Stainless-steel netting costing up to $50 million will be placed beneath the Golden Gate Bridge to catch would-be suicide jumpers, San Francisco officials decided Friday.
The decision by the board of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District follows several years of controversy. The agency has yet to determine how to finance it, said spokeswoman Mary Currie.
The netting was the "locally preferred alternative," Currie said. More than 5,000 comments came flooding into the agency as part of its environmental review process.
About 2,000 people have jumped from the storied bridge since it opened in 1937. So far this year, 19 have made the leap, which is almost always fatal. Whether public funds should be used to prevent additional suicides has been passionately debated.
Writing to the board last summer, San Francisco resident Paul J. Miller expressed a view that many others had raised: "Attention should be given to mental health assistance," he wrote, "not paying tens of millions of dollars to contractors who are just trying to milk money from citizens."
On the other hand, the Psychiatric Foundation of Northern California has supported the idea, contending that the effectiveness of barriers has been "dramatic" at such landmarks as the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower.
The group also cites a study of 515 people who were stopped from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. It concluded that 94% of them were alive or had died naturally long after their thwarted attempts.
In its 14-1 vote Friday, the agency's directors determined that a net would be the least visible of five alternatives. The others included extending the height of the bridge's railing from four to 12 feet -- an option widely criticized as too obtrusive. All of the possibilities -- except doing nothing -- would cost $40 million to $50 million, Currie said.
The plastic-coated steel cable will be seen from only a few spots on the bridge's walkway. Hanging 20 feet down and extending 20 feet on either side, it will be the same color as the Art Deco span.
It also will cost $78,000 a year to maintain, compared with $500,000 for the railing, according to the district.
James Eddie, the one board member who voted no, raised the issue of the barrier's cost.
The agency will draw up a final environmental plan, examining, among other issues, the danger the net might pose to birds flying into it.