At Tuesday's SF Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan maneuvered to get their way and keep Rec & Parks from extending the contract for the 150-foot-tall observation wheel in Golden Gate Park for another four years.
Peskin, with rookie supe Chan by his side, seems determined to keep the Ferris wheel around for only one more year — perhaps in an effort to appease a contingent of residents who hate the thing for various reasons. But as the Chronicle reports of Tuesday's meeting, public commenters who called in were about equally divided between those in favor of keeping the ride for four years, those vehemently opposed, and those who feel like it's asinine that we're still arguing about this.
As we learned last week when Peskin and Chan filed an immediate objection after the Historic Preservation Commission voted to approve the four-year extension, the supervisors' tactic is a procedural one. While Rec & Parks and the Historic Preservation Commission believed, because this was a temporary structure, they could approve the contract for the Ferris wheel themselves, Peskin and Chan penned a letter saying, "Oh, not so fast," citing another rule about contracts and insisting this needs to go to the Board of Supervisors.
The supes voted 11-0 on Tuesday night to send the case to the board's Rules Committee, of which Peskin and Chan make up two out of three members. Thus, we can see where this is headed. What's likely to come next is that the Rules Committee affirms that this is the Board's decision to make, and then the full board seems likely to vote in favor of the one-year extension Chan and Peskin want — unless Rec & Parks has the ear of at least six other supervisors.
Phil Ginsburg, the general manager of the parks department, praised the Historic Preservation Commission's unanimous decision to approve the four-year extension for the wheel, calling it "a win for fun, joy, and common sense." And various neighbors and merchant groups have also chimed in to support the extension and argue it will bring more tourism to the area as the city recovers from the pandemic.
But Peskin has also been angling to drag this decision into the still-unfolding City Hall corruption probe, because of the link to the nonprofit Parks Alliance. The Parks Alliance has an agreement with the Ferris wheel vendor, SkyStar, to share in the revenue from ticket sales for the first year in order to recoup costs from the aborted 150th anniversary celebration for the park.
Peskin has called for an audit of this deal, and Chan backed him up last week saying, "This goes beyond the Ferris wheel now, it is about good and clean government."
As a spokesperson for Rec & Parks said in a statement last month, "Our agreements with the nonprofit Parks Alliance, including those involving the SkyStar Wheel, went through a transparent public process and, like any other civic celebration, are open for anyone to examine."
The SF Parks Alliance, one of dozens of "Friends of..." organizations that helps support one or several city departments or commissions, played a central role in the laundering of "pay-to-play" graft from various city contractors, according to a report last year by the SF Controller's office, with Public Works chief Mohammed Nuru being the alleged ringleader of the scheme. According to the Controller, over a five-year period, nearly $1 million passed through a DPW sub-account held by the Parks Alliance which would regularly reimburse DPW for the purchase of merch and other things that weren't otherwise in the department's budget. And all of those monies were ostensibly received as tax-deductible donations to the Parks Alliance.
The observation wheel, installed last spring and intended to live on the Music Concourse between the Academy of Science and the de Young for one year, was only able to be open for five weeks in the fall when public-health orders allowed. It reopened for rides last Thursday, and Rec & Parks says that it will be at least a year before the vendor can recoup the revenue it expected from last year.
Under the revised deal Peskin and Chan are pushing for, the wheel would stop spinning on February 7, 2022, and be fully removed by March 15, 2022.