Meetings

January 27, 2005
(For Board: February 11, 2005)

REPORT OF THE BUILDING AND OPERATING COMMITTEE/
COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE

Honorable Board of Directors
Golden Gate Bridge, Highway
and Transportation District

Honorable Members:

A meeting of the Building and Operating Committee/Committee of the Whole was held in the Board Room, Administration Building, Toll Plaza, San Francisco, California, on Thursday, January 27, 2005, at 10:00 a.m., Chair Eddie presiding.

Committee Members Present (7): Chair Eddie; Vice Chair Reilly; Directors Herná ndez, Martini, Smith and Stroeh; President Middlebrook, (Ex Officio)
Committee Members Absent (2): Directors Ammiano and Boro
Other Directors Present (4): Directors Cochran, Harrison, Murray Pahre and Shahum

Committee of the Whole Members Present (12): Directors Cochran, Eddie, Herná ndez, Martini, Murray, Pahre, Reilly, Shahum, Smith and Stroeh; First Vice President Harrison; President Middlebrook
Committee of the Whole Members Absent (7): Directors Ammiano, Brown, Dufty, Kerns, McGoldrick and Sandoval; Second Vice President Boro

Staff Present: General Manager Celia G. Kupersmith; District Engineer Denis J. Mulligan; Auditor-Controller Joseph M. Wire; Secretary of the District Janet S. Tarantino; Attorney David J. Miller; Deputy General Manager/Bridge Division Kary H. Witt; Deputy General Manager/Bus Division Susan C. Chiaroni; Deputy General Manager/Administration & Development Teri W. Mantony; Planning Director Alan R. Zahradnik; Public Information Director Mary C. Currie; Deputy District Engineer Ewa Z. Bauer; Assistant to the General Manager Amorette Ko; Assistant Clerk of the Board Karen B. Engbretson; Assistant Clerk of the Board Trainee Patsy Whala

Visitors Present: Michael Savage and Paul Bignardi, National Park Service/Golden Gate National Recreation Area; Eve Meyer, San Francisco Suicide Prevention, Inc.

1.

Discussion Relative to the National Park Service Projects at the Golden Gate Bridge, Including Merchant Road and Alexander Avenue

In a memorandum to Committee, Planning Director Alan Zahradnik, District Engineer Denis Mulligan and General Manager Celia Kupersmith provided an informational report regarding several transportation infrastructure improvement projects being undertaken by the National Park Service (NPS), Presidio Trust and the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (Conservancy) within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). The report described the projects that will be pursued on GGNRA parklands on the south and north ends of the Golden Gate Bridge, as follows:

  1. Merchant Road Realignment, a Presidio Trust project near the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza, will relocate the intersection of Merchant Road and Lincoln Boulevard to connect with Storey Avenue in the Presidio.
  2. Trails Forever – Bay Trail, a Conservancy project to improve the trail system on the southeast side of the Bridge, as part of the region-wide Bay Trail Project, sponsored by the Association of Bay Area Governments.
  3. Trails Forever – Coastal Trail, a Conservancy project to improve the trail system on the southwest side of the Bridge, including the Coastal Trail and other national trails near the Bridge.
  4. Marin Headlands and Fort Baker Roadway Improvements, an NPS project to improve Alexander Avenue and its direct connections to the north end of the Bridge at Vista Point and Conzelman Road.

The report also included attached detailed descriptions of the Marin Headlands and Fort Baker Transportation Infrastructure and Management Plan, and of the Bay Trail Project’ s impacts on the District’s right-of-way at the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza. The report noted that District staff has advised the NPS and its partners that there would be no funding support from the District for park projects, due to the District’s ongoing fiscal emergency. The report also stated that the Toll Plaza Transfer Point and Merchant Road Improvements Project (Toll Plaza Improvements Project) is a project in the District’s Capital Plan to improve the Golden Gate Transit bus stops at the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza and to improve Merchant Road and related vehicle, bus, bicycle and pedestrian access in the immediate vicinity. The District acknowledges the benefit of the proposed NPS projects to users of the Bridge. The report further stated that careful coordination between the District, NPS and its partners is critical to the success of both District and NPS projects. A copy of the report, including attachments, is available in the Office of the District Secretary.

