An Open Letter to San Francisco City Government about the Skystar Observation Wheel in Golden Gate Park
I sent this letter to the Historical Preservation Commission and the Recreation and Parks Commission. At this point the Board of Supervisors is going to rule on the ridiculous four-year extension. Board.of.Supervisors@sfgov.org Write soon!
Dear Commission Members:
As a longtime resident of the Inner Sunset, one who lives within a few minutes of the Skystar wheel and has to see it regularly — perhaps for the rest of my life, I would like to weigh in on the plan to extend the contract.
From a historical perspective, this never should have been permitted. Nor from a financial one.
• No EIR was performed. It is not clear why the project claims exemptions to review.
There is absolutely no doubt that the wheel’s presence is injurious to wildlife. The lights and the generator have profound effects on the immediate surrounding area. While this is only of concern to those who care about the environment, it is a valid issue.
It is also toxic to the environment: How many of the toxic LED bulbs will be discarded, year after year, and put in landfill?
How does this jibe with an “environmental” city?
• There was no outreach to neighbors.
The RPD claims that, with a hypothetical 60,000 visitors estimated, there would be no impact on the Inner Sunset with regard to either parking or traffic. This claim seems improbable.
Residents can see the wheel from their streets, parks and homes, and it has an immensely negative effect on the Inner Sunset and surrounding areas.
• While there was a very controversial fair in the park, which did include a small ferris wheel, 2020 was not the anniversary of that misbegotten event. Nor does the Skystar wheel, which is part of a franchise operation that operates many such wheels in various locations, have any relationship to the smaller and more attractive wheel that was at the exposition. Nor is having a ferris wheel here once grounds for making it a five-year run and, very likely, permanent.
• From a visual perspective, the million multicolored LED lights give it a grotesque, very tasteless appearance which, while very much in tune with the lighting installed (again, without any community input whatsoever) on the band shell, is singularly odious to any viewer with even a modicum of artistic taste or with even the most minimal appreciation of aesthetics.
- The demand that San Franciscans owe something to this corporation are unsubstantiated. Very little to no City support has been given to struggling local businesses here in the Inner Sunset, many of which have closed permanently. Yet, taxpayers are expected to continue to subsidize Skystar’s fiscal endeavors.
Skystar was supposed to have this area restored by March 1, 2021. Yet no restoration has taken place, and Skystar is only making a last-minute application for an extension.
Astonishingly, despite thousands of dollars being spent on staff time preparing this “short term” privatization of public space, all of the money not consumed by Todd Schneider’s Skystar corporation goes to the corrupt Parks Alliance.
Given the past voting records of both the Recreation and Parks Commission and the Historical Preservation Commission, we can expect this four-year extension to be approved by a near unanimous vote. Neither commission held a public forum before this decision was made initially, nor did many people even know it was in the works. Years ago, everything in the area was free to enter.
This lack of process is in keeping with a long tradition of shutting out the public voice in this and other areas. The past few years have seen entrance fees (on weekends) to the former, once-free Strybing Arboretum and other attractions set as high as $12 for individual entry. Tax dollars enabled the San Francisco Botanical Garden Society to destroy the once-magical Demonstration Garden with no public input; it is to serve as a wedding and corporate event space. A new, completely unnecessary entry is planned to Golden Gate Park. The museums have become even more expensive and less open to ordinary people. Working people have been priced out of their own park, one funded with their hard-earned dollars. What we see is “liberal” (sometimes called “progressive,” sometimes “moderate”) racism at work. The commodification of every square inch of public space inevitably leads to shutting people out, a fact that the Recreation and Parks Department has never disputed, and people from traditionally disadvantaged communities suffer when prices skyrocket. Eighteen dollars plus add-ons is not affordable, even if having the wheel were a good idea in the first place.
Please remember that a vote to extend the occupation of the Concourse by the Skystar ferris wheel is more than a vote to inflict another four years of light shows and a noisy generator on San Franciscans and birds and other wildlife alike. It means that the ferris wheel will be here for our lifetimes and later. And, just as the lack of public process sets a precedent, so will this wheel be used as an excuse for future depredations, the likes of which we can not imagine.
Please vote to end the presence of the ferris wheel as soon as possible. It is a travesty that this ugly structure was ever permitted.
Harry S. Pariser