Belmont Park ordered to shut down rides after violating COVID rules

A staff member at Belmont Park wears a mask.
A staff member at Belmont Park wears a mask while checking the safety restraints for one of the rides on Friday. Later in the day, the park was notified by the city that it needed to shut down all of its rides.
(Jarrod Valliere /The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Belmont Park, which features a number of restaurants, shops and arcade games, is allowed to be open, but its theme park-style rides are not


Amid squeals and screams, visitors to Belmont Park took turns Friday riding the Giant Dipper roller coaster, but what they couldn’t have known is that hours later the park would be ordered to shut down its amusement park rides, after the city of San Diego learned they had been operating in violation of state COVID-19 guidelines.

While Belmont Park is permitted to be open as part of the phased reopening of businesses during the pandemic, the Mission Bay amusement park is not allowed to open back up its theme park rides, whether it’s the roller coaster, tilt-a-whirl or beach blaster, county officials said Friday afternoon.

“There is nothing confusing in the state guidance. Amusement park rides are not allowed at this time,” San Diego County spokesman Mike Workman said. “I would remind folks that the retail and food areas can be open. But they each must adhere to the state guidelines— primarily social distancing and face coverings.”

Rides were open at Belmont Park on Friday.
Rides were open at Belmont Park on Friday June 26th, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The city of San Diego, notified by the county of the violation, took the action to have the ride operation halted after being informed by a Union-Tribune reporter that the rides had reopened in conflict with state regulations barring such attractions for now. It is unclear how long Belmont Park had been operating the various attractions. The ordered shutdown also came on the same day that county officials announced the highest number of diagnosed COVID-19 cases in a single day.

“Consistent with state and county health orders, the City has directed Belmont Park to shut down its rollercoaster and other amusement-style rides,” city of San Diego spokesman said in a late afternoon email to the Union-Tribune.

Belmont Park, which sits on city of San Diego-owned land and is leased to a long-term operator, Pacifica Enterprises, straddles the line between “family entertainment center” and theme park, under the state’s COVID-19 “industry guidance” for reopening during the pandemic.

Rides were open at Belmont Park on Friday.
Rides were open at Belmont Park on Friday June 26th, 2020 in San Diego, California.
(Jarrod Valliere / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In its written regulations for already allowed family entertainment venues, which include arcades, the California Department of Public Health states that the guidance “is not intended for amusement, theme, or water parks; however, these types of parks that have stand-alone bowling alleys, miniature golf, arcades, movie theaters, etc., may open those operations provided they adhere to applicable state and local guidance and keep other attractions closed, including amusement park rides.”

Theme parks, from Disneyland to SeaWorld and Legoland, are still awaiting the green light from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office for when they can resume operations after being closed since mid-March.

Just this week, Disneyland announced it would delay its planned reopening on July 17, in part, to await formal guidance from the state. In San Diego County, the San Diego Zoo and Safari Park were recently allowed by the state to reopen earlier than theme parks. But in accordance with state guidelines, they specifically did not reopen certain attractions like the guided bus tours, the zoo’s Skyfari Aerial Tram and the Safari Park’s Africa Tram.

Absent specific guidance right now from the state on how to safely reopen amusement park-style rides, Belmont Park had only its own rules on how to guard against the spread of the coronavirus. SeaWorld San Diego and Legoland California have already crafted guidelines for reopening their parks but they do not yet have buy-in from the state.

Giant Dipper roller coaster
Visitors to Belmont Park enjoy riding the roller coaster on Friday before it was shut down later in the day following a directive from the city of San Diego.
(Lori Weisberg)

Late Friday, a spokesman for Belmont Park issued the following statement:

“Belmont Park is clearly a family entertainment center, which are allowed to be open according to county and state guidelines. We are seeking greater clarity on the specific status of rides.”

Five years ago, the San Diego City Council approved a long-term lease with Pacifica Enterprises to operate Belmont Park and since then the company has invested many millions of dollars upgrading it, including the addition of oceanfront dining venues and a complete restoration of the historic Plunge swimming pool and the building that houses it.

The park dates back to the early 1920’s, as does the Giant Dipper, one of the last operating historic wooden coasters in the U.S.

Friday afternoon, throngs of visitors meandered through the park, with many lining up to ride the Giant Dipper, some with masks, others with no face coverings.

Lakesha Stacker, visiting the park with her 15-year-old daughter, Kayla, who planned to ride the coaster, said she felt it was safe to get on the rides.

“I’m OK with it, you know, with the masks and the 6-foot distance,” she said. “And I have hand sanitizer.”