At the meeting, Alan Zahradnik summarized the NPS projects described in the staff report and Denis Mulligan provided a Power Point slide presentation showing schematic overviews of the District ’s Toll Plaza Improvements Project, and of the Presidio Trust’s Merchant Road Realignment Project. Mr. Mulligan described the two Merchant Road projects while he presented slides depicting the proposed as-built projects in relation to the District’s right-of-way and existing Toll Plaza buildings and other structures. He noted that the District’s project would greatly enhance pedestrian safety at the Toll Plaza. Mr. Zahradnik introduced Michael Savage, Director of Strategic Planning for the GGNRA, who addressed the Committee, describing the proposed NPS projects from NPS ’ perspective. Mr. Savage noted that the NPS shares the objective of the District to decrease traffic congestion on U.S. Highway 101 as members on the multi-agency Parklands Transportation Task Force, which is dedicated to seeking solutions to traffic congestion by encouraging bicycle, pedestrian and shuttle access in the GGNRA. He emphasized that NPS is not seeking District funding for its projects, bus is simply seeking District cooperation and participation. He described projects in the “no-man’s land” near Alexander Avenue to improve pedestrian and bicycle access across the north end of the Bridge that have been identified on a multi-agency basis. He proposed that the District, County of Marin and the State of California, Department of Transportation (Caltrans) join forces to identify the projects as a priority at some point in the future for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s Regional Transportation Improvement Plan, so it can be addressed through a broader funding mechanism, rather than through any particular agency ’s efforts.

Discussion ensued, including the following:

Several Directors inquired regarding the logistics of vehicle, bus and pedestrian access at Merchant Road near the Director’s Parking Lot. Mr. Mulligan and Ms. Kupersmith provided technical details about how such access would be improved with the completion of the Toll Plaza Improvements Project.

Director Murray made the following inquiries and comments:

  • She expressed her concerns regarding security of the Toll Plaza Administration Building if the bus shelter were moved next to the Director’s Parking Lot as contemplated in the Toll Plaza Improvements Project, due to the proximity to the Administration Building.
  • She inquired as to the feasibility of an alternative raised pedestrian walkway along Merchant Road. In response, Mr. Mulligan stated that any walkways constructed along Merchant Road would have to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In response to an inquiry by Director Eddie regarding the timeline for the Toll Plaza Improvements Project, Mr. Mulligan stated that construction is expected to begin during the summer of 2005.

Director Pahre inquired whether there would be any implications for the District if the new alignment of Merchant Road contemplated by NPS is entirely within the District’s right-of-way. In response, Mr. Mulligan stated that a significant portion of the existing alignment of Merchant Road is in the District’s right-of-way, and the District’s obligations relative to maintaining the roadway would remain unchanged.

Director Stroeh inquired as to how the District came to own the Alexander Avenue right-of-way. In response, Mr. Mulligan stated that during the 1930s, as part of the mitigation for building the Bridge, the District assumed responsibility for several access roads and other land in the vicinity of the Bridge. Mr. Zahradnik noted that while Merchant Road is a critical roadway used to support Bridge operations, Alexander Avenue at the north end of the Bridge has less importance to day-to-day Bridge operations, and the District could consider relinquishing the Alexander Avenue right-of-way to other agencies and consolidate its land holdings on the south end of the Bridge.

Director Harrison inquired regarding the potential for traffic backups on Doyle Drive once certain developments within the Presidio are completed. In response, Mr. Mulligan stated that one of the alternative designs for the Doyle Drive Environmental and Design Study, sponsored by the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, would include dedicated access off Doyle Drive into the Presidio, thereby mitigating the potential for backups.

Denis Mulligan noted that the District is eager to move forward with the Toll Plaza Improvements Project due to legal precedent set by a 2003 court case regarding the responsibility for location of transit stops. Attorney Miller elaborated on the subject, noting that in the case of Bonanno vs. Central Contra Costa Transit Authority, the California Supreme Court ruled that a transit agency could be held responsible for the placement of a bus stop location, even under circumstances where roadways are controlled by others. Mr. Miller noted that it would be prudent for the District to proceed with the Toll Plaza Improvements Project to enhance pedestrian safety at that location.

Action by the Board – None Required

   
2.

