Assembly bill seeks to speed reopening of Disneyland and other California theme parks

A new bill proposed by California state assembly members would speed the reopening of Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood and override Gov. Gavin Newsom’s guidelines that have kept large California theme parks shuttered for more than 10 months.

California Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) announced plans to co-sponsor a bill that would require the state to allow all theme parks reopen in the same tier of Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The bill would be co-sponsored by Assemblywoman Suzette Martinez-Valladares (R-Santa Clarita), whose district includes Six Flags Magic Mountain.

California issued separate reopening guidelines for small and large theme parks. Small theme parks with a capacity of less than 15,000 visitors can reopen in the orange/moderate tier 3 while large theme parks can return in the yellow/minimal tier 4.

California theme parks closed in March and are unlikely to return to full operation until spring or summer under COVID-19 health and safety reopening guidelines issued by the state.

Proponents say the goal of the bipartisan California Assembly Bill 420 is to adjust the state guidelines to allow all amusement parks — regardless of size — to open safely within the same tier.

“As a veteran of the theme park industry, I intimately understand their operations, their procedures and their ability to move people and keep them safe,” Martinez-Valladares said in a statement. “The industry, and Six Flags Magic Mountain in my district, has been closed for nearly a year, while parks in other states have been open to the public and serving them safely.”

The California Attractions and Parks Association has said the decision to place the state’s large theme parks in the most-restrictive tier of Newsom’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy will keep the major tourist destinations closed indefinitely.

“We deeply appreciate Assembly Members Quirk-Silva and Martinez-Valladares for their leadership and for introducing legislation on safe theme park reopening,” CAPA executive director Erin Guerrero said in a statement. “Worldwide, theme parks have proven they can reopen responsibly while protecting the health of guests and staff. Science and data show it can be done. California should allow theme parks to reopen responsibly in the orange/moderate tier 3.”

The Sacramento-based CAPA represents Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain, SeaWorld San Diego, Legoland California, Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and California’s Great America.

“COVID transmission rates are improving and the vaccination distribution is underway, yet California’s major theme parks have no timeline and no realistic pathway toward reopening if left in the ‘Yellow- Minimal — Tier 4’ of state guidance,” Guerrero said in a statement. “AB 420  is needed so theme parks can plan to reopen responsibly and  get back to contributing to the economic recovery of our state.”

Extended COVID-19 closures have had a devastating impact on California theme parks, their employees and surrounding businesses.

“By opening our theme parks, we will trigger a ripple effect to our local economy, and in turn, create more jobs,” Martinez-Valladares said in a statement. “It’s time to offer clear guidelines that will balance public health and the need to safely get people back to work, and this bill is the first step.”

Universal Studios Hollywood President and Chief Operating Officer Karen Irwin said Universal’s sister parks around the globe have operated safely during the pandemic.

“This extended closure has been both unprecedented and detrimental to our business and workforce,” Irwin said in a statement. “Universal Parks & Resort theme parks in Orlando, Osaka and Singapore have all successfully and safely operated without incident or cases attributed to their daily operations since mid-last year.”

Reopening in the state’s yellow/minimal tier 4 would keep Universal and other large California theme parks “closed indefinitely,” according to Irwin.

“It’s imperative that California theme parks shift to reopen in Tier 3,” Irwin said in a statement. “A Tier 4 reopening is untenable in L.A. County, and would likely keep our businesses closed indefinitely since even two cases per 100,000 would exceed the requirement.”

Legoland California President Kurt Stocks said the Carlsbad theme park has developed a reopening plan that exceeds guidelines given to other state businesses and industries.

“There is no scientific proof or data linking any COVID outbreaks to any theme park globally,” Stocks said in a statement. “We have gained praise from state, county and city legislators whom we have met with and walked through our plan. The extended closure of our resort has not only affected many of our staff who have either been on furlough or lost their jobs, but we are an integral part of San Diego’s economy.”

Theme Park Insider’s Robert Niles, who writes a theme park column for Southern California News Group, said the time between reaching tier 3 and 4 might not amount to much if increased vaccination rates help bring a quick descent in the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in California.

“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,” Niles wrote on Theme Park Insider.

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