Friday, November 15, 2013

Horrible Haiyan: We are all Filipino in Silicon Valley

My father was a Navy veteran stationed in East Samar during WWII. He had fond memories of the people he met there, and of their generosity and hospitality.

Philippine Cultural DancersKadena Air Base, Japan.
Photo: Senior Airman Nestor Cruz: Wikipedia Commons.
When he was not censoring mail, my father planted a large vegetable garden near his Quonset hut and shared his produce with the Guiuan Peninsula residents whom he befriended. 

They also shared their native culture and foods with my father, who was a gregarious butcher by trade, and an amateur chef by avocation, when he could pry my mother out of her kitchen back home. 

Many years later, at every holiday family gathering, my father spoke fondly of his time in the Philippines and the wonderful people he met there, entertaining our family with his many stories and memories. 

I became curious about our Filipino heritage here in Silicon Valley, when I realized that Guiuan, where my father was stationed, was hit by the recent Typhoon Haiyan and its destructive storm surge, which caused so much devastation in that region. 

My father would have been so sad to learn that descendants of the families who were so kind to him when he was so far away from home, had been so impacted by this recent natural tragedy. Likewise, the year before my mother died, she was brought bowls of pancit by visiting Filipino members of her former work community in Northern Silicon Valley. It had become one of her favorite foods from their potlucks at work. 

I am dedicating this column to Filipino families in our valley, who are now are suffering such tragic losses and challenges in grieving, locating or aiding their families back home, and who by extension, have been so kind to me and my family, among others they have touched in our community. Their tragedy is our pain, and we will stand by them until their suffering is eased.


The first permanent settlement of Filipinos in the United States was comprised of escaped sailors who had been pressed into service on Spanish galleons.
"Manila Village" Barataria Bay, Louisiana:
Wikipedia Commons.
These escapees settled in "Manila Village" (Barataria Bay, Louisiana) around 1763, although Filipinos were said to have arrived earlier in Morro Bay, California, on Spanish galleons, sometime around 1587.

Migration to the United States began after the Spanish-American War, when the Philippines became a territory of the United States and Filipinos were exempt from immigration laws.

Many early Filipino residents of California were agricultural workers, yet some were students (primarily men) sent as “pensionados,” through a Philippine Commission appointed by President McKinley in 1901. The commission scholarship program for student immigration was active between 1903 and WWII.
Filipino American Veterans at the White House,
May 2003: Wikipedia Commons.

During the war the United States Navy recruited Filipinos, who were by that time subject to an immigration quota of only 50 persons per year, due to the Tydings-McDuffie Act, which named them “aliens.”

After the war, The War Brides Act of 1945 and Alien Fiancées and Fiancés Act of 1946, allowed 16,000 Filipina war brides (and one groom) to come to the United States to be married. 

Many early nuclear families were located near Navy, Army, and Air Force bases, where some Filipino communities still reside today.

The Luce-Celler Act of 1946 allowed 100 Filipinos to immigrate to the United States and petition to become citizens each year, to prevent them from being barred from entry once the Philippines gained their independence from the United States. (The act also allowed 100 Indians to immigrate annually as well.)

For a wonderful online collection with San Francisco photos of Filipino life in the 1950’s, please see The Alvarado Project Exhibit: Through My Father’s Eyes.
John C. Gordon Collection: SJSU Special Collections
From 1965 and into the 1990’s, the Family Reunification portion of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 allowed many highly skilled and educated Philippine natives to enter the United States.

Filipinos provided the US with a high proportion of health care professionals, and Filipino nurses were highly sought after by other countries, since there were nursing shortages both in the US and worldwide.

Like many other cultures, Filipino Americans were subject to early prejudice, which caused them to settle in what were called “Little Manilas,” communities centered around larger urban cities, which would eventually disperse in later years. In California, Filipino Americans intermarried more and clustered less than in other areas of the country, and seemed to own more businesses.
AWOC/ UFW leaders Larry Itliong & Philip Vera Cruz.
Photo by Tim BileyWikipedia Commons.
Some Filipino American agricultural workers were very active in the early farm worker movement in Northern California

Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, co-founders of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), which had already mounted a grape strike in Delano, merged with the National Farm Workers Association founded by Cesar Chavez, whose NFWA group walked the picket line in solidarity with AWOC workers.

