With hundreds weighing in, a vote was postponed Wednesday over whether San Francisco could allow a 150-foot tall, illuminated Ferris wheel to continue to turn in Golden Gate Park for another four years.
The Historic Preservation Commission voted 6-to-0 to continue its decision until at least March 3 on whether to allow the Recreation and Park Department to continue to operate the Ferris wheel in the park until March 2025.
The postponement came after Supervisor Connie Chan, who represents the Richmond neighborhood including Golden Gate Park, requested more time to work out the unresolved issues. Chan’s request was supported by Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton and supervisors Dean Preston and Aaron Peskin.
“Constituents’ concerns were flooding in,” Chan told the San Francisco Examiner after the vote.
She praised the commission for giving her more time to hash out concerns raised about impacts like lights and the generator noise but also “making sure that we really evaluate the duration of the wheel’s extended stay.”
Chan said since the wheel was granted initially for one year, she favored just a one year extension.
“That makes sense,” Chan said. “That’s where I stand. But I am open to discussion.”
Critics, including the Sierra Club’s San Francisco Bay Chapter, argue the attraction is not suitable for the beloved park and say its noise and illumination have adverse impacts on wildlife and insects.
Supporters, however, say it was a positive addition of “fun” to the park that would draw people to the area, helping out nearby struggling businesses.
The Recreation and Parks Department obtained approval last year to enter into a one-year agreement with SkyStar Wheel, LLC, a Missouri-based company, to set up and operate the wheel at the Golden Gate Park Music Concourse as part of the 150-year celebration of the park’s anniversary.
Under the agreement, a percentage of the proceeds from ticket sales goes to the San Francisco Parks Alliance to pay for the celebration. Tickets cost $18 for adults to ride the “observational” wheel.
But the citywide shutdown prevented the wheel from operating as was initially planned from April 2020 until March 2021. The wheel opened in October, only to close in November after 39 days of operations at 25 percent capacity. The wheel was expected to accommodate 500,000 riders, but only 65,693 have ridden it to date.
The wheel can reopen once San Francisco moves out of the state’s most restrictive COVID-19 purple tier to the second highest red tier.
The Recreation and Park Commission was scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to approve a permit extension with the company until 2025 in anticipation of receiving approval by the Historic Preservation Commission.
The extended agreement is proposed to have a share of the revenues go toward remaining costs of the anniversary celebration as well as transportation access to the park and performances at the Bandshell and Jerry Garcia Amphitheater, Rec and Park officials said.
Some Historic Preservation Commissioners said they would have voted for the four-year extension.
Commissioner Chris Foley shared the opinion the wheel could help small businesses in the area.
“I really care about these small businesses,” Foley said. “These little businesses in the Richmond and Sunset, they are crushed. They are literally beat to heck.”
Commissioner Jonathan Pearlman, however, said, “I don’t think it’s our job at the Historic Preservation Commission to be concerned about the economic recovery, because our job is to look at the impacts to the historic fabric of our city.”
“The bottom line to me is that I don’t believe this should be in Golden Gate Park,” Pearlman said. “There are plenty of places it could be in The City and still support economic recovery.”
Pearlman also raised concerns about “creeping permanence” and said the operator could make up for the loss of rides likely in eight months.
Rec and Park officials opposed a continuance.
”I don’t know where this kind of went sideways,” said Phil Ginsburg, head of Rec and Parks.
He said, “We are happy to work with Supervisor Chan on her concerns,” but called for an approval of the extension.
Aaron Jon Hyland, president of the commission, indicated there was a willingness among the commissioners to make the investment “whole,” but said a postponement was justified.
“It’s much greater than the vocal minority that are opposed to this, so I am glad that Supervisor Chan is stepping up to try to mitigate these comments,” Hyland said.