Two San Francisco supervisors called Tuesday for the city to investigate a deal setting aside a portion of ticket revenues from the Golden Gate Observation Wheel to a non-profit caught up in the city’s ongoing corruption scandal.
“We all agree that Ferris wheels are fun, anti-corruption and good government policies are of utmost importance,” city Supervisor Connie Chan said at the board’s meeting on Tuesday in urging the City Controller’s office to investigate the four-year contract extension for the SkyStar Observation Wheel installed last year to honor the park’s 150th anniversary celebration.
Under the deal, $1 for every $18 adult ticket sold for the ride would go to the non-profit San Francisco Parks Alliance to pay for the park’s 150th anniversary celebration.
The SkyStar wheel was supposed to open last spring, but the opening was delayed until October due to COVID-19. It operated just 39 days – taking people 15 stories high inside fully enclosed gondolas – before shutting down as coronavirus cases again spiked throughout the Bay Area.
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The parks department staff backed the four-year extension of the deal, saying it will help assure the public’s full enjoyment of the ride and serve as a boost to the city’s economy.
But both Chan and Supervisor Aaron Peskin have questioned the parks commission approval of the deal, in light of the Parks Alliance’s documented role in the city’s corruption and bribery scandal that has ensnared several top city officials.
“We want to put in place checks and balances, and most importantly, accountability, to our city departments,” Chan said in an interview.
It was the alliance, NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit first reported, that was managing a $1 million fund financed by contractors doing business with the city.
Money later used by then Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and other agency officials to pay for parties, swag and other perks, including an exercise treadmill.
“It is a non-profit that’s been under investigation for public corruption,” Chan emphasized, adding, “so we know that, whether knowingly or not, it does contribute and has been contributing to the pay to play culture, so we want to know if this practice is still going on.”
No one at the San Francisco Parks Alliance has been criminally implicated and its officials have said they had no role in the fund other than to manage payments.
In a statement Tuesday, the alliance said it has fully cooperated with all the pending investigations and “wholeheartedly supports” any effort seeking more transparency and accountability. The alliance said it “does not have, and never has had, anything to hide.”
The parks department said in a statement: “Our agreements with the nonprofit Parks Alliance, including those involving the SkyStar Wheel, went through a transparent public process and, like any other civic celebration, are open for anyone to examine. “