California officials approved a funding plan on Friday to install a mesh barrier beneath San Francisco's historic Golden Gate Bridge to help prevent suicides.
“It has been an uphill fight," said state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has fought for over a decade to secure funding for the barrier. “But here we are, almost shovel ready.”
The project will cost $76 million to complete. Of that amount, $7 million will come from a state tax enacted by voters on those who make more than $1 million a year and is earmarked for mental-health services. The rest will be paid for with federal funds that recently became available and local money from the bridge district.
The plan to create suicide barriers on the bridge, where 1,600 people have leaped to their deaths since the span opened in 1937, was a subject of controversy for decades, with opponents arguing the mesh would mar the structure's beauty.
In 2008 the bridge's board voted to install a stainless steel net, rejecting other options, including raising the four-foot-high railings and leaving the world-renowned span unchanged.
Two years later, they certified the final environmental impact report for the net, which would be about 20 feet wide on each side of the span. Officials said it would not mar the landmark bridge's appearance.
But funding for the project remained a major obstacle until two years ago when President Barack Obama signed into law a bill making safety barriers and nets eligible for federal funds.
Some of the money still requires additional approval, but the bridge's board has now taken its final step in adopting the net.
"The tragedy of today is that we can't go back in time, we can't save ... the people who jumped off the bridge. But the good thing, with this vote today, we can vote in their memory," board member Janet Reilly said.
"We will save many lives who have followed in their footsteps, and that's what’s so extraordinary about today."
Family members of suicide victims were present for the vote. Seconds after the decision, tears of many people in the standing-room-only crowd were followed by shouts of joy.
"A lot of people have done so much incredible work to get this accomplished," said Dana Barks of Napa, who lost his son, Donovan, to suicide on the bridge in 2008.
After the vote, Barks rose from his knees and shared an emotional embrace with Sue Story of Rocklin, whose son Jacob jumped off the bridge in 2010.
"We did it!" Story said. "It's no longer the Bridge of Death anymore."
Last year 48 people jumped to their death from the bridge, which hovers high above San Francisco Bay and connects San Francisco with suburban Marin County. The Golden Gate is the second-most-popular bridge for suicide in the world, after China's Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge, officials said.
Recent data have linked about 10,000 suicides in Europe and North America to the ravages of the Great Recession.