SkyStar Wheel to keep on turning in Golden Gate Park

Board of Supervisors rejects attempt to limit extension of controversial Ferris wheel to one year

The Board of Supervisors shot down a proposal Tuesday to scale back a four-year extended stay for the 150-foot tall, illuminated Ferris wheel in Golden Gate Park to just one year after its legal authority to intervene in the matter was disputed.

The board rejected in a 5-to-6 vote a resolution introduced by supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan to permit the wheel to operate for just one more year, with its removal required by March 15, 2022.

Board President Shamann Walton voted for the resolution, along with supervisors Chan, Peskin, Gordon Mar and Dean Preston.

Supervisors Matt Haney, Catherine Stefani, Rafael Mandelman, Myrna Melgar, Hillary Ronen and Ahsha Safai opposed it.

Peskin and Chan had sought to scale back the extension, siding with opponents of the wheel who argued it adversely impacts wildlife and has no place in the park.

The wheel was installed last year as part of the Golden Gate Park 150th Anniversary celebration, but largely did not operate due to COVID. The Recreation and Parks Department decided to extend its stay for another four years citing its popularity in addition to fulfilling the expectations of the one-year agreement.

Supporters have praised the wheel as something fun to do and said it would attract visitors and help boost the economy.

The debate has gone on for months, with hundreds weighing in on both sides of the issue.

The deal was already approved by the Recreation and Park Commission and the Historic Preservation Commission, but Peskin later argued that a provision in The City’s charter requires the board to approve it. The provision says structures built or erected in the park requires approval by a two-thirds vote by the board.

However, other members of the board said they did not agree with Peskin’s interpretation of the provision and worried about the legal precedent it would set for other events in the park. Recreation and Parks head Phil Ginsburg took a similar position in a memo to the board.

Deputy City Attorney Anne Pearson told the board that the charter provision likely does not give it a vote in this matter.

“Here, because the Ferris wheel is a temporary installation that has been designed in a way to be removed and does not substantially interfere with the recreational uses of the park, we concluded that it is more likely than not that placement of the wheel for up to five years does not require approval under charter section 4.113,” Pearson said.

Peskin continued to argue the board had the right to vote on the structure and said if the board doesn’t approve it for any length of time it’s not authorized to be there.

“One year becoming five years is not temporary in nature,” Peskin said. “It is our right and power and duty to interpret that section.”

“I do not interpret it the way you do,” Melgar said, referring to Peskin. “I fear unintended consequences for this interpretation.”

Safai also disagreed with Peskin.

“I read the charter differently,” Safai said. “We do have some clarity based on precedent.”

He noted that in the past the board has been asked under the provision to approve projects like a new tennis center and the Academy of Sciences, but never asked to “approve anything that would be temporary in nature.”

Chan has also raised concerns about the contract with SkyStar Wheel, LLC, a Missouri-based company. The initial deal gives $1 of every $18 adult ticket ride to the San Francisco Parks Alliance nonprofit to help fund the park’s $1.9 million anniversary celebration. The nonprofit was implicated in the City Hall corruption scandal, but has not been charged and denies any wrongdoing.

Dana Ketcham, the Rec and Park Department’s director of property management, told the board, “for this extension, the funds come to us after the original budgeted amount of $200,000” for the nonprofit, which has received $37,000 to date.

“Every amount after that comes to the department and to the general fund,” Ketcham said. “It’s in the revised agreement.”

“I just like the Ferris wheel and I want people to have fun on it,” said Ronen, after asking for the funding details.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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