Will Big Wheel Roll Right Over Venice?

Saturday, 21 Apr 2012, 2:35:00 AM

Steve Stajich

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

There’s something tranquil and right about a spin on the Ferris wheel at Pacific Park on the Santa Monica Pier just as the sun is going down, or even later when the moon hangs over the ocean and the beach. Sure, it’s a Grandpa cruise as amusement park rides go but when you throw in that scenery from your vantage point on the wheel it’s really something special. It’s a view you can’t get from a high-speed coaster at Six Flags or certainly from your ’96 Corolla as it moves at drunken mule speed down the 405. Perhaps some of our wheel’s moment of Zen happiness is why there’s an effort afoot to get a new Ferris wheel built just west of the Venice Beach boardwalk at Windward Avenue.

Except that the wheel proposed for Venice would be 200 feet tall with 42 enclosed and air-conditioned “capsules” that could accommodate up to eight people. While the Venice wheel would only be half as high as the well-known London Eye on the bank of the Thames, the possibility that it might draw even half of the 3.75 million passengers a year that the London ride does should be reason enough for local residents to think twice and then again before the digging starts for its hopefully sturdy base.

An April 12th Los Angeles Times article reports that the attorney for a Venice residents advocacy group has written a letter to the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks pointing out that the Venice wheel’s developer (so far, no catchy name for the ride; I’m pitching “Big Blunder Wheel”) has no plans for traffic mitigations or additional parking. That’s despite the wheel’s proposed location in what the attorney described as “one of the city’s most parking-starved areas.”

Full disclosure: During a trip to London about two years ago I did ride the London Eye. At night, with Big Ben and all of London aglow, the views were breathtaking. Just to experience the London wheel as a feat of engineering was pretty cool. But from that standpoint I’m also impressed by the retired aircraft carrier USS Hornet, now permanently docked at Alameda Point on San Francisco Bay. I’m pretty sure I don’t want its 40,000 tons moved to Venice Beach.

Still, there’s a photo with that Times article that inserts the proposed wheel into a view of Windward. Because of Venice’s history of having been a site for amusement rides in the early 1900s, the old Venice building facades on Windward seem to be embracing the big wheel. But that’s a photo; it’s not a video where you can hear carloads of overheated children screaming, “When are we going to park the car, Daddy?” as they realize the giant ride is near but still not within reach.

Great City Attractions, the company pushing for the wheel, and the city have to determine how revenue would be divided. A full environmental review is pending, but we can make some pretty quick assumptions right now about the impacts.

While some officials have said that the purpose of the wheel would be to create a reason for those already visiting Venice beach to stay longer, there’s simply too much denial in that ‘take.’ A huge wheel ride in Venice will become a destination, or perhaps more accurately a goal. Parents looking to make-up for thwarted or delayed plans to visit Disneyland or Knotts, which both have plenty of parking once you make your way there, will promise a ride on the wheel in Venice. Once that’s on the table there will be no negotiation, and now getting to the wheel will be less a reason to fill an afternoon and more like a religious pilgrimage. Anyone thinking that building this thing won’t open up a new gusher of traffic problems has never driven Lincoln Boulevard between Pico and Washington any afternoon after 3 p.m.

And what will Venice tell the next group of developers who seek to integrate with the big wheel’s drawing power by building ancillary attractions? “We’re stopping with the 200 foot wheel. No, you can’t build a 100-foot “Terminator” statue that talks. We already had a big Terminator, as governor. And he could talk… ‘sort of.’”

“Development” is a big strong wrestler with a mask who comes at our beautiful beaches with a vengeance on a regular basis. Each time that happens we are all well within our rights to fight him off. A view of the bay from a nearly twenty-story spinning wheel would be a dramatic experience, but so is looking out the window of the airplane as you leave the Venice-Santa Monica area with your blueprints cooling in your briefcase.

With struggles still on-going involving vendors and performers on the Boardwalk, this latest twist with the proposed wheel might make it seem as though Venice is having some kind of identity crisis. The various factions that make up Venice—the tattoo parlor crowd, the chain-saw jugglers, the longtime residents who still hear the echoes of ‘60’s rock, and the younger artists and show folk that seek funky-chic Venice home addresses—might not have one singular vision of what Venice should be or how it’s charms should be enhanced. But regardless of any one view of what Venice is or is not, it’s not Six Flags on the shore. And Venice will not be “new and improved” with a 200-foot wheel on its back.

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