Staff Presentation Regarding History of District Activities Relative to Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Deterrent Systems

In a memorandum to Committee, Deputy General Manager/Bridge Division Kary Witt, District Engineer Denis Mulligan and General Manager Celia Kupersmith provided an informational report regarding the District’s past and current efforts relative to Golden Gate Bridge suicide deterrent systems. The report stated that over the years, the Bridge District’ s Board of Directors has investigated and ultimately made several decisions relative to suicide deterrent systems at the Golden Gate Bridge, including evaluating alternative designs and developing the following list of criteria that any deterrent system must satisfy:

  • Cannot cause safety or nuisance hazards to pedestrian or Bridge personnel;
  • Must be totally effective as a barrier;
  • Cannot bar pedestrian traffic;
  • Weight can not be beyond established allowable limits;
  • Cannot cause excessive maintenance problems;
  • Aerodynamics (Wind Stability) can not be beyond established allowable limits;
  • Historical and architectural considerations;
  • Visual and aesthetic impacts; and,
  • Cost effectiveness.

The report stated that in the early 1990s, the Board appointed an Architectural Advisory Panel to assist the District in reviewing possible physical suicide deterrents, including a proprietary system known as the Z-Clip System. The report noted that after testing in June 1998, it was determined that the Z-Clip System did not satisfy the adopted Board criteria with respect to being “totally effective” as a deterrent. In addition, the Architectural Advisory Panel suggested that a different approach should be pursued that would provide an effective deterrent to suicides while minimizing visual impact and preserving the aesthetic and historic integrity of the Bridge.

The report also described other suicide deterrent systems in place on and around the Bridge, including the following:

  • Closed-Circuit Television Surveillance – a network of security cameras monitored 24 hours per day that provide detailed surveillance of the Bridge sidewalks and have helped intervention personnel identify potential suicides.
  • Emergency Telephones for Crisis Intervention – a total of 15 emergency telephones located on the Bridge sidewalks that can connect potentially suicidal persons seeking assistance to the San Francisco Suicide Prevention, Inc.’s crisis line or allow members of the public to alert authorities of potentially suicidal persons.
  • Public Safety Patrols – Bridge Patrol Officers trained in suicide prevention and intervention patrol the Bridge sidewalks on foot, on bicycle and by scooter, along with California Highway Patrol (CHP) officers on bicycles.
  • Employee Training – Bridge security personnel and several Ironworkers have received special training from San Francisco Suicide Prevention, Inc., and a nationally-renowned expert in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

The report further stated that staff is actively developing a draft potential plan of action for presentation at the February 24, 2005 meeting of the Building and Operating Committee, that will include an overview of the technical and environmental processes necessary to develop a suicide deterrent project, as well as the cost and resource needs to undertake such a project at this time. The staff report included two attached illustrations depicting physical suicide deterrent concepts: (1) a design that was evaluated in the 1970s; and, (2) the Z-Clip Prototype Fence that was evaluated in 1998. A copy of the report, with attachments, is available in the Office of the District Secretary.

At the meeting, Celia Kupersmith provided an introduction to the topic, stating that since the 1950s, the District has examined several different suicide deterrent systems over the years. She invited members of the Board to review detailed reports in the District’s files if they wished to research the matter further. She noted that if the Board chose to pursue development of a physical suicide deterrent system, the budgetary impacts would need to be considered since such a project is not budgeted in the District ’s 10-year Capital Plan. She stated that staff would provide an overview of the necessary actions should the Board direct staff to undertake this project at the February 24th meeting of this Committee.

Denis Mulligan presented an overview of Board actions over the past several decades relative to physical suicide deterrent systems. Kary Witt outlined the current deterrent measures in place that assist in preventing suicides, including surveillance cameras, emergency crisis telephones, public safety patrols and employee crisis intervention training.

Discussion ensued, including the following:

Director Reilly made the following comments and inquiries:

  • She inquired regarding the amount of persons contemplating suicide on the Bridge that use the emergency crisis telephones. In response, Mr. Witt stated that about four to five such calls are made per year by suicidal individuals, and that the calls are immediately connected to counselors at San Francisco Suicide Prevention, Inc., while District personnel and CHP officers are dispatched to the Bridge sidewalk to physically prevent the suicide, if necessary.
  • She expressed her opinion that a suicide deterrent installed on the Bridge would prevent deaths. She suggested that a new Suicide Deterrent Advisory Committee be formed to undertake the issue of developing a practical suicide deterrent system on the Bridge.
  • She stated that earlier this week she and Director Harrison had attended an informative meeting with members of the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California on the topic of Golden Gate Bridge suicides.
  • She suggested that a suicide deterrent design contest be held in order to solicit a wide-ranging variety of potential designs in order to save lives while still preserving the aesthetics of the Bridge.
  • She expressed her concerns that staff should seek expertise from suicide prevention experts and other outside agencies in preparing the recommended action plan.

