San Franciscans barely got to enjoy the 150-foot tall "observation wheel" that was installed in Golden Gate Park in the spring, but was only operational for five and a half weeks in October and November before being shut down due to COVID restrictions. Now Rec & Parks officials are getting set to propose an extension for the one-year permit for the wheel, and advocates for migratory birds are making noise and saying the wheel should come down early.
As the Examiner reports, the Ferris wheel is set to be removed after March under the original permit, but Rec & Parks would like both to give people more time to enjoy it and give the vendor who brought here — Skystar — a chance to recoup its costs through ticket sales.
The ride had been intended to see 500,000 customers during its year in the park, in celebration of the park's 150th anniversary, and in just 39 days it saw 65,693 riders. It was shut down in late November with a variety of other activities due to heightening concerns by the Department of Public Health about the COVID surge in the city.
But, given that this is San Francisco, there are concerns from all corners, with the Sierra Club having already complained about the brightness of the LEDs on the wheel being distracting for wildlife — which led to the brightest of them being turned off during the last hour of the wheel's operation last month, between 9 and 10 p.m.
In a letter to the city, Katherine Howard of the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter wrote that the group wants the entire wheel removed as soon as possible, citing potential "environmental damage" from "its intensely bright, flashing and completely unshielded lighting."
The local Audobon Society chapter's San Francisco Conservation Committee also penned a letter, per the Examiner, saying "Numerous studies have shown that birds and insects are negatively affected by bright night lighting. Many bird species migrate at night, and the spring migration begins at the end of February." The group is worried that birds may physically collide with the structure, or that they may be distracted by the lighting and "waste valuable energy" by being taken off their migratory track.
Parks officials are still pushing ahead with an extension proposal, and the Historic Preservation Commission, which apparently has to sign off, sounds like they mostly agree that it's a good idea.
Drew Becher, CEO of the Parks Alliance, said in a statement that "the wheel is a signature component of the [anniversary] celebration," and the public deserves more time to experience it. He added that it will be a draw and potentially promote some economic activity in the area when businesses need it most in the spring and summer, as we hopefully are emerging from this pandemic.