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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

California Theme Parks Not The Happiest Places Right Now

 October 26, 2020 at 10:14 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Uh, visited Disneyland has become part of the holiday season for many California families, but like so many other traditions this year that visit may have to be canceled. New state guidelines require theme parks, like Disneyland and Legoland to remain closed until their counties enter tier four, the least restrictive of the state's Corona virus levels. Since the locations of most California theme parks are in counties in the first or second tier experts say it may take months before the venues are allowed to reopen, but a coalition of theme park leaders say that requirement is unfair and they hint a lawsuit may be in the works. Johnny Mia, San Diego union Tribune, reporter Lori Weisberg and Lori. Hello? Speaker 2: 00:44 Hello? Speaker 1: 00:46 Okay. So California's theme parks have been closed for a long time. When were they forced to shut their doors? Speaker 2: 00:55 Um, like many other businesses around in March. Now they, when we say forest, they actually they'll tell you that they all voluntarily shut down around mid-March. Um, but it was coming anyway. So yeah, it's been a, it's been a really long time. Um, I should, I should point out that sea roads, a little bit of an anomaly. It not so long ago, got permission in August to reopen partially under the rules for zoos and aquariums. So, um, it's, you know, animal encounters and those sorts of things are open, but none of its bread and butter rides are, are open at all, like theme parks. Speaker 1: 01:30 Okay. So give us an idea of the kinds of venues that are affected by the closures. It's not SeaWorld, but what else? Speaker 2: 01:39 So every major theme park in California from Disneyland universal studios to Lego land, to Knott's Berry farm, I mean, all the biggies, it's a separate set of rules of the state just released for smaller parks that, that are more amusement type parks that for capacity under 15,000 and in San Diego County, we would know that type of park as Belmont park, but they, um, they get slightly easier rules. They can open in. What's known as tier three. They don't have to wait all the way to the least restricted, which is tier four. Speaker 1: 02:14 What kind of impact has closing the theme parks had? Speaker 2: 02:18 Well it's, um, it's obviously hurt these, the companies that own these parks. Um, they've all had to go into basically debt, but they have to get extra debt to keep the parks running. There was one recent study that said that Disneyland alone has an $8.5 billion economic impact on, um, the Anaheim Southern California area so that, um, that's gone. Uh, and that then has a ripple effect because that means all the kinds of businesses, whether it's C roll ignition Bay or the, you know, all the Anaheim businesses around Disneyland, all those businesses that rely every year for the, for the business that those parks get that's all. So, um, tens of thousands of layoffs, um, all these parks have had to either put their employees on furlough or lay them off. So it's, it's a huge, huge impact. Speaker 1: 03:10 And, and really what is the state saying about when they can reopen? Speaker 2: 03:14 So the biggest, I mean, there's a number of rules, but the biggest, most troublesome one for the theme parks is this idea of waiting to tear for which, you know, as you know, we have this new sort of tiered system in San Diego and many of the other Southern California counties, except for LA or in the second most restrictive tier. So we have to bring our case rates down significantly to get into those more relaxed levels. And the theme parks are arguing. That's going to take a really long time. And then on top of that, once we do make it into those more reluctant into that more relaxed here, they would limit the capacity of the parks to just 25%. Um, and the theme parks argue well in the most relaxed here, all other businesses get to be either no capacity limit or 50%. So why are they being singled out? So, um, those are, those are two of the key restrictions that they, they don't like at all. And then, Oh, another one is that everybody that wants to come to a theme park, once they're open, has to call, has to make a reservation 24 hours in advance. And then the theme parks have to contact all those people and screen them before they actually arrive. Um, they're arguing that that too is very, it's almost impossible for them to operate that way. Speaker 1: 04:34 Um, and the theme part, the coalition of theme park leaders, uh, protesting the idea that they have to remain closed while parks and zoos can open. Whereas much of the theme park operations are outdoors. So what do health officials say about why theme parks are different and need more restrictions? Speaker 2: 04:55 Um, I think the concern is that you have tens of thousands of people coming into the parks and then they're leaving. And we don't know from where, I mean clearly a lot from Southern California, but it could be from other parts of the country. Um, and then they go out into the community and the worry is that these tens of thousands of people could then spread the virus to others. Uh, but some health officials that I've talked to seem to think that the protocols of a theme parks come up with maybe helpful, and maybe that's a little true, um, rigid thinking. Uh, one, one person I talked to, he said, why not try and experiment open a theme park for several days, test everybody before and then see what happens afterwards to see how well this works. I don't know how practical that is. Speaker 1: 05:48 Well, in a sense, there is an experiment going on in other parts of the country, for instance, Disney world has reopened in Florida. Have there been any widespread COVID because of that? Speaker 2: 05:59 So that's a good point. You're right. That is, that is an experiment because California anomaly we're the only state that is not allowing theme parks to reopen. So I have seen, um, a New York times report that, um, that they did when they said Disney world has had no outbreaks. Um, I talked to the reporter, uh, that covers theme parks in Florida at the Orlando Sentinel. Well, she says she's a bit skeptical. She too said, if there's very, very few cases that are tied to the theme park, there really have not been any reports of major outbreaks or even that many cases coming out of the theme parks. Speaker 1: 06:34 Now do state health officials indicate they'd be willing to work with the theme parks on a compromise? Speaker 2: 06:40 Well, they said that before and they think they're still willing to talk, but I haven't gotten the impression yet that they're, they want to change this at any time soon. Um, for now they sound like they're not budging on this. Speaker 1: 06:54 Okay. Then I've been speaking with San Diego union Tribune, reporter, Laurie Weisberg, and Laurie. Thank you so much. Speaker 2: 07:01 Well, thank you.

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California theme parks and their surrounding communities face the loss of billions more in revenue as the state's coronavirus restrictions threaten to keep parks such as Legoland and Disneyland closed during the holidays.
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