Director Harrison made the following comments:

  • She concurred with Director Reilly comments and expressed her support for forming an Advisory Committee.
  • She stated that in her opinion, if the District installed a Public Safety Railing to save lives it should also install a suicide deterrent system to save lives.
  • She also suggested that, in light of the District’s budgetary constraints, perhaps public-private partnerships could be formed to fund development of a suicide deterrent system.

Director Murray made the following comments and inquiries:

  • She noted that the requirement for a suicide deterrent to be “totally effective ” is somewhat impractical. In response, Ms. Kupersmith stated that all of the criteria would be revisited by the Board if they decide to move this project forward.
  • She also concurred with Director Reilly’s comments and supported the formation of an Advisory Committee.
  • She urged the Board to be proactive regarding development of a suicide deterrent system. She noted that there is a growing movement within the community supporting a suicide deterrent system on the Bridge.

President Middlebrook made the following comments:

  • She stated that suicide prevention advocates have been contacting many of the Board members recently and that she and Director Martini would be meeting with them in two weeks.
  • She stated that the discussion of suicide deterrent systems is a difficult, sensitive issue that has not been brought up for many years, and that staff has been proactive by adding it to the agenda for this meeting of the Committee.
  • She suggested that it would be more appropriate for the full Board of Directors to be given an opportunity to discuss the issue and make a decision on how to proceed, rather than discussing this matter in an advisory committee forum. She further suggested that the Directors need to give staff an opportunity to develop an action plan and bring this matter back to the Committee at its next meeting on February 24, 2005, at which time the Committee can make a recommendation to the full Board on which course of action to take.

Director Pahre concurred with President Middlebrook and reminded the Board that embarking on such a process would necessitate a significant change in the District’s financial plan.

Director Smith also concurred with President Middlebrook and stated that all of the longer-tenured Directors who were on the Board during the 1990s dealt with the issue as sensitively and as appropriately as possible.

Director Stroeh also noted that the most important factor is where the funding would come from for such a project. He further noted that there are many members of the public who would strongly oppose any structural change to the Bridge such as a suicide deterrent system.

Director Martini made the following comments and inquiries:

  • He inquired as to the number of Golden Gate Bridge suicides in the past few years. In response, Ms. Kupersmith stated that while there are 17 to 22 suicides per year, a significantly greater number of potential suicides are prevented through the District’s various deterrent measures.
  • He inquired as to the amount of District, U.S. Coast Guard and San Francisco Police Department staff time and other costs spent dealing with Bridge suicides. In response, Ms. Kupersmith stated that the District has never tracked dedicated staff time on this subject and has no knowledge of what is done by other agencies.
  • He concurred that it would be more appropriate to discuss the issue at the Committee and Board level, rather than forming an Advisory Committee at this time.
  • He stated that with a background in mental health counseling, in his opinion, there is a clear distinction between constructing a barrier that prevents accidental falls into oncoming traffic and constructing a suicide deterrent that inhibits someone from intentionally climbing over a four-foot railing and jumping into the water. He further stated that from a philosophical perspective, society has placed less importance on individual responsibility and instead has placed a burden on the community at large to be responsible for those that wish to commit suicide. He noted that the cities and counties have been given this burden while being historically under-funded for mental health care. He commented on the irony of considering spending $20 million or more to study and construct a suicide deterrent system rather than funding an effective mental health program at the city and county level.

Following discussion by the Committee of the Whole, SMITH/STROEH moved and seconded that staff present a report to the February 24, 2005 meeting of the Building and Operating Committee on the proposed plan of action for development of a suicide deterrent system.

Carried

AYES (12): Directors Cochran, Eddie, Herná ndez, Martini, Murray, Pahre, Reilly, Shahum, Smith and Stroeh; First Vice President Harrison; President Middlebrook
NOES (0): None

   
3.

Status Report on Engineering Projects

In a memorandum to Committee, Deputy District Engineer Ewa Z. Bauer, District Engineer Denis Mulligan and General Manager Celia Kupersmith reported on current engineering projects. This report will be presented to the Board of Directors at its meeting of January 28, 2005. A copy of the report is available in the Office of the District Secretary.

Action by the Board – None Required

   
4.

Public Comment

There was no public comment.

   
5.

Adjournment

All business having been concluded, the meeting was adjourned at 11:35 a.m.

Respectfully submitted,

/s/James C. Eddie, Chair
JCE:JST:KBE:kbe