that rules for theme parks released under California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy were almost certainly not the end of this saga, or what will end up dictating when Disneyland and Disney California Adventure reopen.
Below is what we said back in November in the commentary section of When Will Disneyland Reopen?
“It’s highly likely that the theme park guidelines that California has released will be legally challenged or voluntarily rescinded. Our belief in looking at the totality of the circumstances is that California is simply trying to buy time. Delay the openings for a couple of months, giving the state a better chance at keeping numbers down during what’s likely to be a challenging holiday season.
In such a scenario, we’d expect new rules released or litigation commenced in early 2021 with the holiday spike now subsiding. By February 2021, the United States will hopefully be starting to turn the corner on this, making California more amenable to reopening–or at least more cognizant of the other ramifications.”
New cases are now dropping in California, down 50% in the last 14 days per the Los Angeles Times’ tracker. Hospitalizations are also down dramatically, to the point that leadership is no longer concerned about system capacity. In fact, the trajectory of key metrics is improving to a sufficient degree that California’s regional stay-at-home orders were lifted ahead of schedule.
In addition to that being a result of public health numbers, it was also undoubtedly a result of poll numbers. Gavin Newsom went from being elected by a record-breaking margin and one of the country’s most popular governors, to seeing his approval rating plummet. In October when the theme park guidelines were released, Governor Newsom’s approval was at 57%. In a new poll as of February 2021, he’s at 46%. On top of that, Newsom is facing a recall effort that is gaining momentum.
As we’ve said before, timelines are largely dictated by general public and political appetites, and to a lesser degree by guidance from public health experts. While falling case numbers and the vaccine rollout certainly play a roll, fatigue is a big part of why several states are suddenly reversing course and more aggressively reopening.
There have a lot of been mindless claims that politicians would continue advancing lockdowns and [insert other draconian public health measures] indefinitely due to an insatiable thirst for power, control, or [insert conspiracy theory]. The reality is that elected leaders are…elected. More than anything else, they’re responsive to public perception and polling numbers. That’s especially true with someone like Newsom who undoubtedly has/had aspirations for higher office.
Ultimately, I don’t know how things will play out with California Assembly Bill 420. It has bipartisan support and seems like the kind of legislation that Assemblymembers could latch onto while distancing themselves from unpopular past policy decisions. Accordingly, it could be what gets the ball rolling on reasonable theme park reopening rules. However, my guess is that AB 420 won’t end up mattering; California’s executive branch will preempt it with an entirely new set of more lax reopening rules before the legislation goes anywhere.
Beyond that bill, there’s waning public support for restrictions, the very real threat of precedent-setting litigation that the state probably would not win, and the political fortunes of elected leaders. Rather than taking another L, it seems likely that Newsom will want to get out ahead of public opinion and advance now-popular policies on his own. Who knows though–I never would have predicted so much that has occurred to date in the saga of Disney v. California!
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
What are your thoughts on California Assembly Bill 420? Think it’ll be what ends up replacing the theme and amusement park reopening guidelines, or will Governor Newsom voluntarily revoke and replace them? Do you think the current rules are too stringent, or appropriate given the circumstances? Think Disney, Universal, Legoland, Cedar Fair or the California Attractions and Parks Association will file a lawsuit against California? Any other thoughts on the topics covered in this article? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!