ORANGE COUNTY, Calif. — The city of Anaheim has joined the chorus of organizations and businesses urging Governor Gavin Newsom to issue safety guidelines that will set a path to reopen Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and other theme parks across the state.
Anaheim on Tuesday called for the governor to release theme park reopening safety protocols citing that the city is facing unprecedented financial woes due to the closure of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, its main economic engines. Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city is facing a $100 million deficit and a 15 percent unemployment rate or roughly 26,000 workers out of work.
“We need to look toward economic recovery," Lyster said. "What we are worried about is seeing a second Great Recession."
When contacted by Spectrum News 1, the governor’s press office referred to Newsom's Sept. 8 press conference.
"There are still many areas where we are open ended in our negotiations," Newsom said, adding that the state and theme park operators were making progress. "We are getting closer to concluding when and how to safely reopen those sectors."
Disneyland Resort officials said they are still waiting for guidance from the state.
“Once we have a clearer understanding of when theme parks can reopen from the state of California, we will be able to work with the state and Orange County Health Care Agency towards a reopening date,” a Disneyland spokesman said in a statement to Spectrum News 1.
Anaheim’s call to reopen comes a day after the California Attractions and Parks Association, a trade association that represents Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood, and other theme parks across the state, also called for the governor to reopen theme parks in the state.
Theme parks are a major source of tourism and economic generators in the state. Millions of visitors drive or fly in from all around the world and the nation, stay in hotels, shop and eat at local restaurants. But the sudden drop in tourism and forced closure of nonessential businesses due to the prevention of the coronavirus has hurt the local and state economy.
The six major theme parks in the state – Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Sea World – attracted more than 49 million visitors in 2019, according to Theme Entertainment Association’s latest theme park attendance report.
“Tens of thousands of jobs have been weighing in the balance; hundreds of millions of tax revenue that support critical local, state, and federal programs, lost; and local businesses that rely on amusement parks continue to struggle, with many closing permanently,” the association said in a statement sent to the Sacramento Bee.
However, hotel union officials said they have also called on the governor to reopen theme parks, only when it is safe to do so.
"Our position is the same as when we wrote to him in May. We want the governor to reopen theme parks when it is safe," Unite Here Local 11 co-president Ada Briceño said. "Let's try to resolve all of the safety conditions first. I can't tell you today if it's safe to do so, but we just have to keep hammering out the issue of safety and make sure it's safe for our workers."
Anaheim’s finances have been decimated since the closure of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Along with the Anaheim Convention Center, the two Disney theme parks are the city’s main economic engine.
Disneyland and Disney California Adventure attracted 18.7 million and 9.9 million visitors last year, respectively, according to the Themed Entertainment Association.
But since closing in mid-March, conventions and tourism to the area has dropped and several hotels in and around the city’s resort district have either closed or are operating at a limited capacity. Of the 142 hotels in the city, only half are open, Lyster said.
The city estimates hotel transient occupancy tax or bed tax alone, one of the city's biggest tax generators, has dropped 30 percent from $120 million to $84 million year over year and fell double from the $163 million two years ago, he said.
"Without guidance or a path forward, we fear we are just going to see more layoffs in our city," Lyster said. "We are worried about a protracted downturn. If we're not careful here and the economic impacts keep piling up, we're going to get to the point where we are looking at an extended downturn. We all remember what happened during the Great Recession, where a lot of people lost their jobs and homes. We don't want to follow one crisis with another crisis."
Anaheim has the second most coronavirus cases in the county with 8,730 recorded cases as of Wednesday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. But it is trending downward, Lyster said.
He said the reopening of Disneyland and other theme parks is not a matter of choosing between public health and the economy. There is a middle path. Since the start of the pandemic, essential businesses such as grocery stores, banks, and others have been open.
He points to the reopening of Downtown Disney in July and Disney's experience of safely reopening its other theme parks in Shanghai and Walt Disney World in Florida.
"They've done a very good job of learning how to operate in a pandemic," Lyster said. "With Disney, we have every confidence that they can open safely and responsibly."