Commissioners with the San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday held off on making a decision on whether to extend the permit for a 150-foot-tall ferris wheel at Golden Gate Park for four more years.
The SkyStar Observation Wheel was installed last year as part of the park's 150th anniversary just as the COVID-19 pandemic began. Although the wheel was able to open in the fall at limited capacity, a surge in cases halted operations after just five weeks.
The wheel is scheduled to be removed at the end of March, but a proposal is seeking to extend it through March 1, 2023, to "offset financial hardship experienced by the vendor" and to March 1, 2025, to reinvigorate the city's post-pandemic economy.
Commissioners ultimately unanimously voted to continue the extension proposal to the next meeting on March 3 -- just weeks before the wheel's planned removal.
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Groups like the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay chapter have opposed extending the wheel's permit, citing the detrimental effect the wheel's bright LED lights have the park's wildlife at night.
Additionally, residents nearby have complained about excessive noise coming from the wheel's electrical generator.
In response, the Recreation and Park Department said it's since committed to turning off the bright white lights on the wheel spokes after 10 p.m., and is actively working to find solutions to the noise problem.
During the Wednesday meeting, Supervisor Connie Chan, who represents neighborhoods surrounding the park, asked commissioners to continue their vote to the next meeting.
"Really, the question is about the duration of the extension. I think there's no doubt we all want to celebrate Golden Gate Park," Chan said.
She said continuing the commission's vote would give her more time to work with both the Rec and Park staff and her constituents to reconsider the extension. She proposed extending the wheel for anywhere between just six months to a year.
But Rec and Park General Manager Phil Ginsburg justified the proposed four-year extension during the meeting, citing uncertainty about how long the pandemic will last.
"We thought we might have had a chance to open the wheel at 25 percent capacity on Feb. 16, now we're told maybe March 15 and if there are (COVID-19) variants, we could stay closed for a while. And if it reopens, we don't know when it's going to have a chance to turn at full capacity," he said. "This is bringing a lot of joy to a lot people and it is important to the city's economic recovery."
A petition by the community group "Grow the Richmond" titled "Ferris Wheels are Fun!" in support of the four-year extension has garnered more than 1,100 signatures.