Disney Now Not the Happiest Place

Charles Crumpley
Editor and Publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal

As if we needed it, the rift between the Walt Disney Co. and the California state government widened last week, with one exasperated Disney executive blasting the state’s new restrictions that will prevent Disneyland from reopening probably until next summer – and then at 25 percent capacity.

Disney has safely reopened its famous theme parks in Asia, Europe and Florida, Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock pointed out, but “the state of California continues to ignore this fact, instead mandating arbitrary guidelines that it knows are unworkable …”

Remember, last week’s dustup was on top of Disney’s decision a few weeks ago to dismiss 28,000 workers from its California parks division – workers it had been carrying for months with the expectation that Disneyland would be open by now. Disney blamed the state for that decision. And about that time, Bob Iger, Disney’s executive chair and former chief executive, resigned in a huff from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s economic recovery task force.

It’s gotten to the point that you’d imagine any meeting between Disney execs and state officials would be about as pleasant as a Trump-Biden debate with open mics.

Valley area leaders are quietly starting to fret. At least a few have begun wondering if Disney may move part or all of its Burbank headquarters out of the state. Even though Disney is all but absent from local civic leadership, it is still the Valley’s biggest private employer with an estimated 11,750 local jobs (before the pandemic), and it anchors the Valley’s studio and entertainment industry. A Disney move would be devastating.

That seems preposterous, doesn’t it? I mean, where would Disney move to, exactly? On the other hand, weirder things have happened. What’s more, Proposition 15, the so-called split roll question on the November ballot, would add, by one estimate, tens of millions of dollars annually to Disney’s property tax bill. At some point, it would be uncomfortable for Disney execs to stand up at an annual meeting and try to convince shareholders that they’re carrying out their fiduciary responsibility by staying in California.

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