During a radio interview that aired Monday morning, Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said federal landmark status protections bestowed upon the Colorado Street Bridge are slowing city efforts to prevent people from jumping from there to their deaths.
This year alone, four people have killed themselves by jumping from what has long been known as “Suicide Bridge.”
As an emergency measure, City Manager Steve Mermell has ordered that 10-foot high chain link fencing be installed along both sides of the 105-year-old structure.
“We put up some temporary fencing which was ineffective. The city manager has now decided to fence the entire bridge in an effort to mitigate this while at the same time we’re working on a longer term solution,” Tornek told A. Martinez of “Take Two,” a morning show on KPCC, 89.3 FM.
“The reason it’s taking so long is that this bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places, so you don’t get to just throw up a solution. [It] needs to be one that’s aesthetically compatible with the iconic nature of the structure, and so it’s going to take a long time,” Tornek said. “That’s why the city manager decided to intervene and on an interim basis fence the entire bridge, which we think will mitigate the suicide problem.”
On Monday, the City Council declined to renew discussions to reconsider placing a restroom and a tot lot play area in Desiderio Neighborhood Park, located next to a nine-unit Habitat for Humanity housing development located a sfort distance from the base of the bridge, Owners of the newly built homes fear that a jumper could possibly hit and injure someone living below.
“How can you not solve the suicide problem on the bridge before you invite children to live underneath it?” Pasadena resident Bill Knopf asked at the council’s Aug. 27 meeting for which local residents turned out in force to oppose the new Desiderio park. Knopf and others previously opposed construction of the homes, south of the park property.
After Knopf and other residents voiced their concerns, Councilman Steve Madison, whose district includes Desderio, the bridge, the Arroyo Seco and surrounding neighborhoods, asked Mermell to place further discussion of the restroom and playground proposal on a future agenda.
From 2007 to 2016 there was an average of three suicides per year occurring from the bridge. Last year the bridge saw nine suicides, prompting city officials to place temporary 10-foot tall, one-inch thick mesh fencing blocking access to 20 alcoves on both sides of the 1,500-foot-long bridge. The idea is to prevent people from using the alcoves to climb over the existing spiked fencing and onto the ledge.
The latest dead jumper was discovered beneath the bridge on Aug. 28, the morning after the council’s regular Monday meeting.
According to documents obtained by the Pasadena Weekly, from Jan. 1 to Sept. 4 Pasadena police responded to 79 calls for service at the bridge and in the area below. Forty-eight of those calls were for welfare checks, 22 of the calls regarded people with mental health issues, two were people connected to people who had killed themselves, and seven calls were regarding suspicious persons.
The housing project and park occupies the former Desiderio Army Reserve Center, declared surplus by the army and recommended for closure in 2005. After public hearings, city officials decided to convert portions of the property into affordable housing and a neighborhood park.
The West Pasadena Residents Association (WPRA) called on the City Council to end all work on the park until the city can implement recommendations made by the Colorado Street Bridge Task force in April.
According to a report by the task force, barriers measuring at least seven feet tall could effectively deter suicide attempts. Barriers will also be installed at both ends of the bridge to prevent access to the outside ledge.
“The potential emotional and possibly physical harm to nearby residents and users of the park space, especially children, is a real concern, and we would think it should be a priority to resolve the Colorado Street Bridge suicide situation before moving ahead with the Desiderio Park construction,” wrote Dan Beal, president of the WPRA in correspondence to the Pasadena City Council.
Tornek said it was unlikely there would be a work stoppage at the park.
“We’ve had, since the federal government declared this property surplus back in 2005, any number of meetings. It’s gone through at least four city commissions. We’ve had meetings with the neighbors and the stakeholders. The design has evolved over that time, the active design process, and this has been going on since, I think, 2013. So, we’ve gone through a very public process and are now actually under construction. People are asking us to stop and reconsider and redesign the project and I don’t think that’s likely to happen,” Tornek told Martinez. Between 2013 and 2017, the project was approved by the city’s Parks and Recreation, Design Review, Historic Preservation and Traffic commissions.
“We need to solve the suicide problem quite independently of the park,” said the mayor.
Earlier this month local police officers and firefighters spent 13 hours successfully talking a woman off the ledge of the bridge.
The next day, Mermell proclaimed an emergency and authorized the city to spend $285,000 to erect expand existing temporary fencing on the bridge to span the entire structure. Poles have already been erected to complete the job.
The bridge was featured in the 1921 Charlie Chaplin film “The Kid” in which Chaplin’s famous character, the Tramp, saves a young woman from jumping the 150 feet from the ledge to the ground.
Soon after the film, people began jumping off the bridge in droves. During the Great Depression, which lasted from the stock market crash of October 1929 to 1939, 79 people jumped off the bridge. During that time, people began calling it “Suicide Bridge,” and that moniker has stuck to this day, according to a staff report. n