The “happiest place on earth” will be closed through the “most wonderful time of the year.” Disneyland officials say their Anaheim resort will remain closed through the holidays and perhaps well into next summer due to the coronavirus pandemic and California’s reopening blueprint. But top Disney officials, along with city and county leaders, are battling the state over restrictions they’re calling too strict and arbitrary.
KCRW talks about the future of Disneyland and their employees with Gustavo Arellano, host of “Orange County Line.”
KCRW: How did Disney get to this determination that opening for the holiday season wasn't realistic?
Arellano: “Coronavirus numbers [are] skyrocketing across the country, and taking a turn for the worse in California. Here in Orange County, yesterday there were about 600 new cases. We haven't seen these types of numbers since the spike over the summer, so Disney knew that, especially under [Governor] Gavin Newsom, there was no way on earth they'd be anywhere close to trying to even possibly reopen.”
In order to reopen Disneyland and other major theme parks, Orange County has to enter the lowest tier of the state’s reopening guidelines. The yellow tier calls for less than one new case per day per 100,000 county residents, and infection rates in poor communities must align with the county-wide average. Talk about what's called the “health equity metric,” and how OC’s changing demographics are playing a part in that.
“In Orange County, the cities that have been by far the most impacted are Anaheim and Santa Ana. These are overwhelmingly Latino and working-class places. So maybe in a place like Huntington Beach or Newport Beach, coronaviruses is there [sic] but has not hit with the same impact the way it has in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove, and other smaller cities.
So the state of California said instead of just focusing on the rich like you usually do, you also have to make sure that the poor areas have testing and resources available to battle coronavirus. So in Orange County, the richer parts should care about these areas? Hell no. It's so ridiculous to the point where Supervisor Don Wagner, in a meeting recently, he said like, ‘Okay, all these kids in these poor areas of Orange County are being affected and I get that, but what about the other kids? Why should these other kids who want to go to Disneyland be affected by the poor kids?’ It's just ridiculous.”
Orange County’s public health director, Dr. Clayton Chau, wants the state to allow the parks to reopen once the county hits the orange tier rather than the yellow tier. Do other local officials agree with him?
“All of these politicians and health officials in Orange County desperately want Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm to open. Disneyland is a huge economic player, especially in Anaheim, but across Orange County. I mean, because Disneyland is not open, Disney had to lay off 20,000 workers in its theme park division — 10,000 of those layoffs happened in the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim specifically. And now there's even more furloughs.
I get why these health officials and politicians are desperately wanting Newsom to relax his very stringent requirements for theme parks to open, but Newsom is not budging, and I don't think he will budge.”
What about the indirect effects of this closing? A lot of businesses around Disneyland rely on that park being open.
“Oh, yeah. You have all the small businesses on Harbor Boulevard, Lincoln Avenue and Ball Road. The convention center draws people in from across the world. You also have the Angels and the Ducks. I mean, I think this is really a warning for all these cities [that] put so much of their financial budgets on these leisure activities. When you can't have leisure time anymore, then your city finances are screwed. I mean, the financial livelihood of Anaheim depends on Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure being open.
The most they were able to get was Downtown Disney. That's been open since [July] and so far that area hasn't become a coronavirus hotspot. So what Disney is trying to tell the state is like, ‘Look, we can handle this, but as the numbers go up across the state, Disney is just going to have to hold on and wait.”