California wavers on theme park opening rules amid pressure


California Gov. Gavin Newsom has delayed releasing reopening guidance for theme parks amid criticism from industry leaders on the state’s initial plans and mounting pressure to let these businesses resume

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Facing mounting pressure to let theme parks such as Disneyland reopen amid the pandemic, California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday delayed new operating rules after industry leaders criticized his administration’s initial plans.

Newsom’s administration had planned to release the guidance on Friday, government spokesman Nathan Click told the Sacramento Bee.

“Given the size and operational complexities of these unique sectors, we are seeking additional input from health, workforce and business stakeholders to finalize this important framework,” Dr. Mark Ghaly, California’s top public health official, said in a statement.

Amusement park leaders saw an initial draft of the proposed rules Thursday and urged state officials to continue talks with the industry before finalizing them, said Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association. She said the sector appreciated the administration’s willingness to do so.

“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” she said in a statement. No further details of the draft guidance were released.

While Florida has allowed its theme parks to reopen with restrictions, California’s rules still don’t allow large gatherings for concerts, conventions and amusement parks. California tourism officials said Friday the state expects to lose $78.8 billion in travel spending for 2020 — up from an initial industry loss forecast in June of $75.4 billion for the year.

While the occupancy rates at California’s hotels are higher than the national average, Visit California CEO Caroline Beteta said Southern California’s Orange County where Disneyland and other theme parks are located “is faring the worst across all regions given its high dependency on Disneyland.”

Beteta said she doesn’t expect travel spending in California to return to 2019 levels until at least 2024.

Disney this week announced it would layoff 28,000 workers at its parks in Florida and California. In a letter to employees, the company blamed its troubles in part on California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions.”

Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger quit Newsom’s economic recovery task force after the layoffs were announced, the Sacramento Bee reported.

California has loosened coronavirus restrictions in 40 of the state’s 58 counties, allowing restaurants to serve food indoors and movie theaters and retail shops to reopen with some modifications.

But reopening rules still don’t include theme parks, frustrating the theme park sector while other indoor businesses get going again.

“Fighting this virulent disease and responsibly reopening amusement parks to get people back to work, kickstart local economic recovery, and provide families with outdoor activity need not be mutually exclusive,” Guerrero said.

Earlier this week, 19 Democratic and Republican state lawmakers sent Newsom a letter asking him to let theme parks reopen, arguing that theme parks are “controlled venues operating predominantly outdoors” and should be allowed to follow protocols that apply to other indoor businesses that have reopened.

Disneyland referred questions about the guidance from Newsom about theme park reopening rules to the industry association. The theme park in Orange County has been closed since March 14 because of the pandemic.

Workers United Local 50, which represents Disneyland’s food service workers, said on social media that more than a third of its nearly 7,800 members would be affected by layoffs, including about 400 full-time workers.

Many Orange County officials have urged Newsom to issue guidance allowing parks to reopen, noting these businesses have been reopened elsewhere in the country with health and safety measures.

“We need these parks to open not just for our children or tourists but for our businesses and the communities that rely on them,” Michelle Steel, chair of the Orange County board of supervisors, said this week.

Taxin reported from Orange County, California.



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