The merged group became known as the United Farm Workers Association, whose goals were to increase their impact in achieving a shared vision of equity and respect, and to obtain unemployment insurance for farm workers. UFWA later evolved into a farm workers’ union under the AFL-CIO, and was renamed the United Farmworkers Union.

The work of Larry Itliong and Philip Vera Cruz, when allied with Cesar Chavez, benefited all Filipino groups and opened many doors for later generations. Filipino American’s today maintain above average higher education rates, with most students gaining a Bachelor’s degree and advanced degrees in the fields of education and information technology, and in all health-related fields. The American Medical Association reports that Filipino Americans are the second largest group of foreign-trained physicians in the United States.

Likewise, Filipino Americans are the second-largest Asian American group in the United States (after Chinese Americans) and generally enjoy a longer life expectancy than most other Americans.

Bay Area, Señior Sisig Filipino Fusion Truck.
 Esque MagazineWikipedia Commons.
In the Silicon Valley region, the 2010 US Census reported 105,403 persons of Filipino descent are among the 1,836,911 residents in this area, or 5.73% of the total valley population.

In contrast, the entire San Francisco Bay area (San Francisco and Oakland, South to Fremont) has 287, 879 Filipino residents among 4,335,391 total residents, or 6.64% of the total population in this region.

According to the 2002 US Economic census, Filipino-owned businesses are primarily in the medical, dental and optical fields, and include Filipino-owned restaurants. In Northern California most of these businesses are located in the Bay Area, with Santa Clara County now home to the largest Filipino community in Northern California. (Los Angeles has the largest population of Filipino Americans in Southern California.)

Lloyd LaCuesta, Image: Courtesy of KTVU

Notable Bay Area Filipinos include:

Lloyd LaCuesta – KTVU television journalist and South Bay bureau chief

Diosdado Banatao – Engineer, philanthropist and businessman

Rob Bonta,
Jose Esteves, City of Milpitas

Rob Bonta (Left) – The first Filipino American California State Legislator

Jose Esteves (Right) – Mayor of Milpitas and former city councilman

The Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) Santa Clara Valley Chapter has more information on the history of local Filipino Americans in our valley. 

The Filipino AmericanChamber of Commerce of Santa Clara County also has resources for tapping the wealth of experience in the Filipino community of Silicon Valley.


To contribute funds to Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) flood relief efforts in the Philippines, please see the list of relief organizations vetted as credible by APALA, the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance of the AFL-CIO:

---Catherine Alexander Bright,

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Special Effects: Mt. Lassen, Stanford University, and Monte Sereno's Fred Hitt

One of early Silicon Valley's less-known but wildly interesting characters was the brother of Thomas Gabriel Hitt (1874-1958), a London pharmacist and chemist who was nearly expelled from Westminster College for creating fireworks, which he kept hidden under his college bed.

Hitt's firework label 1920
T.G. Hitt left England in 1899 and emigrated to Victoria, British Columbia, where he established Hitt Brothers Fireworks Company with his younger brother, Fred G. Hitt, who later became a Monte Sereno native. 

In 1905 the two brothers moved to Columbia City, Washington, just outside of Seattle, where T.G. bought four acres of rural, wooded hillside. He incorporated his fireworks factory there under the name Strontia and Chemical Manufacturing Company, only to change the name back to Hitt Fireworks Company two years later.

At the new hillside factory, T.G. Hitt could test his fireworks and explosions without disturbing neighbors, who came to refer to the site as "Hitt Hill." His brother Fred eventually moved to Monte Sereno, where he was an avid organist, which will have significance later in this story, but more about that later.
Fred Hitt's home and Pacific States Fireworks Factory, 
Monte Sereno, 1925 (SJ Mercury News)

In Monte Sereno, Fred, an engineer by training, specialized on the more practical side of the Hitt brother's business by producing flares for boats, auto owners, and railway engineers. 

