Walt Disney Co. Executive Chairman Bob Iger has resigned from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 economic task force, an abrupt public confirmation of the growing tensions stemming from California’s reluctance to allow theme parks to reopen.
Iger’s departure from the governor’s high-profile task force, a group organized in April to inject an element of business acumen and gravitas into the state’s pandemic recovery efforts, happened earlier this week, a Disney spokesperson told The Times after the resignation was reported by the Sacramento Bee.
“We very much appreciate Mr. Iger’s service on the task force and respect his decision to resign,” Ann O’Leary, the governor’s chief of staff, said in an emailed statement.
The Disney spokesperson did not provide any information as to when Iger — who announced in the spring that he would forgo his salary while the company’s operations were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic — ended his role as an unpaid adviser to Newsom.
Disney announced on Tuesday that it will lay off 28,000 employees across its parks, experiences and products division, which includes Disneyland Resort and Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim. The company’s footprint in Southern California is sizable, with a variety of local businesses that depend on theme park visitors now in dire financial straits.
State employment data show the theme park industry includes more than five dozen employers across California, with 10 different companies employing 1,000 or more people. No company dominates the list more than Disney, whose properties in Florida have opened while its iconic home state operations have remained shuttered.
Newsom’s advisers have said a new set of state public health guidelines for theme and amusement park openings would be released by the end of the week. But the leader of the trade group representing those businesses said Thursday that a draft of the proposal shared by the state falls far short of what the industry needs.
“While we are aligned on many of the protocols and health and safety requirements, there are many others that need to be modified if they are to lead to a responsible and reasonable amusement park reopening plan,” Erin Guerrero, executive director of the California Attractions and Parks Assn., said in a written statement. “We ask the governor not to finalize guidance for amusement parks before engaging the industry in a more earnest manner, listening to park operators’ expertise, and collaborating with the industry on a plan that will allow for amusement parks to reopen responsibly while still keeping the health and safety of park employees and guests a top priority.”
While guidelines have been in place for weeks for other sectors of the economy, no such information has been provided for theme and amusement parks. While dozens of other industries have been provided a blueprint crafted by public health officials, the state’s COVID-19 website simply says “Closed” in the listing for the parks.
During a tour of fire damage in Sonoma County on Thursday, Newsom sharply disputed that he was feeling any pressure to allow Disneyland and other amusement parks in the state to begin the process of resuming operations.
“The answer is, unequivocally, no,” Newsom said. “We are not putting the health and safety of people visiting the state or recreating in the state at the parks at risk.”
Times staff writers Hugo Martin and Phil Willon contributed to this report.