The full San Francisco Board of Supervisors — still conferencing in from their offices — spent a precious hour at Tuesday's meeting discussing and debating the extension of the contract for the Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park. Several of them expressed some exasperation about the fact that they were spending so much time and energy on this, while several of the progressive supervisors expressed passionate justifications for why the board should have been consulted on the matter in the first place. And in the end, they voted 6-5 to let the contract stand as-is, at four years, in what will be cast as a victory for fun.
As reported earlier, District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan, in whose district the 150-foot tall Observation Wheel was installed last spring and only started spinning last fall, has joined Supervisor Aaron Peskin in an effort to thwart a four-year extension for the ride. The story has made headlines on just about every local news outlet as the argument has dragged on — with Peskin citing some language in a City Charter amendment that requires full board votes for permanent "structures" erected in the park, but not temporary installations.
Chan and Peskin brought to the board a resolution to toss out a four-year contract that was approved earlier this month by the Rec & Park Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission, and instead approve a one-year extension.
At Tuesday's meeting, the City Attorney's Office was on hand to say that no, the wheel does not qualify as a permanent structure as it is not permanently affixed to the land, and doesn't interfere with any other activities in the park.
Peskin doubled down in his criticisms of the Rec and Park Department and the deal with the wheel operator — St. Louis-based SkyStar, which he spuriously noted has links to Republican donors the Koch brothers* — and asserting that the wheel should be considered a permanent structure because of its concrete base.
But Peskin mostly was focused on the idea that there was something nefarious in the deal itself, and the involvement of the recently corruption-stained Parks Alliance, which has a profit-sharing agreement with SkyStar.
"It's like the judge said of pornography — 'I know it when i see it.' When one year becomes five years... This whole thing is funky from top to bottom," Peskin said. "This would be odd in any circumstance, but it's particularly odd that this is the same nonprofit that collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from PG&E and city contractors [without properly recording it]," he added, citing allegations in the federal corruption probe that linked some donations to a bribery and laundering scheme by disgraced former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru.
Peskin did make light of the drama surrounding the Ferris wheel, saying that the "bright side" to all of this was that it felt like a return to pre-pandemic normalcy to have "these kinds of squabbles again between the board and the executive branch."
A representative for Rec & Park, the departments Permits and Reservations Manager Dana Ketchum, weighed in during the meeting when asked by Supervisor Hillary Ronen about how the deal with Rec & Park and the Parks Alliance was structured. According to Ketchum, the nonprofit Parks Alliance will receive up to $200,000 in ticket revenue — $1 per adult ticket, and some portion of other tickets — to compensate it for expenses incurred for the park's 150th anniversary celebration. After that amount, the profit-sharing shifts to the Rec & Park Department and the city's General Fund.
Supervisor Chan suggested that in her review of the agreement, this was not clearly spelled out.
"I'm somewhat agnostic about a Ferris wheel... but I am not agnostic on government oversight," said D5 Supervisor Dean Preston in his comments before the vote, arguing for the notion that five years shouldn't count as "temporary." "Nobody puts their bouncy house up for their kid's birthday for five years and claims that it's temporary."
Supervisor Ahsha Safai said he thought a yes vote on this resolution would set a bad precedent for the board having to review every contract that they've ostensibly entrusted city commissions to handle.
And Supervisors Ronen and Matt Haney broke with their progressive colleagues in voting against Tuesday's resolution, with both suggesting the ride is fun and they should just stop arguing about it.
"I'm in a moment when I'm desperate for fun... and this does provide it... And that's all I will say about this for the rest of my life," Ronen said, after mentioning that she and her family enjoyed riding on the wheel in recent weeks.
"This contract was brought before two commissions and both supported it unanimously," Haney said. "I feel like I have heard more about this and spent more time with emails coming in and now with a discussion of the full board... than we have spent on the overdose crisis."
Before the vote was taken, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman concurred that he had heard from many constituents that the Ferris wheel was fun and might as well stay — though he said he did believe this was the type of major installation that the full board ought to have a say in.
"I said yesterday that... I was hoping that a compromise could be arrived at," Mandelman said, regarding the difference between one year and four years. "I'm not sure that that is in the cards."
When the roll-call vote was taken, there were five ayes and five nos with Supervisor Safai's screen freezing up at the last second — but he weighed in with the deciding no vote after a two-minute recess.
Supervisors Ronen, Stefani, Haney, Mandelman, Melgar, and Safai voted no on Peskin and Chan's resolution, which presumably means that the wheel now stays for four more years, until 2025. Supervisors Chan, Walton, Mar, Peskin, and Preston all voted yes.
Still, something tells me this isn't the last we'll hear about this. In his comments, Peskin argued that because of the revenue-sharing agreement, this vote might legally require a two-thirds majority of the board to pass or fail.
*This post has been corrected to show that Koch Development, based in St. Louis, which owns SkyStar, has zero family connection to Koch Industries, the Wichita-based company run by Republican/Libertarian Charles Koch. As a spokesperson for Koch Industries explains, the last name is purely coincidental, and Sup. Peskin apparently was incorrect in his assertion of a connection.