On Thursday, a bill that would accelerate the reopening of theme parks in California was introduced in the Assembly.
Assembly Bill 420, authored by Assemblywomen Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton) and Suzette Martinez-Valladares (R-Santa Clarita) would specifically move up the tier theme parks can reopen in. Currently, while smaller theme parks can reopen when the county they are located in reaches in the orange moderate tier, or tier 3, larger theme parks such as Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain have to wait until their county reaches the yellow minimal tier, or tier 4. Under AB 420, all theme parks, regardless of size, can reopen at tier 3.
Last year, theme parks were closed for most of the year following COVID-19 lockdowns beginning in March. Theme parks remained closed during the busy spring and summer months. By September, theme parks, led by the California Attractions and Parks Association (CAPA), were begging Governor Gavin Newsom to reopen due to massive losses. But Newsom and other Californian officials continually said no, refusing to even have reopening guidelines be made, citing COVID-19 health reasons. Despite a tier 4 reopening being compromised for large theme parks later on, all large theme parks in California were in counties that had high rates of COVID-19, such as Los Angeles County and Orange County. This led to huge losses, with Disney alone furloughing 32,000 theme park employees – at least half of which were in California.
While health officials continued to say they would reopen soon, many parks were instead forced to wait until the next year to reopen. The November and December increase of COVID-19 cases in California and the winter off-season quieted the theme parks for a few months, but reopening calls soon began again last month.
Assemblywomen Quirk-Silva and Martinez-Valladares wrote the bill to reopen a large economic sector in California, noting that the parks have special guidelines to keep people safe.
“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,” said Assemblywoman Martinez-Valladares in a statement on Thursday. “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. By opening our theme parks, we will trigger a ripple effect to our local economy, and in turn, create more jobs. 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.”
Her co-author also agreed.
“Now, more than ever, we need to strengthen our resolve to care for each other and to create clear and proper tiers to ensure the safety and health of our community and businesses,” added Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva in her own statement. “Through collaboration with industry leaders, responsible and safe tourism can be used as a pathway to recovery.”
Mass support for bipartisan-backed bill
Industry leaders immediately expressed their support for AB 420 on Thursday.
“We deeply appreciate Assembly Members Quirk-Silva and Martinez-Valladares for their leadership and for introducing legislation on safe theme park reopening,” stated Erin Guerrero, the executive director CAPA ,the theme park trade group that represents most of the largest theme parks in California. “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.
“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. AB 420 is needed so theme parks can plan to reopen responsibly and get back to contributing to the economic recovery of our state.”
No known opposition has been formed against AB 420 as of Friday, with the Governor’s office not commenting on the bipartisan-backed bill.
“It doesn’t surprise me,” said “Dana,” a staffer in the State Capitol. “His own party is going against him on this one, and is now something of a trend. Newsom is on the brink of being recalled right now, so we’ve seen Democratic legislators ‘let their hair down’ as it were. We’re seeing some really left leaning bills come up, but we’re also seeing a lot of bills where Democrats and Republicans are working together, some of which go directly against Governor Newsom’s policies. This is one of them.”
“Republicans recognize the need for economic help, and Democrats want to keep COVID-19 safety measures up. AB 420 is a compromise. Reopen theme parks but do everything possible to keep them safe.”
“A lot of theme parks said that reopening in tier 4 would have been the death of them, so this bill makes everyone happy. Except the Governor.”
AB 420 is expected to be heard in committee in the coming months.