Theme park groups: Calif. rules will keep parks closed for 'foreseeable future'

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Universal Studios Hollywood globe_C
The Universal Studios globe at the entrance to Universal Studios Hollywood. Photo Credit: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock.com

California on Tuesday released guidance as to when theme parks in the state can reopen, and park operators and their trade association immediately blasted the rules, saying they will force larger parks to remain closed "for the foreseeable future."

The new guidelines use California's County Risk Level system. The state recently introduced that system, which includes four tiers; under Tier 1, a county's risk level is widespread; under Tier 4, it is minimal.

California said smaller theme parks with capacity fewer than 15,000 can reopen when the county they are located in is designated as Tier 3. All theme parks can operate only when the county they are located in reaches Tier 4. When theme parks are permitted to open, they must have reduced capacities and other restrictions, including mandatory face coverings.

Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Association, said in a statement that the guidance will "keep theme parks shuttered for the foreseeable future."

"By forcing theme parks to stay closed until their home county reaches Tier 4, the governor has issued a 'Keep Theme Parks Closed Indefinitely' Plan which will devastate California's major theme park industry," she added.

Guerrero pointed to theme parks in other states and countries that have been operating for months now, and said California governor Gavin Newsom "has not used science or data to inform his decision."

Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, which a team from California recently visited to observe safety precautions, has been open since mid-July, for example.

"While we appreciate the more nuanced approach in the guidance for smaller theme parks, keeping California's larger parks closed is unfair and unreasonable," Guerrero said.

The impact of the decision, Guerrero said, will affect not only the parks, but their employees, local governments and adjacent small businesses.

California theme park leaders were united with CAPA in their frustration with the state's new guidelines.

"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," Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, said in a statement.

"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."

Karen Irwin, president and COO of Universal Studios Hollywood, said larger parks should be allowed to open when their counties are in Tier 3. "Our employees are ready to go back to work and the fact that they won't be able to do so until well into next year is shameful," Irwin said.

Cedar Fair, which operates Knott's Berry Farm, California's Great America and Gilroy Gardens theme parks, has successfully reopened seven of 13 parks in the U.S., according to Raffi Kaprelyan, regional vice president. No cases have been traced back to its properties, he said.

While its Gilroy Gardens park is small enough to reopen  it is located in Santa Clara County, which is currently at Tier 3  Great America and Knott's Berry Farm cannot. They "should be allowed to open under the same guidance afforded smaller parks," Kaprelyan said.

Kurt Stocks, president of Legoland California Resort, called the new guidance "arbitrary and unacceptable."

"The administration's actions to this point have cost tens of thousands of jobs across the industry, and today's announcement will all but confirm that thousands more will be lost," Stocks said.

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