A resolution to limit the stay of a 150-tall Ferris wheel at San Francisco Golden Gate Park to just one year has been denied by supervisors, meaning the wheel will stay put for four more years.
Supervisors voted 5-6 against the resolution at Tuesday’s board meeting, with supervisors Matt Haney, Rafael Mandelman, Catherine Stefani, Myrna Melgar, Hillary Ronen and Ahsha Safai voting against it.
Although the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission earlier this month approved extending the stay of the SkyStar Observation Wheel through 2025 to reinvigorate the city’s post-pandemic economy and help offset financial loss, supervisors Connie Chan and Aaron Peskin blocked the move, citing city law that requires the approval of supervisors for building or structure expansions at Golden Gate Park or Union Square.
The supervisors instead proposed extending the wheel’s stay for considerably less time, through February 2022, citing complaints from opponents regarding bright lights and the wheel’s electric generator, which they said harms the park’s wildlife.
Chan and Peskin also raised concerns with the wheel’s contract, which allows for the Recreation and Parks Department to direct profits generated from vendors like SkyStar to go to the nonprofit organization San Francisco Parks Alliance, instead of going to the city. To further complicate matters, the parks alliance has been implicated in a citywide fraud investigation.
“I’ve been on the Ferris wheel and it’s really fun. My gut is saying, ‘Why can’t we just leave it here for four years and enjoy it and bring people to the city to enjoy?’”Supervisor Hillary Ronen
“A four-year stay and the justification is because of economic recovery? That’s problematic for me. Not to mention that the contract itself is problematic,” Chan said.
But according to Dana Ketchum, Rec and Parks Department director of Property Management and Permits, under the current contract, after the wheel generates $200,000 in profits for the park alliance, the rest would go to the rec and parks department and the city’s general fund. So far, the wheel has generated around $37,000, Ketchum said.
“I’ve been on the Ferris wheel and it’s really fun,” Ronen said. “My gut is saying, ‘Why can’t we just leave it here for four years and enjoy it and bring people to the city to enjoy?’”
“This is something that I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback from my constituents,” Haney said. “In some ways this has represented a future for San Francisco where there’s fun and families and children are centered and I think that is important, particularly when our city has been through such a tough time over the last year.”
In a statement, Rec and Parks officials celebrated the wheel’s four-year stay.
“The wheel represents a bit of joy after a grueling year. It attracts new visitors and allows locals to see our beloved park in a new way. We are excited to continue to distribute free tickets to high need families, high school seniors and others,” Rec and Parks officials said.
The wheel was first installed in April 2020 as part of the park’s 150th anniversary but because the pandemic was getting underway, the wheel wasn’t able to open until October at limited capacity. And just five weeks later, the wheel closed due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.
With the city now in the red tier of the state’s reopening guidelines, the wheel reopened earlier this month for a second time.