Tag Archive: Cypress Structure


We all lost a great one today.

He was one of the most popular governors in the proud history of California.

George Deukmejian was much more than the 35th chief executive of the Golden State.

For Almost DailyBrett, a former cub reporter with a fascination of all things political … and a little hair at the time (see photo above), meeting and working for George Deukmejian changed my life.

Instead of taking and keeping an eternal vow of poverty as a reporter, your author was serving as the press director of the Deukmejian Campaign Committee at 27-years-very-young.

My salary was $18,000 annually, but quite frankly I would have worked for nada for the experience. My transformation from a registered Democrat to a proud Reaganite Republican began in 1982. More importantly, my three-decade-plus career in public relations ensued with the gubernatorial primary and general election campaigns; we almost lost both until we won.

Sacramento was a hostile place in 1983. The other party controlled literally everything with the exception of the corner office. We needed the “Iron Duke” more than ever.

Feb. 26, 1983: California Gov. and Mrs. Deukmejian, left, watch as Mrs. George Finlayson, wife of the British Consul General, curtsies before Queen Elizabeth II in a reception line at the Broadway Street Pier in San Diego. This photo was published in the Feb. 27, 1983 LA Times.

Our friendly adversaries in the Capitol Press Corps, who were not predisposed to our way of seeing the world, deep down respected “The Duke.” They would state that George Deukmejian was a little dull (his favorite color was … “gray”), but his team was well-organized. The Deukmejian administration spoke in one voice from the first day to the last day eight years later.

It was well known that others were offering their champions as press secretary when the job came open in 1987. There was little secret that I wanted the job, primarily based upon my institutional memory about everything and anything George Deukmejian.

The governor had faith in me, and gave a chance so many others would have denied me. For three years, I served as his spokesperson and a chief message developer. The first day became the next day. The first week became the second week. The first month …

Looking back on his years as governor, your author still remembers pushing the media horde back just to give him a glimpse of the horrifically damaged Cypress Structure the day after the October 17,1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake.

LOS ANGELES – JUNE 07: Governor George Deukmejian campaigns for George Bush on June 7, 1988 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Grecco)

Each year after leaving the Office of the Governor in December 1989, George Deukmejian never missed sending a holiday card or a note now and then. When my first wife, Robin passed away, (he attended our wedding as governor), he called me to offer his condolences. That is the George Deukmejian I knew, kind and considerate right up to today … this sad, last day.

“We”, “Us”, “Our”

George Deukmejian always spoke in first-person plural, never wanting to draw undue attention to himself even though he was the chief executive of the largest state of the union. In a rare occasion in which he would employ the first-person singular, he once said: “my tear ducts are close to my eyes.”

His lifelong campaign was for public safety. He bravely called for California’s assault weapon ban when little Korean children were murdered by an AK-47 on a Stockton schoolyard. The NRA went crazy. What else is new?

The suffering endured by his ancestors in the 1915 Armenian Genocide always brought sad memories every April 24, and opposition to the Reagan administration’s stance on Turkey.

Many focus on his judicial appointments (yours truly wrote the vast majority of these news releases), his expansion of the state prison system, and his support for highways to get people to work … but seem to forget his lifelong dedication to human rights.

Then California Attorney George “Duke” Deukmejian and wonderful wife, Gloria at the Deukmejian for Governor headquarters opening in Manahattan Beach sirca 1982.

George Deukmejian was a committed fiscal-integrity, public-safety conservative. There were no flip-flops with the governor. He was at total peace with his philosophy.

And when the day was done, it was done. He went home to Gloria, his children, the noisy beagles and his one consistent vice, jamoca almond fudge.

Almost DailyBrett sensed this day was coming. My only regret is that I wished for the time and at least one more opportunity to be with him in these last years … just to say hello, and goodbye.

Your author will sign off with a tear from the ducts close to his eyes. He will make a promise to only use the first person plural. He will always remember the man who gave him a chance, when others would not.

George Deukmejian was the Governor, who changed my life.

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-sac-skelton-george-deukmejian-20180510-story.html

 

 

Meet the baby of the family, the unexpected/unplanned baby of the family.

This coming Saturday, Pi Day, the mathematically inept, right-brained baby will “celebrate” the successful navigation of 60 years on the planet, and look forward to hopefully plenty more.kmb2

Much has changed since the decade of Ike, Elvis, Disneyland, Sputnik, U2 (not the band) and “Senator, have you no sense of decency?”

