SkyStar Wheel debate could center on whether ride is a “structure” under city law

City charter provision could give Board of Supervisors final say over contract extension

A debate over a move by two supervisors to overturn approval of a four-year extension of a 150-foot tall, illuminated Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park was put off to another day on Tuesday.

A resolution to extend the wheel for only an additional year, which was introduced last week by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan, was sent to the board’s Rules Committee for consideration at a future hearing without any discussion by the Board of Supervisors.

Peskin said some of his board colleagues appropriately wished to have a more “robust” hearing on a matter involving the city’s charter. A date has not yet been set, but it is expected to occur within weeks.

Chan and Peskin, siding with critics of the wheel, contend a city charter provision requires Board of Supervisors approval of the wheel’s installation in Golden Gate Park, but others have rejected their interpretation.

“I have advice from the City Attorney and the City Attorney has said we are not sure,” Peskin said. But Peskin argues that “the words are very clear.”

The Charter provision in question states that “no building or structure, except for nurseries, equipment storage facilities and comfort stations, shall be erected, enlarged or expanded in Golden Gate Park or Union Square Park unless such action has been approved by a vote of two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors.”

Others argue the Ferris wheel is not covered by the provision because it is not a “structure,” it is a temporary installation.

Larry Mazzola, Jr., a Recreation and Park Commissioner who voted for the wheel, said in a Monday letter to the board that he was “dismayed” Chan and Peskin were trying to “override” the unanimous votes by the Recreation and Park and Historic Preservation commissions to approve the wheel for another four years.

The Historic Preservation Commission vote last week was assumed to be the final approval needed, until Peskin and Chan put forward their argument hours afterwards.

“The Sky Wheel is temporary and is not a structure,” Mazzola wrote. “Requiring a ⅔ vote for all temporary structures is a significant change in process that will have a chilling impact on beloved events in the park.”

“Five years is not temporary,” Peskin said.

Jessica Rogers, an employee with Another Planet Entertainment, which puts on Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park, also said in a letter to the board that if their interpretation of the provision stood then “Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Outside Lands, Opera in the Park, Bay to Breakers, the San Francisco Marathon and many more cherished events would face a difficult, time-consuming, costly hurdle to putting on events.”

She called the effort a “politically motivated overreach.”

Peskin dismissed concerns that applying the provision this way for the wheel would have any impact on the events named. He said that nobody is questioning whether a three-day permit for Outside Lands should rise to the level of this provision, “but one year becoming five years rises to that level.”

He added that the board could and should by ordinance differentiate between what is temporary and what is permanent, which would address those concerns.

The SkyStar Wheel was installed last year in the park’s Music Concourse as part of the planned 150th Anniversary celebration for Golden Gate Park. But the COVID-19 pandemic prevented it from operating for most of the year.

A number of environmental advocates and residents have called for the wheel to be removed at the end of the initial one-year agreement, which would have been later this month. They argue the attraction’s lights, noise and generator have an adverse impact on wildlife and insects and the park is not an appropriate place for it.

The Recreation and Parks Department has said it sought to keep the wheel in the park for four additional years to not only fulfill the initial one-year agreement with the operator but to help with The City’s economic recovery.

A Rec and Park official rejected the idea last week that the wheel needed board approval. “The City Attorney has reviewed and signed off on all aspects of the wheel,” Tamara Aparton, a spokesperson for the department said at the time. “It is time to move on.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with additional comment and information.

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