Ferris wheel debate continues / Police may cut 11% of officers

It's Wednesday, February 17th.

Good evening, San Francisco. 

If you haven’t heard about the Ferris wheel drama, let me quickly get you up-to-speed… 

Ferris wheel placed in Golden Gate Park last year to celebrate the park’s 150-year anniversary. Covid hits and no one can ride it. Ferris wheel supposed to be removed in March, but city officials think, “Why not keep it longer?” Bird groups say, “Because the bright lights are disrupting nature.” While others say, “Ferris wheels are fun and we need more fun.” 

Okay, now you’re with me. 

Today, the Recreation and Parks Department’s Historic Preservation Commission was set to vote on whether to keep the Golden Park Park Ferris wheel, officially known as SkyStar Observation Wheel, for another four whole years. According to HereSay Media’s live tweets of the meeting, “dozens—if not hundreds—of people” called in to have their opinions heard. 

One person who does Tai Chi in the park said she hasn’t been able to do so since October because of the loud noise from the generator. Another person in opposition said, “It's a park, not an amusement park,” and recommended moving the Ferris wheel to Fisherman’s Wharf. 

Others were in favor of fun. “Ferris wheels are fun and after the year we've had, fun is good,” one person said

After more than two hours, the commission decided to shelve the vote until its March 3rd meeting. So, no decision today. The debate continues! And if you want to know how the Ferris wheel feels in all this, here you go

Okay, onto some more news for today…

Facing budget cuts, the San Francisco Police Department may lay off over 160 officers, or about 11% of its force, the Examiner reported on Wednesday. News of the potential layoffs comes after Mayor Breed said in December that departments should reduce their budgets by 7.5% to help the city address its deficit issues. Final decisions about the police layoffs may not come until June when the Board of Supervisors is expected to review the city’s overall budget proposal. 

So far this year, some crimes in the city (like robberies) are down, while others (like burglaries and car theft) are up. Meanwhile, 30 people have been shot in the city this year compared to nine people at this time last year, the Examiner said. 

“Cutting 160 police officers will only make the streets of San Francisco more dangerous,” Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, told the Examiner. “We need a plan that results in fewer victims of crime, not more.” 

A new political action committee has formed in San Francisco to address concerns with the city’s public schools and how they are managed. The group, known as Campaign for Better San Francisco Public Schools, or simply Better Public Schools, is exploring options to recall current school board members, the Examiner reports. It is also looking into possible procedural changes—like having the mayor appoint school board members rather than holding elections.  

“At a minimum, we want a better school board,” a strategist for the group, Patrick Wolff, told the Examiner. Frustrations with the school board have grown in recent weeks among parents and Mayor Breed herself, as a timeline for reopening the city’s public schools has not been decided. 

Better Public Schools will hold an informational session on Thursday at 5:30 pm. Meanwhile, school board president Gabriela López and commissioner Jenny Lam will talk with HereSay Media reporter Sophie Bearman tonight at 7 pm to discuss school reopenings. 

Quick bits: 

  • 🍎 The Berkeley school district and teachers’ union have reached a tentative agreement that could reopen preschools and grades K-2 as early as March 29th. (Berkeleyside) Also, here’s a map the state recently released that shows the reopening status of school districts across California. 

  • 💉 San Francisco opened its third mass vaccination site on Tuesday in the Bayview District, but due to vaccine shortages, no appointments can be made there yet. (Examiner)

  • 🍔 Over 2,000 restaurants and bars in the city have moved their operations outdoors with “parklets,” and another 1,000 are on their way. Senator Scott Weiner wants to help make them permanent, even after the pandemic. (Eater

  • 😔 The Lunar New Year ox statue in Union Square has been vandalized and is missing a horn. (ABC7

  • 🎉 The San Francisco-based skateboard magazine, Thrasher, turns 40. Kevin L. Jones writes a brief history of the magazine that was hated by parents for “its “bad language” and “embrace of punk attitudes” but helped resurrect the skateboard industry. (Chronicle

And finally… of the 8,000 permanent supportive housing units in San Francisco meant to support the city’s homeless people, 766 of them (or almost 10%) are currently vacant. That’s up 58% in the past six months, according to figures reported last week by the San Francisco Public Press. 

The reasons why these units are sitting vacant aren’t entirely clear. The Frisc reported that the city’s technology meant to match people with open units could be to blame. Building maintenance and cleaning could be causing delays as well. A spokesperson for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing said it was “working diligently internally and with our nonprofit partners to improve our housing placement process, expedite placement, and reduce vacancies.” 

Still, as Doug Gary, co-director of supportive housing provider DISH, told The Frisc: “Because of our collective failure, there’s [more than] 700 units empty tonight, more than 700 people on the streets needing housing in the middle of a public health crisis, and it’s a huge waste of money because someone, somehow is paying for empty housing units.”

That’s all for today! Thank you all for tuning in and talk soon. -Nick B.

Thanks to HiView for sponsoring today’s newsletter. If you own a business and need any help related to Google Cloud, give the team at HiView a shout. ☝️