The author of Almost DailyBrett has always been a tad vertically challenged; in time became follicly challenged, and still vows to never-ever be horizontally challenged. Looking forward to Saturday’s cross-training with Nike+, charting the results.

Tempted to mimic a lyric, “Oh, what a long, strange trip it has been,” but I was never into that kind of “trip.” When it comes to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll, always been a big fan of the first, still dig the latter (never was a Dead Head), and never understood the appeal of the “medicine.”

Baby Boomers are supposed to wax nostalgic for the 1960s and the demonstrations in the streets of Chicago and arrests on the quad at Berkeley. What the heck happened to your author? Instead, he pleasantly recollects the 1980s, when he tied the knot for the first time, became a father to Allison, when it was Morning in America.

California even balanced its budget, raised zero taxes and maintained a $1 billion for emergency. Almost sounds quaint when compared to today’s oceans of red ink for our children’s children to pay. Yep, the 1980s worked; they always will; historical revisionism be damned.

Come to think of it, during my life a Wall went up in 1961 (“Ich bin ein Berliner”) and it came down 28 years later (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall”). O.J. sliced up UCLA’s defense in 1967 and Nicole Brown a generation later.

Nothing has ever been permanent, particularly disco, hem-and-tan lines.

Brady Bunch Neighborhood

Growing up in lily-white Glendale, California in the age of Hogan’s Heroes and the God-awful Brady Bunch, your blog writer will always be grateful for those priests and nuns who taught writing, reading and literature. They also transformed me into the rotten Catholic I am today with their unique combination of arrogance, boorishness and corporal punishment.

Sorry to say Padre, you were wrong: Mary Magdalene was not a whore.

There was the bitter divorce of 1967, but with it came life-long lessons about how to and how NOT to treat the fairer gender. Monogamy with a special one is best; you should try it and stick with it, fellow hombres.ibmselectric

My love of writing began at eight-years old, the very same year in which the school loud speakers told us about the death of a young president. This same infatuation with the pencil, pen, IBM Selectric, work station, PC, and now the mobile device continued as man walked on the moon, a president resigned, our diplomats were held hostage for 444 days, and planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Growing up, always thought that Nixon’s first name was “Damn.” Came to appreciate that Tricky Dick and Slick Willie were spot-on names for my least favorite presidents. Thankfully, Nixon abolished the draft. There was no ‘Nam for me, University of Oregon instead.

The Earth Shook

Eventually graduated from the University of Southern California with a Rose Bowl ring and no loans. Yes I was fortunate, but a long career laid before me. Cut my teeth covering the Proposition 13 tax-revolt earthquake in 1978. Toured the Soviet Union in 1981, seeing the Evil Empire and its grip on people up close and personal. Recruited to serve as the press director for the Deukmejian Campaign Committee the following year. We won the governorship of California at 5 am the day-after-the-election. We recorded the biggest landslide in blue state California’s history four years later.

Sacramento has two seasons: Hot and Cold. Served as the Governor George Deukmejian’s press secretary as the earth shook San Francisco (e.g., Loma Prieta Earthquake). Was told “The Bay Bridge is in the Water.”  Whew, it was not true, even though the Cypress Structure mysteriously came down.cypressstructure

Next was trees, owls, chips and Japan, which led to the fifth most famous person from Liverpool, Wilf Corrigan, and LSI Logic. Saw the Internet bubble rise and inevitably it exploded, resulting in seven rounds of layoffs and a company on the brink. We survived and yet it was time for Wilf to retire … The world moved on to social, mobile and cloud.

Faced mortality twice, first with prostate cancer and then with Valley Fever/Meningitis. Fought off the first and battled the second to a draw, and yet it was my first wife, Robin, who lost her battle to cancer. Life is unfair. Life is fickle. Life is finite.

Attained the so-called “Holy Grail” of public relations, vaunted agency experience with a life-changing side-effect; subbing at Santa Clara University. Could I teach at the college level, maybe even at the school that caused time to stop with “Kenny Wheaton is going to score; Kenny Wheaton is going to score”?DSC01171

Accepted a fellowship to the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication and earned 15 months later my master’s degree. The attainment of a second career was complete with a full-time instructor position at UO, and now a tenure-track assistant professor gig, teaching public relations/advertising/corporate communications/investor relations at Central Washington University.

And best of all, the author of Almost DailyBrett turned his attention away from his blog long enough to survey the field of contenders on Match.com. The result was a love affair with Jeanne, fireworks on the Fourth of July, and trips in the little green chariot. Next up is our long-overdue romantic honeymoon to Bavaria and Tuscany, Mad King Ludwig’s castles and Under the Tuscan Sun.