The company also produced flares used to exterminate moles and gophers, as well as a noisy product called "Doggone," which a postal worker could use to discourage hostile dogs.

Fred Hitt's Pacific States Fireworks Factory, 
Monte Sereno, 1940 (

Hitt's bread and butter (in the previously Chinese-dominated fireworks industry) was something called a "Flashcracka," a small, loud firecracker, as well as other smaller firework products like coils of loud caps for cap pistols, crystals which could be thrown into a fire to create a rainbow of colors, Roman candles, sparklers, black snakes, and other affordable novelties.

The Hitt brothers substituted photographic black powder (an oxidizer plus magnesium or aluminum powder) for the potassium nitrate which had been used by Chinese fireworks manufacturers. This change made Hitt's firecrackers louder and more startling than the products of their Chinese predecessors, and allowed the Hitts to further stun and amaze during their pyrotechnic displays. Over time Hitt shared his formula with Chinese manufacturers, who then started mass-producing Flashcrackas for the Hitts. W.E. Priestly, Hitt's cousin, began selling Hitt's fireworks internationally with great success.

Raymond Hitt
In Seattle, T.G. Hitt and his son, Raymond (shown to the left), were known for creating elaborate sets and recreating famous historical events. Their productions involved extreme and explosive pyrotechnical displays using life-sized, painted replicas of city scenes, plus performances by chorus girls and military drill teams. The grand finale of each event was the conflagration of the entire set, most notably in their more famous recreations of the Fall of Babylon, the Last Days of Pompeii, and the Great Fire of 1889 (Seattle).

News of their propensity for building life-sized, historical replicas, then destroying them in over-the-top firework extravaganzas, traveled to Hollywood, where they were hired to stage explosive special effects for major movie productions, including:

  • 1926: What Price Glory: Explosions and fires
  • 1930: All Quiet on the Western Front: The explosive battle scenes
  • 1939: Gone with the Wind: The famous burning of Atlanta scenes
Likewise, they created astounding and elaborate firework displays for annual Fourth of July events, commercial events, and the grand-opening celebrations for national and international fairs:

  • 1909: The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle
  • 1915: The Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco
  • 1926: The Philadelphia Sesquicentennial
  • 1939: The New York World's Fair 
Eruption of Mt. Lassen, 1915 USGS
Notably, Hitt Fireworks also created products for the military during World War II. Those products included parachute flares for soldiers, allowing them to see the ground before landing, plus large-scale smoke bombs to hide military bases and shipyards during the war.

My favorite story, however, most likely because it is a local one and it involves a truly over-the-top idea by the National Park Service, concerns Monte Sereno pipe organ-playing engineer and resident, Fred G. Hitt. First, some background.

Ray Lyman Wilbur was born in Boone County Iowa and was the brother of Curtis Dwight Wilbur, who became United States Secretary of the Navy under President Calvin Coolidge.

While a freshman at Stanford University, Ray Wilbur met fellow student Herbert Hoover, who at the time was working for a local laundry and trying to encourage students to become regular customers. Hoover's wife was a college friend of Marguerite May Blake, who became Wilbur's wife, and the two couples remained lifelong friends.

Eruption of Mt. Lassen 1915, as seen in Red Bluff, CA. NPS
In 1929 after being elected president, Hoover nominated Wilbur (now the President of Stanford University), as the 31st US Secretary of the Interior. (Wilbur was later criticized for renaming Boulder Dam after President Hoover.) 

Wilbur retained a lifelong interest in the welfare of Native Americans. He reorganized the Bureau of Indian Affairs to improve Native American prospects and living conditions.

In 1927 when the California State Park Commission was established by the State Legislature, Ray Wilbur, who was a Bohemian Club, Pacific Union Club, and Commonwealth Club member, was appointed to serve with three other commissioners.

Because of Mt. Lassen's ties with the Atsugewi, Yana, Yahi, and Maidu tribes, it may have been a site of particular interest for Wilbur when it was finally protected by Congress in 1916 as the fifteenth national park, after a series of volcanic eruptions in 1914 and 1915.

