Golden Gate Park’s famed gardens may be getting a new light-up show starting in November 2024, but the $28-$40 entrance fee has already garnered criticism, and there may be some opposition from wildlife advocates.

San Franciscans can generally all get behind temporary attractions installed in Golden Gate Park when these attractions are free and open to the public. But when these attractions are not free, they tend to get some community blowback, like with the forthcoming weekend after Outside Lands concerts, or that Ferris wheel that was in the park before it got moved to Fisherman’s Wharf for APEC.

We now have another paid attraction being proposed in Golden Gate Park, and it’s already getting a little of that community blowback. The Chronicle reports on possible winter light shows at the Golden Gate Park flower gardens that could be installed as soon as November 2024. Details are scarce, but the light installations would likely be at one or all of what are now called the Gardens of Golden Gate Park: the SF Botanical Garden, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Conservatory of Flowers.

“Our aim is to develop a unique winter lights installation that embodies the mission and brand of the Gardens and is authentic to our local community,” the SF Botanical Garden says on their website. "We hope to create a magical atmosphere that will captivate visitors of all ages and invite visitors to explore the beauty of the Gardens after hours.”

There aren’t any more details provided, because the details don’t exist yet. The Botanical Garden just closed their Request for Proposal (RFP) process on November 15, so the design and location have not yet been selected. But per the Chron, the proposed display would run from November 2024 into January 2025, it could become an annual thing is successful, and tickets would probably run $28 to $40 apiece, which the Chronicle describes as “the upper end of the spectrum of Bay Area light show prices.”

And money is a motivator here, as the Botanical Garden website says in its RFP description that “the project must net a minimum of $500,000 for the Gardens in Year 1.” These Golden Gate Gardens have traditionally charged admission, but became free for SF residents in 2022. Yet it doesn’t sound like these displays would be free for SF residents.

And 48 Hills has a critique of the proposal noting that this for-profit enterprise would be run by the Gardens of Golden Gate Park, which is not a public agency and does not hold public meetings. So there’s unlikely to be any public input or oversight for whatever this display ends up becoming.      

There are also wildlife concerns. The California Native Plant Society said in a statement to 48 Hills that “This could potentially harm the very species the Botanical Garden strives to protect and conserve,” and that “The nocturnal animals that call the garden home may also suffer due to this light pollution.”

The Botanical Garden says they’ll share the proceeds with SF Rec and Park, though they don’t detail the percentages. But one can’t help but be reminded that these “public-private partnerships” did produce some corruption allegations in the Mohammed Nuru saga. An organization called the SF Parks Alliance, which is not SF Rec and Parks but helps bankroll them, was found to be a source of Nuru’s pay-to-play slush funds, though the Alliance has denied any wrongdoing.

So there has been some iffiness in these public-private partnerships. And we might not know where the money is flowing in this Golden Gate Park lighting display, because there's no way to shine a light on how the decisions behind it are being made.  

Related: Decision Delayed for Extension of Golden Gate Park Ferris Wheel [SFist]

Image: SF Botanical Garden