I am one lucky dude.

Today, I am inspired by Mick and Keith at 71, Ronnie at 68, and geriatric Charlie at 73 on worldwide tour. To use more than a few metaphors, there is still plenty of gas in the tank and the engine continues to rev every morning. It’s pedal to the metal time.

“Oh what a long, strange trip it has been.” Looking forward to continuing the ride with the top down and my few remaining hairs flowing in the breeze.DSC01421

 

The author of Almost DailyBrett will not drive on the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle.

Yes, a reported 110,000 motorists each day use the picturesque Route 99 with its views of Puget Sound.

alaskaviaduct1

Just don’t count me among those who make the drive. The same applies for walking under the double-decker highway to check out the restaurants, shops and amusements fronting the water.

The reason is simple: Memories of Loma Prieta.

“The Bay Bridge is in the Water”

This coming Friday is the 25th anniversary of the 6.9 on the Richter magnitude scale Loma Prieta Earthquake that struck at 5:04 pm PDT just as the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants were preparing for Game Three of the 1989 World Series in antiquated Candlestick Park.

There is something about earthquakes. Once you have experienced a trembler, you instinctively know when it is déjà vu all over again. My first was the 1971 Sylmar Quake in Southern California, registering 6.6 on the Richter. There was a book case above my bed with two huge marble bookends (“dinosaur eggs”); one of which almost hit me in the head.

Twenty-eight years later, the Capitol dome in Sacramento was shaking violently. Al Michaels and Tim McCarver went off the air (in this case, not a good thing). There are no fault lines in the vicinity of California’s capital city.

My assistant press secretary was experiencing her first earthquake. She asked me to “make it stop. Please make it stop.” My influence was and remains limited when it comes to Mother Nature.

As the press secretary for California Governor George Deukmejian, I picked up the phone and called the Office of Emergency Services. OES will always take a phone call for the Office of the Governor.

baybridge1.jph

Their info was sketchy, but here were the details: A major 6.9 earthquake hit the Bay Area. The Bay Bridge is in the water. San Francisco is on fire. The 880 Cypress Street Viaduct or Cypress Structure came down. The governor is in Germany … Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

Compounding matters were urgent thoughts about my deputy press secretary. He was sitting in the upper deck on Candlestick Park when Loma Prieta struck. Did he ride the upper deck down to the lower deck?

‘Stop thinking this way, let’s just pray for the best.’

Media Types Come Unglued

Our phone lines lit up (there were no cell phones, let alone texting back in the stone ages) with one reporter after another calling, and I was serving as the lead spokesperson for the State of California. Instinct governed me to buy time. Even though I was told the eight-mile, double-decked Bay Bridge (16 miles of cars and trucks) were in the water, I did not know that as a fact. All press secretaries make mistakes, particularly when one takes upwards of 70 media calls in a typical day. Thankfully I did not share the preliminary info from OES, which easily would have triggered shock headlines around the world.

As it mercifully turned out the entire Bay Bridge was not in the water, but a section of the top layer of the cantilever came down onto the bottom deck. The Marina District of San Francisco was on fire, but it was not 1906 all over again for the City by the Bay. The Cypress Street Viaduct collapsed with the top deck crushing cars and motorists on the lower deck, killing 41 of the 63 who perished in Loma Prieta.

The next day, I was playing lion-tamer beside the Cypress Structure with about 400 reporters, including dozens of cameras and sound booms, and one Governor George Deukmejian who was trying to personally assess the damage. It was the first time that I experienced the smell of death. Again, my instinct was clicking.

As the days went on, the media cover took a sinister turn. It was no longer, who, what, when, where and how … but why did the Cypress Structure come down? Who was responsible? Gee, I thought it was Mother Nature.

cypressstructure

Did the governor veto funds for earthquake retrofit? Ahh … no. Did the state spend the funds for earthquake retrofit? Ahh … yes. Was the earthquake retrofit work completed? Ahh … yes, the first phase was complete. How does Caltrans test earthquake retrofits? Ahh … the Caltrans engineers shake models (You can’t shake a freeway).

One chain-smoking reporter for the now-hanging-on-by-its-fingernails San Francisco Examiner came up and proclaimed her reason for the collapse of the Cypress Structure: “(Caca) happens.”

