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Golden Gate Park Ferris wheel a hope for cash-strapped SF; issue with birds, insects, says environmentalist

Written by on February 16, 2021

Golden Gate Park turned 150 years old last spring, and the huge party to celebrate San Francisco’s beloved natural treasure included a giant Ferris wheel that lifts passengers 150 feet into the sky.

As San Francisco is in a big budget deficit, the Ferris wheel helps bring people outdoors and money back to the city.

A vote this week will determine if the attraction, which costs $18 to ride for adults, $12 for seniors and kids, will remain in the park until March 2025.

The Historic Preservation Commission, an agency of the San Francisco Planning Department, meets at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday to decide, and the meeting is open to the public via livestream.

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There is pushback, however, from locals and environmental groups claiming the lights harm the birds and insects, the wheel is in their flight path of them, and the noise could become a nuisance.

“The SkyStar Observation Wheel has bands of exterior booth lights and flashing, rotating designs on the sides — all extremely bright LEDs — that stay lit until 10 p.m. every night,” the Sierra Club’s Katherine Howard wrote on a club blog post.

“Our city parks are a vital refuge for wild animals struggling to deal with the loss of habitat and open space,” she added. “Wildlife needs darkness. Light pollution can have a negative impact on birds — both resident and migrating — as well as bats, insects, amphibians, and other animals. Artificial light can alter an animal’s circadian rhythm, disrupting breeding, foraging, and sheltering cycles. Furthermore, it can draw and disorient some species while repelling others — in both cases, to deadly effect.”

Another group opposes the opposition.

“It struck me as really, really ridiculous to be against a Ferris wheel,” said Jane Natoli, organizer of a petition to keep the wheel. “It’s not like it will be there until the end of time.”

Grow the Richmond, a political group, created the petition entitled “Ferris Wheels Are Fun!”

The petition states, “Unfortunately anti-fun scolds are at it again. … We at Grow The Richmond are here to say, in addition to everything else we stand for, we are pro-FUN. Be a part of the pro-fun alliance too! Tell the Historic Preservation Commission and Rec and Parks that you support the temporary extension of this unique, enjoyable, and temporary addition to the park.”

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The spread of the coronavirus forced the city to postpone the wheel’s debut last year.

Originally, city officials planned a yearlong celebration that included free museum admission, concerts and the participation of more than 150 cultural institutions and community groups.

Instead, they launched an online concert series featuring musical sets performed in the park over the years. They include an appearance by Boz Scaggs at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in 2016 and Metallica’s headlining performance at the Outside Lands festival in 2017.

April 4 marks the day the park was chartered by order of California State Legislature 150 years ago. Skeptics doubted the city’s sand dunes could be converted into park land, but field engineer William Hammond Hall and master gardener John McLaren figured out a way to blanket more than 1,000 acres on the city’s west side with trees.

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