Published : Tuesday, October 23, 2018 | 4:42 AM
[Updated] A Pasadena neighborhood association has embarked on a yard sign and email campaign decrying a plan to build what it calls the “Mayor’s suicide park” in a community beneath the Colorado Street Bridge.
San Rafael Neighborhoods Association has long opposed the plan to build the Desiderio Neighborhood Park, arguing that the location at the base of the bridge is inappropriate because of the history of suicides from the bridge.
The organization distributed yard signs over the weekend as well as sent out an email lambasting the project, and specifically, the inclusion of a public restroom facility at the park.
“They continue to plow millions of dollars into a ‘neighborhood’ park no one in the neighborhood wants,” said the email, distributed by SRNA President Mary Dee Romney. The proposal calls for a “tot lot” playground.
“Equally bad, in an area difficult to secure and monitor, another easy million dollars now is targeted for public restrooms to be built adjacent to Habitat for Humanity homes and down the fire road from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals,” according to the email.
Mayor Tornek said the SRNA is using the issue of suicides as a political tool.
“These signs are ugly and they’re sad and they are exploiting a tragedy for personal political gain,” he said. “The issue here is not whether we should have an active park or a passive park, or about whether we had a restroom or not a restroom. The issue is about stopping suicide.”
“So what the city is focused on is stopping suicides,” Tornek said. “(Romney) knows that, the other people know that, but they’re exploiting this terrible, tragic issue of suicide because they have a disagreement about what the nature of a park should be.”
Tornek said he found the SRNA’s campaign infuriating.
“This is a personal attack, which is unworthy and inappropriate and sad,” he said. “And I’m offended, because identifying me with suicide… is dishonest and hyperbolic and unfair, and it’s disgraceful, frankly.”
“It’s just awful. In their desire to win a point about the design of a park, they decided to actually use this human tragedy as a kind of a negotiating chip and it’s dreadful,” he continued. “And to associate me personally with suicide when we spend days and dollars trying to figure out how to stop suicide for the bridge is just outrageous, and Mary Romney and the people who put up those signs should be ashamed of themselves.”
“You can agree or disagree, but this is the worst kind of fear-mongering. That’s what this is. This is fear-mongering,” Tornek said. “They’re exploiting this in the lowest possible way.”
Drawing attention to the bridge as a suicide location may actually work to make the problem worse, he said. “Anybody that puts up one of those signs is contributing to that and they should really do some self-examination about it.”
The SRNA accused the city of being inflexible.
“Pasadena is a dynamic and fluid city. Things change. New approaches are critical,” the organization’s email said. “Elected officials like Mayor Tornek need to scrap their rigid commitment to an obsolete plan and pay attention to new challenges now facing their constituents and the city of Pasadena.”
The City Council considered, but failed to pass, a motion to reconsider the park plan in response to community concerns last month.
“[The SRNA is] characterizing it as we’re just committed to it so we’re incapable of change. We make changes every day. That’s just a nonsensical argument,” Tornek said.
Fourteen people have jumped from the bridge since January of 2017, according to city officials. Six occurred directly over the park’s construction area, and three more were adjacent to it.
The City has put up chain-link fencing and is working toward a permanent solution that takes into account the bridge’s status as a historic landmark. Authorities have been working to stop suicides at the bridge since the Great Depression.
Romney said the SRNA is committed to advocating for its views, but has no plans to take the fight to court.
“SRNA has no intention of wasting membership funds in a lawsuit against a charter city,” Romney said.