Eventually the media lost interest in Loma Prieta, the very same natural disaster that inflicted an estimated $6 billion in damage and wounded nearly 4,000 in addition to those who lost their lives. In the Office of the Governor, we continued to set up gubernatorial tours of towns and cities impacted by the quake (e.g., Santa Cruz County) even though some media outlets passed on the story. It was the right thing to do.

When it comes to crisis communications, the predetermined emergency plan loses its luster. Instead, your instinct and training needs to kick in. Even though it is tough to be cool, calm and collected that is exactly what is required. And by all means don’t tell reporters, “The Bay Bridge is in the water.”

And maybe you shouldn’t walk under the Alaskan Viaduct either.

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-bay-bridge-is-in-the-water/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Loma_Prieta_earthquake

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypress_Street_Viaduct

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viaduct

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1971_San_Fernando_earthquake

 

 

There comes a time in every political administration when directing blame at previous incumbent, so-in-so, comes across as weak finger-pointing rather than a strong proclamation of historical fact.

Reflecting back to my days as former California Governor George Deukmejian’s second press secretary, I distinctly recall a meeting of the entire senior staff chaired by the governor. The message was clear: No more blaming Jerry Brown… (His first tenure of Jerry Brown as governor of California).

George Deukmejian Campaigning

The reason: This was not our first rodeo. The stewardship of the state was our responsibility. From this point forward, there would be no more public denunciation of the administration of the state by our predecessor. This point was particular relevant to me as I was duly serving as the governor’s chief spokesman, historian and message developer.

Making this rhetorical pivot was not as easy as it seems. We had literally spent months heading into years reminding anybody and everybody who would listen that Brown left us a $1.5 billion deficit (almost seems quaint by today’s standards). We fought against a myriad of tax increases proposed by the opposition, even to the point of forcing the governor to live in Sacramento’s best hotel at the time, the Holiday Inn (a long story for another time). When the smoke settled, the state retired the deficit without raising taxes and we established a $1 billion reserve for emergencies.

Those were the days my friends, I thought they would never end…

And yet with any administration, there were fires to put out and FUBARs to fix. Our toxics program was a mess, requiring the program to be run out of the chief of staff’s office. There was a massive delay in the doling out of restitution to victims of violent crime, prompting Mike Wallace to call me demanding a “60 Minutes” interview with the governor.

And let’s not forget that Mother Nature can be very unkind. There were fires. There were floods. There was the drought. There were states of emergency. And there was the Loma Prieta Earthquake, resulting in me being told that the “Bay Bridge is in the Water!”

cypressstructure

One would think that an administration would be given a Mulligan for a natural catastrophe. One would be thinking incorrectly. When the top deck of the Cypress Structure of the 880 came crashing down on the motorists of the lower deck, the ladies and gentlemen of the Capitol Press Corps wanted to immediately assign blame to us. We were at the top and a permanent bull’s eye was affixed to our collective backsides. It’s totally unfair, but nothing is totally fair in politics and government. As Mary Matalin has said repeatedly: “Politics is a contact sport.”

Obviously, it would have been ridiculous to bring up the name of Jerry Brown in the context of the toxics mess, the failure of the victims of violent crime compensation program and of course, the Earthquake. Believe it or not, Mother Nature can be equally cruel to Democrats and Republicans alike.

Surveying the present day landscape, the Obama administration is well beyond its infancy, honeymoon period, and the much ballyhooed “First 100 days.” The administration of George W. Bush matters less with every passing day. Election Day is four months away. It is no longer early; in fact it is way past early.

Pointing fingers at the most famous denizen of Crawford, Texas and proclaiming, “It could have been worse” does not harken back to the bold statements of Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Harry Truman, JFK or the Gipper. Even Bill Clinton’s, “I didn’t have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky…” comes across more decisive.

Friday’s poor jobs report with only 80,000 created and the unemployment rate remaining stuck at 8.2 percent for June (while there were 85,000 first-time applications for disability in the same month) calls for an all-hands on deck crisis communications exercise.

Instead of blaming the predecessor the hard and fast rules for crisis communication should come into play in the face of inevitable adversity: Tell the truth; Tell it All; Tell it Fast and Move On (Isn’t there an organization by that name?).

Repeating the playbook of former President George H.W. Bush in combating both Clinton and a lousy economy by telling everyone that conditions are getting better, when they are clearly heading south, is a time-proven loser. The best approach is to look at the crummy economy right in the proverbial eye and sneer.