Magazine Cover, November 1931
Pinterest, Popular Science
To celebrate the grand opening of the new park in 1931, after roads were finally constructed making the park accessible to the public, something spectacular was needed after Wilbur, as Secretary of the Interior, addressed national and state dignitaries. Monte Sereno resident Fred Hitt was hired to simulate the 1915 volcanic eruption of Mt. Lassen, using fireworks, shells, and TNT, with the help of park service workers and an elaborate series of electric signals.

According to a July 1931 San Francisco Associated Press article which was carried nationally:

"Using tons of powder and chemicals, carried on the backs of mules to an elevation of more than 10,000 feet, a score or more of pyrotechnic experts, wearing gas masks will attempt to duplicate the 1914 eruption of Lassen Peak, July 25. The park, containing 163 square miles and surrounding the only semi-active volcano in the continental United States, was created by Congress in 1916, but has heretofore been inaccessible to the public. A new highway into the heart of the park has just been completed."

Niagra Falls Gazette, Man-made Eruption
July 11, 19231, Fulton History
The article goes on to describe two planned man made "eruptions," one to last 20 minutes, with the second to last 40 minutes. Inside the crater Hitt planted 38-inch shells to simulate the heavy smoke of one original eruption, termed "Vulcan's Face," which seemed to form a man's facial features during the 1915 eruption of Mt Lassen. After the two mock eruptions, Hitt planned an hour of fireworks followed by a mock thunder and lightning storm. The AP reporter goes on to state:

"Twelve-pound rockets and 38-inch shells will be employed. Each shell is designed to make 500 lightning flashes, with thunder clashes such as accompany each electric discharge during a natural storm. The red lava overflow from the crater will be simulated by specially devised flares and powder flashes. Fred G. Hitt, the expert in charge of the display, believes...(the effect will have) a fair measure of success. "

But why is Fred's organ-playing notable in this story about Mt. Lassen? According the unnamed AP reporter:

"Much of the firing will be done by electric currents, transmitted by wire from a sufficient distance to give the director in charge (Fred Hitt) a perspective of the entire display. The men in the thick smoke of the crater will place and discharge the huge shells, bombs, and rockets in accordance with a carefully arranged schedule and specific instructions received over the signal wires. To create the lurid glow of a volcano in action, rockets that burn brilliantly for 40 minutes will be set off, 50 at a  time, at frequent intervals. To effect the lava glow alone, 1,000 pounds of flares will be ignited."

At the event, Interior Secretary Wilbur observed:

Fredd Hitt setting charges at Mt. Lassen, 1931
Susanville Stuff
"Governor Rolph and I were on the program in the early afternoon of the second day---just before the fireworks began. These took the form, at 4:00 P.M., of a 'reproduction of typical daylight eruption of Mt. Lassen,' and, at 8:00 P.M., a 'gigantic pyrotechnic display from the top of Mt.  Lassen'---both of which events we (along with thousands of other Californians) viewed from Kings Creek Meadows....their artificial, man-made 'eruption' turned out to be even more spectacular than some of Mt. Lassen's own have been. Clouds of smoke rose from the crater, which was ringed with red fire. At night the peak sparkled with aerial flares, bombs and rockets, and the final phase of the fireworks display simulated a molten lava flow, with wave after wave of red fire rolling over the crater's rim and down the bare rocky slopes."

It seems that Fred Hitt not only played the pipe organ masterfully, but tinkered with and repaired pipe organs over the years. As a result, it's not surprising to learn that Hitt used an old pipe organ keyboard to detonate the simulated Mt. Lassen eruptions and send signals to the gas-masked men in Lassen's volcanic crater, telling them when to discharge their rockets, shells, and bombs, during what was most likely, the most unusual event in California and National Park Service history.


Many thanks to the Free Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, The SCHOONER Project, Rainer County Historical Society, and King County Library for material on the Hitt family posted in History Link #3348 at

More information on opening ceremonies at Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park can be found in the November 1931 issue of Popular Science. Some issues can be found online through Google Books.

