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Newport Beach

Volume 5, Issue 95  |  November 27, 2020

With apparently no rhyme or reason, Governor keeps Disneyland shuttered


Governor Newsom, what are you thinking?

In what could be one of the most disastrous decisions of his gubernatorial career, Newsom released new guidelines this week for reopening Disneyland and other theme parks that will likely keep them closed well into next year.

I have encouraged the Governor in this space about the need to release specifics on how the theme park industry can responsibly reopen with the pandemic still in progress. But I never thought he and his staff would have come up with something so ridiculously restrictive that few companies could ever meet them in the near term.

Under the newly issued guidelines, Disneyland (which was labeled a higher risk setting than outdoor stadiums) can operate under Tier 4 “Yellow” (minimal) with a limited capacity of 25 percent. Orange County is currently in the “Red” (substantial) tier. Los Angeles County is at Tier 1 “Purple” (widespread). Once open, a reservation system will be required (no day-of ticket sales) and masks will be required at the theme parks. 

Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

This new Tier 4, established by the Governor, is so restrictive that Orange County, despite showing success in lowering outbreak numbers, is not expected to achieve that status until possibly well into 2021.

Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm are two major drivers of tourism to Orange County and tens of thousands of jobs, including many small businesses, are dependent on them. Anaheim, which is already suffering from the effects of a closed convention center, will be ground zero for this economic devastation. Already California has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation and this action is guaranteed to make matters worse.

The City of Anaheim derives 50 percent of its operating revenue from Disney and these new guidelines mean that their revenues will be gutted, and services likely severely cut. They will need much of their remaining reserves to survive without filing bankruptcy.

There is the possibility that Disneyland could end up being closed for a full year, which is unbelievable to even contemplate.

No one, including the theme parks, are suggesting that they reopen without strict protocols in place for protecting park guests. Solely putting money over public health has never been a priority.

“We have proven that we can responsibly reopen, with science-based health and safety protocols strictly enforced at our theme park properties around the world. Nevertheless, the State of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable and that hold us to a standard vastly different from other reopened businesses and state-operated facilities,” Disneyland President Ken Potrock said.

Newsom and his team blatantly ignored what Disney has done in Florida, Shanghai and Paris by reopening in a responsible way that protects people while allowing the park to operate at a severely reduced capacity. To date, there have been no outbreaks attributed to any of the parks despite being open for months.

So why can’t this be replicated in California? Newsom has opted to take a uber conservative approach to reopening parts of the state and to his credit, it has had a stable record of outbreaks over the last couple of months.

And while we are entering fall with an expected growth in infections, I understand the need to be cautious. But why not give Disney and the other major parks a chance to prove themselves?

Newsom could have said that the state needs to be responsible for public health, but it also realizes the need to allow companies to operate in a pandemic environment. What if he gave Disney a two-month window to open up with strict guidelines that it already has established in other parks?

That puts the onus on Disney to open in a limited and responsible way. If they fail and an outbreak occurs, the parks agree to close until a vaccine is distributed. I think Disney is smart enough to know how to do this and that wouldn’t be necessary, but it gives Newsom some political cover.

The state has permitted many other businesses to reopen under protocols that have proven to be effective but for some reason the Governor doesn’t believe in the theme park industry. Instead, he offered a strangely arbitrary approach that is inconsistent with the other guidelines created to date.

This isn’t just about protecting the financial interests of a big public corporation like Disney. Dozens of hotels in Anaheim have been closed and many nearby small family businesses that depend on the park are suffering. Pushing reopening to likely next year will no doubt have permanent financial consequences.

Governor, if your health officials suggested this ill-thought-out plan, they have served you horribly. Protect the health of our citizens but go back and correct this mistake before it causes irreputable economic damage to our county and frankly, the rest of your term.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.

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