Hugh Hewitt: Suicide prevention at the Golden Gate Bridge 

How much should the government spend to deter suicide?

Now, courtesy of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission of San Francisco, we have at least one answer.

According to the environmental paperwork accompanying the federal and state CEQA/NEPA evaluation of the Golden Gate Bridge Suicide Barrier Deterrent System, about two dozen people jump to their deaths from the bridge annually. Twice that number arrive at the bridge intending to jump but are deterred somehow.

Last week, the commission approved spending $5 million in federal money to complete the final engineering and design of a net to catch the jumpers. The project had previously received about $1.8 million in local funding, according to commission documents. The net, which will hang about 20 feet below the bridge, will cost approximately $45 million to build. There is no estimate on the annual maintenance cost of the net.

You will be relieved to know that the $50 million does include "environmental monitoring during construction; the purchase of a large snooper truck for retrieving individuals from the net; and the purchase of a small, sidewalk-sized snooper truck to remove litter and debris from the net."

The environmental documents are a wonder to read, as they spend more paragraphs discussing the color of the net than the wisdom of the expenditure.

"In response to comments received on the Draft EIR/EA and through consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) and other interested parties, including the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA), the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Docomomo, and San Francisco Architectural Heritage, following the close of the public comment period," the documents note, the commission modified "the color of the net material from International Orange to unpainted and uncoated stainless steel. It was determined that the stainless steel net material would have the least effect or minimize effects of the proposed project on cultural resources. The steel horizontal support system for the net would be painted International Orange to match the color of the Bridge."

You will also be relieved to know that "an Avian Impact Study was prepared in April 2009 and revised in November 2009 to further evaluate the potential adverse effects to avian (bird) species." (Dear reader: Please understand I did not think it was necessary to tell you that "avian" meant "bird" but the government document writers did.)

The birds are OK with the net, by the way.

As I am sure many suicide prevention activists are. I have covered the subject of suicide on my radio show and know the terrible toll on family members and friends when someone takes his own life. Intervention programs are numerous and often very effective, especially among teens.

Which brings me back to the price tag of this particular program, which looks like a classic government response to a problem arrived without any real consideration of serious alternatives or fiscal priorities.

What could a $50 million endowment accomplish if the interest income were directed to suicide prevention programs?

There is also a case that other forms of intervention to alleviate human suffering ought to be far ahead of the construction of a bridge net. Take a walk around San Francisco if you want to see a homeless population that liberalism has failed. Drive 10 hours to Tijuana, Mexico, and ask what $50 million could accomplish in that city.

$50 million is a lot of money. This is one city confronting one problem. Just imagine how the government at all levels is spending tax money generally.

Examiner Columnist Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at

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Hugh Hewitt


Hugh Hewitt is a law professor at Chapman University Law School and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host who blogs daily at

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