The Memoirs of Ray Lyman Wilbur: 1875-1949 , Stanford University Press, 1960, can be found online through Google Books.

The 1931 San Francisco AP article on the dedication ceremonies at Mt. Lassen Volcanic National Park can be found in online newspaper image records for the Niagra Falls Gazette (pictured) and The Reading Eagle. I believe the image of Fred Hitt was taken from an earlier NPS Museum Gazette article, but it could also have been taken from the Popular Science Magazine article of 1931. I have searched online for provenance but only find it reproduced without clear attribution. There is a 1931 NPS publication which covers the re-creation of the Mt. Lassen eruption and fireworks event at the park's dedication, but it seems to have disappeared from online sources.

More images of the eruption of Mt. Lassen in 1914 and 1915 can be found online through the National Park Service and USGS Web sites.

Heartfelt thanks to Cupertino Historical Society and Rotarian, DougMcNeil, for his slide-talk on Monte Sereno history, with a hope that more about that lovely town and it's notable figures will be preserved and placed online by a future Monte Sereno historical group.

The Reading Eagle of Sunday July 19, 1931, also carried a story on the Mt. Lassen event, which can be found at this link in Google News.

All material was accessed online, July 1, 2013.

---Catherine Alexander Bright,

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

BART, KQED, Bridges and Baseball - Quaking in 1989

A friend invited me to a restaurant in Sausalito recently. Thinking about the drive across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County brought back many bittersweet memories of wonderful and tragic days in San Francisco's seismic history. 

I used to work at KQED, first in TV programming, then in FM, over several years in the City. Before KQED moved to it's present Potrero Hill location, we used to have our studios and offices near the overpass at 8th and Bryant, South of Market, at the edge of the Tenderloin.

After disembarking from the Larkspur Golden Gate Ferry, our regular MUNI driver crooned soft pop and jazz as we moved South down Market Street through the Financial District from the Ferry Terminal. Regular riders brought him fresh morning coffee from the ferry's refreshment bar and we knew him by name. His voice sounded just like Lou Rawls and it was a great way to travel in the City. 

Every morning I had hot tea, a muffin, and read a newspaper with other City-bound commuters on the ferry. With the breathtaking early morning and late afternoon views, I believed then that I had possibly the best commute of anyone on the planet. That all changed on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m. 

During the opening practice before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, which was scheduled to begin at 5:35 p.m. (an amazing Bay Area event with both the A's and the Giant's meeting at Candlestick that night), I was under Market Street on BART, heading to the ferry terminal for my ferry ride back to Larkspur. My husband was waiting for me at home in Marin, after cooking us dinner so we could watch the game when I got home. I had ridden MUNI and the Market Street BART line for several years and knew every turn and bump in the route. But that night the BART car did a small side-to-side sway, went up and down suddenly, then we came to a slow stop after leaving the Montgomery Street Station. Next, the emergency lights came on and I saw startled faces in the soft amber glow. It was completely silent, eerie, and all conversations stopped as we sat underground.

I had been reading a newly-published book on the life and death of Chairman Mao. The chapter I had just started was discussing the construction of his mausoleum. I decided not to read that chapter at that particular time, as I did not want to tempt the fates. One woman on my BART car had three small children, did not speak English, and I could tell she was starting to panic. Many of the passengers were trying to get the Series game or news on transistor radios (having brought them to work for the ride home, knowing the series would start early), or to read their papers as if nothing had happened. Yet, when I looked at their faces, I noticed that most were glancing rapidly at the doors and windows of the BART car and not really looking at the open newspapers in front of them. 

Our BART driver announced that he lost communication with anyone outside and had no idea what happened or why we were stopped. He (gratefully) made the decision to evacuate us, since we had only 5 minutes of emergency power remaining before we would be stranded underground in the dark. 

Happy to finally be escaping from the stalled BART cars, we carefully made our way out of the forced-open doors and along the narrow edge of the tracks. We climbed concrete stairs up to a catwalk running along the top edge of the BART tunnel, which had no barrier preventing a sheer slide down to the BART rail far below, if one of us fell or tripped. The stair and catwalk railings were coated with soot. As a result, my hands were covered with black grime as I inched along the narrow escape ledge, one member of a small, silent procession, guided by flashing penlights. (Fortunately, many of the passengers had small key chain flashlights and slide-talk laser pointers.)

