• By The Financial District


California's amusement parks have been pining to reopen for months, hoping to bring back thousands of workers sent home in March when the coronavirus pandemic forced them to close their gates.

Now that state health officials announced strict new rules for reopening the parks, attractions spanning from Disneyland to Universal Studios are bracing for an even longer shutdown - and so are the surrounding communities lined with hotels, restaurants and shops that cater to visitors who no longer walk their streets.

The city of Anaheim, which is home to Disneyland, has slashed its general fund budget forecast by 30 percent because of plummeting hotel and other tax revenues usually generated by the resort area and a nearby convention center, said Mike Lyster, a city spokesman. Officials fear mom-and-pop shops along a boulevard normally packed with backpack-toting tourists wearing Disney's hallmark Mickey Mouse ears could wind up closing for good.

“We understand this is a pandemic-induced downturn. But what our concern is, without a recovery plan, it could easily become a prolonged economic downturn,” Lyster said.

California announced Tuesday that smaller theme parks could reopen on a limited basis when their home counties report moderate levels of virus transmission, but with only 500 patrons or 25% of capacity, whichever is smaller, and only outdoor attractions. Bigger parks such as Disneyland must wait until counties reduce virus transmission to minimal levels. But with many of the parks located in densely populated Southern California, industry leaders and health officials said it could take months for their counties to be able to do so - possibly not until there's a vaccine.

Dr. Mark Ghaly, California's health and human services secretary, said the concern is that large theme parks draw visitors from further away who stay for longer periods of time and frequent nearby hotels, restaurants and shops, and these activities pose an increased risk of virus transmission.