What is the administration going to do about it? After three-point-five years, what course correction needs to be undertaken? The escalating entitlements (e.g., Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid) consume about 60 percent of the federal budget. How about reforming these programs? Frau Merkel raised Germany’s retirement age from 65-to-67, reflecting that we are living longer, and at the same time cutting costs. Even with this monumental change, she is still in office, more popular than ever. They are still serving Helles und Dünkles in the Augustiner Keller in München. Imagine that?

Some would warn against spooking seniors and getting Harry’s bowels in an uproar and Nancy’s knickers in a twist. The alternative would be to convince the more than 20 million unemployed and underemployed people, and the 16 million underwater mortgage holders that everything is getting better…when they know that is not the case.

We faced FUBARs in the Deukmejian years. We admitted them, took responsibility and most importantly said what we were going to do about them. Fast forwarding to the present, the days of pointing fingers to sun-scorched Texas are over. The real question is whether the days of accepting responsibility and proposing change that we can trust are already behind us.

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/hot-boxing-for-mike-wallace/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/is-the-skirt-more-powerful-than-the-suit/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/potus-and-little-ole-me/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2010/02/27/the-bay-bridge-is-in-the-water/

 

 

 

 

 

The capitol building was shaking violently. And yet there are no faults in the immediate vicinity of Sacramento.

Instantly, I picked up the phone and called the State Office of Emergency Services. I inquired about the first reports that “San Francisco is on fire” and “The Bay Bridge is in the water.” I was numb and couldn’t even conceive the horrific nature of the 6.9 on-the-Richter-scale, Loma Prieta Earthquake http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loma_Prieta_Earthquake. It was October 17, 1989 and I was the press secretary to California Governor George Deukmejian http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Deukmejian. This one was on our watch.

Reading and watching the news reports today of the reported 8.8-on-the-Richter-scale earthquake in Chile it is almost impossible to comprehend the magnitude of the quake. The Chile trembler is at least 100 times more powerful than the Loma Prieta Earthquake that rocked Northern California. A seismologist can tell you for sure what is the difference in degree, but rest assured it is huge.

baybridge

For those in public relations/crisis communications, a major natural disaster requires you to throw away the manual. Yes contact information is incredibly valuable, but you are left to your instincts and your training as a reporter/journalist. Who? What? When? Why? How? You are now a hunter-gatherer, in this case you are searching and clawing for information, particularly correct information. What are the facts? What is the truth on the ground? Is the Bay Bridge really in the water? More importantly, what are you (e.g. State of California) going to do about it?

The first three days after the Earthquake were mainly focused on getting the governor to the site (he was in Frankfurt, Germany when Loma Prieta hit) and coordinating the state’s emergency response. The media was constantly reporting changing figures about where was the epicenter? What was the intensity? How many have been killed and injured? And what are the damage estimates? Fair enough.

And then, the reporting took a more sinister turn.cypressstructure

The biggest issue in Loma Prieta was the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct of the “Nasty Nimitz,” Interstate 880 in Oakland, CA http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cypress_Street_Viaduct. A 1.25-mile section of the freeway failed with the top deck crushing cars on the lower deck, killing 41 drivers and passengers. The media wanted to know who was responsible.

Gee, wasn’t it Mother Nature?

Did Governor Deukmejian veto funds for earthquake retrofit? Did the state allocate funds for earthquake retrofit? Did the state actually complete the earthquake retrofit work? Why did the freeway collapse? Why were the Caltrans (California Department of Transportation) engineers wrong? The questions came pouring in. Thankfully we had not vetoed funds. We had actually allocated these resources. Work had been done, but still the freeway collapsed.

Here is my question that is just as relevant today as it was 21 years ago: Why was the media so obsessed with assigning blame in a natural disaster? No one wanted the Cypress Structure to come down, but it did. There are always lessons to be learned after any disaster.

Finally after 10 days of this grueling exercise, a chain-smoking reporter came up to me and in her raspy voice she summed up what happened to the Cypress structure, “(Caca) happens.”reporters

The media has a job to do in providing valuable information to the public about a natural disaster, but don’t be mistaken into thinking we are all in this together. If you are working for a major public official or a major corporation in an affected area, you should understand that the Fourth Estate is more than happy to make this your responsibility. For reporters, the bigger you are, the harder you can fall and we are not talking about bridges and buildings. Effective crisis communications also involves never letting down your guard and being as vigilant about protecting reputations as ever.

In the final analysis, your organization needs to be part of the answer. You need to demonstrate your concern about your own employees, your communities and society as a whole. For the State of California, we worked to tirelessly to demonstrate our response to the earthquake and care for the people who were affected. In fact, we continued to work on our response long after the media grew tired and weary of the story.

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