The goddamn drama continues over the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park, with two SF supervisors siding with a group of cranky residents who hate fun and joy and/or think that the attraction is going to bother the birds.
We had thought that once the Historic Preservation and Recreation and Park commissions had voted on a proposed contract extension for the 150-foot-tall observations wheel, that would be that. But "Not so fast," say Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan, who are now pushing to have the Board of Supervisors have the final say.
The Rec and Parks Department sent out a press release late Wednesday announcing that the Ferris wheel had been extended through 2025, in what General Manager Phil Ginsburg called "a win for fun, joy, and common sense." This came after the Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness for the contract extension — following a two-week delay in their decision that had been pushed by Chan.
As the Examiner reports, Chan and Peskin have escalated matters following a call for an investigation into the revenue-sharing agreement that was struck between the wheel's operator, SkyStar, and the Parks Alliance. The latter is a nonprofit that has been implicated in the still unfolding City Hall corruption probe and the group behind the 150th anniversary celebration for the park, of which the wheel was one piece.
"This goes beyond the Ferris wheel now, it is about good and clean government," Chan said in a statement.
The two supervisors put out a statement Wednesday citing a City Charter provision that says "no building or structure, except for nurseries, equipment storage facilities and comfort stations, shall be erected, enlarged or expanded in Golden Gate Park or Union Square Park unless such action has been approved by a vote of two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors."
At least one Historic Preservation commissioner is calling shenanigans, telling the Examiner that it is within their purview to approve temporary structure or elements like this, and all they did was extend the temporary life of the ride four more years.
"I think that it is still a temporary use and that at the end of the time it can and will be put back," says Commissioner Richard Johns, citing "Article 10." He also tells the Examiner that there have been "all kinds of distracting arguments" about this, and ultimately it isn't up to the commission to decide all the various issues — like the potential impact of the ride's lights on birds and insects, which was cited in letters from the Sierra Club's SF chapter, pushing for the removal of the Ferris wheel.
"If there is an extension, one more year is the longest this environmental-damaging structure should be allowed to remain in Golden Gate Park," says Katherine Howard of the Sierra Club, in a statement to the Examiner. "Meanwhile, there are birds and other wildlife to take care of. Therefore, we support turning the lights off at sunset for the duration of the wheel’s presence at Golden Gate Park, which is San Francisco’s premier historic landscape park."
It's unclear whether Chan and Peskin are more swayed by environmental arguments or just the typical cries of NIMBYs who think the wheel is tacky, or whatever. It's fairly clear that area businesses think having another attraction in the park is a good thing, as tourism rebounds later this year and next year.
"We are thrilled the wheel will keep spinning in Golden Gate Park," says Morgan Mapes, president of the Clement Street Merchants Association, in a statement to Rec & Parks. "Small business needs the support of regulars, locals and tourists. The Wheel helps make sure all three are out enjoying the park and shopping locally."
Missouri-based SkyStar appears to have been tipped off that the Historic Preservation Commission would be granting approval on Wednesday. As the Examiner notes, the company issued a release on Tuesday saying that the wheel would reopen on Thursday, and saying that "all San Francisco public school graduating seniors [are invited] to take a free ride on the wheel this summer beginning June 2 through Sept. 6."
Under the current agreement, the wheel would have had to be removed later this month.
The debate over the extended contract for the Ferris wheel — which had originally meant to be on the Music Concourse for just one year as part of the anniversary but which only succeeded in being open for five weeks last year due to public-health orders — has brought out some good old-fashioned San Francisco sniping on all sides. Because far be it for us to have a simple thing like this happen without a fight.
Mayor London Breed even mentioned it in remarks on Tuesday as she announced the reopening of indoor dining and museums under the "Red" tier — "You better hurry up and go ride the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park before the fun police shut it down," she said.
Rec & Parks has argued that in order for the vendor to fulfill its own revenue goals and not lose money, the contract should be extended for some period, in all fairness. Under the new agreement, $1 from every $18 ticket sold for the ride in the first year will go back to the Parks Alliance to help recoup the $1.9 million spent on the park's postponed anniversary celebrations.
The Parks Alliance remains under scrutiny following news last year, reported following an NBC Bay Area investigation and ongoing probe by federal investigators, that the nonprofit had allegedly been one of Mohammed Nuru's conduits for graft. A fund that was controlled by the Parks Alliance reportedly received around $1 million in donations from city contractors which were then used to pay for Department of Public works swag and other items.
Nuru remains at the center of a far-ranging corruption probe in which multiple city contractors have now been charged by federal prosecutors, with several already pleading guilty. Last month, the first of the group, Florence Kong, became the first to be sentenced.
Last week, Peskin and Chan called for an investigation into the deal involving the Parks Alliance and SkyStar — and Rec & Parks told the Chronicle they "welcomed the scrutiny" because the entire process had been transparent.
All of this seems like much ado about nothing — and Chan wasn't even on the board when all this City Hall stuff was going down last year.
Still, because it's her district, she's become something of a spokesperson for the NIMBYs and wheel critics who looking for reasons to quash this deal.
"While we all can agree Ferris wheels are fun, anti-corruption and good government policies are of utmost importance," Chan told the Chronicle last week.