City Will Move Ahead with Current Desiderio Park Plans After Council Motion for Reconsideration Fails

Despite community protests, Council fails to approve motion for more design discussion

Published : Tuesday, September 18, 2018 | 4:52 AM

Suicides from the Colorado Street Bridge played a central role in Monday night discussions. Map provided by City of Pasadena

[Updated] Following nearly two hours of at times emotional discussion, the Pasadena City Council Monday failed to pass a motion to revisit and reconsider the currently approved design for Desiderio Park on Arroyo Boulevard underneath the Colorado Street Bridge.

The new park had originally been hailed as a victory for green space and housing activists, but since its approval more than four years ago has been vexed by concerns over the increasing number of suicide jumps from the bridge above and the addition of a public restroom.

Councilmember Steve Madison had asked for a vote Monday on formally agendizing a future renewed discussion of and reconsideration by the Council of previously decided issues related to Desiderio Park, following an outpouring of comments at recent meetings from nearby Arroyo Boulevard residents.

Needing a majority, the motion failed to pass with four Councilmembers—Madison, Victor Gordo, Andy Wilson, and Gene Masuda—voting in favor, and four—Margaret McAustin, Tyron Hampton, John Kennedy, and Mayor Terry Tornek—voting against.

According to city officials, there have been 14 suicide jumps from the bridge since January of 2017, four of those this past year. At least six of those jumps were directly over the Desiderio Park construction area. An additional three jumps were directly onto Arroyo Boulevard, on the western corner of the park.

None of the jumpers was from Pasadena, said City Manager Steve Mermell.

Desiderio Park, already bordered by nine new Habitat for Humanity homes on the property, is now destined to feature a “tot lot” children’s play area and a public restroom.

The land was originally the site of an Army Reserve Center. It was granted to the City by the Federal Government for the purpose of building affordable housing. A Prop A grant was also awarded to build the park portion of the project, according to a timeline provided by Public Works.

“This is the wrong fit,” protested nearby resident Robin Salzer. “I’ve seen people jump from here. I go out on my porch and I look at that bridge, and I am just fixated by that site.”

Echoing a familiar comment, Salzer asked the Council, “How can you consider a park here without solving the suicide problem on the bridge first?”

Salzer said the Council should stop the work, take the public restroom out of the equation, and then work on the suicide problem.

Other local residents made equally plaintive pleas, including Habitat for Humanity homeowner Matthew McKim who said the housing development residents “have not been heard.”

“I’ve seen people jump (off the bridge) and die right in front of me,” said McKim, a former Marine who served in Iraq. “Over Labor Day I had to keep my kids inside all day.” (A would-be jumper was talked off the bridge in a 14-hour ordeal which started Sunday evening and concluded Labor Day Monday.)

But Mayor Terry Tornek, who voted against the motion, said, “This park has evolved through thoughtful discussions. There have been four commission approvals and countless discussions. The notion that we have somehow lost the spirit of this park is not accurate.”

Tornek also spoke on the issue of suicides, saying, “We are committed to solving that problem, regardless of the park or the restroom. We have to solve that problem. It’s slow-moving, but that is the way cities work. But we are going to have a solution, whether its nets or plexiglass or fencing, we’re going to solve this problem.”

Earlier Monday, Tornek told KPCC’s morning “Take Two” radio program that emergency fencing constructed only on the bridge’s alcoves had not stopped the jumpers.

“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 said. “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.

“That’s why the Manager decided to intervene, and on an interim basis, fence the entire bridge,” he continued, “which we think will mitigate the suicide problem. A different design is not going to solve the suicide problem. We need to just solve the suicide problem quite independently of the park.”

“There’s been lots of community input,” concluded Tornek, who added that he thought the only reason to have another discussion, was that another new idea might come up, but said, “I don’t think it will.”

But Madison also suggested ideas like covering parking areas to “lessen the appeal of a hardscape target.”

“Did anyone think of that?” he asked.

The City Council is currently working on a modified version of the approved Desiderio Park plan, which is being referred to as “Concept C,” a version of the originally approved concept.

Councilmember McAustin, who is in favor of both the park and the restroom, and voted against the Madison motion, told the Council, “I did go down to the site last week. I walked the site, and I got an understanding of where the bathroom is going to be, based on the approved plan by the City Council and some other ideas that people had, and it made me ever more confident that the way we are doing it, the way we are moving it … is the appropriate place.”

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