I remember walking up the station stairs leading out of the Montgomery Street BART Station and emerging on Market Street. Seeing daylight again was incredibly comforting and such a relief. There were long lines of men and women in the black or navy suits so common in the Financial District, who were trying to make calls home at the overloaded phone kiosks. Others were standing far away from the shattered glass and rubble lining the sidewalks along the buildings, since San Franciscans are well-versed about the likelihood of aftershocks and falling debris from historic brickwork. 

A young man rode a bicycle down Market Street yelling, "The Bay Bridge is down! The Bay Bridge is down!" I was angry, believing he was trying to scare people. I learned later that what he said was partially true. 

One of my KQED Channel 9 co-workers had a neighbor who was killed in the UCSF van which had been caught under the collapsed Cypress structure. The commuter van had exited from the Bay Bridge heading South towards Oakland and Alameda, when the old overpass collapsed crushing the van and its occupants.

Another KQED television co-worker thought she lost her husband on the Bay Bridge when she learned a section of that bridge had collapsed. Likewise, her husband worried that he had lost her in the same bridge failure, since they were both traveling back to the East Bay from San Francisco in separate cars. 

After some harrowing minutes on the shifting bridge, my co-worker was flagged by emergency workers, told to turn around, and motioned to drive back over the West span of the Bay Bridge back to SF in the Eastbound lanes, as the Bay Bridge was shut down by emergency workers. (She and her husband moved out of state within a few months of the Loma Prieta, not wanting to experience another California earthquake.) Similarly, one of our television producers was on the Golden Gate Bridge coming in from Marin, when all of the cars stopped in the middle of the bridge to wait out the shaking and rolling as the Loma Prieta hit.

The Larkspur Golden Gate ferries had to be diverted to a different pier in order to dock and load in San Francisco, since the electric ramps could not be lowered to allow passengers to board. There were planks of plywood balanced between the side of the pier and the ferry, directly over the water.  Passengers hopped across the tilted planks to get on board as ferry workers grabbed their arms to steady them. Passengers threw  $20 bills, entire ferry ticket booklets, and any other cash they had on hand into into large, clean garbage cans held by ferry workers.  As I recall, no one was turned away and many people paid for complete strangers to ferry out of the City that night, if they had no cash with them. 

We could see the Marina District fires burning in the distance when we were about midway across the Bay. The orange smoke reflected on the water created an unearthly glow and the City seemed unreal as the haze of smoke moved East and created an unnatural twilight over the familiar skyline. Many of us were relieved to see that the Golden Gate Bridge had survived, although we learned it was closed for inspection. The Ferry workers gave us updated news over their announcement system, since most on board had no access to news or radio reports. We learned that the Bay Area had just experienced a 7.1 magnitude quake from someone who had a transistor radio sitting near us in the ferry lounge area.

A Goodyear Blimp which had been covering the World Series at Candlestick Park was used to coordinate emergency efforts soon after the quake hit. Since all of the major networks were at Candlestick waiting to cover the World Series game and doing pregame commentary live, the Loma Prieta shaking and aftershocks at Candlestick were caught on camera and documented worldwide. Many broadcasters and reporters were from the East Coast or out-of-state and had never experienced seismic activity in California before.

As I and many others on the crowded ferry motored out of SF, the ferry bar did a booming business. I found some of my Marin neighbors and friends from other non-profits who also worked in the City. People bought each other wine and beer and gathered in small groups, grasping at a new sense of safety from finding those they knew on board. A ferry crew member I recognized told me that they were on the way to Larkspur earlier and thought they had dropped an anchor in the middle of the Bay as the Loma Prieta hit. To be safe, they returned the ferry loaded with passengers to SF, where they learned they could not dock. Fortunately, they devised the plywood plank system, so they were able to load new passengers on board along with the previous passengers, and transport us all out of the City to Larkspur.

There were many people from the East Bay who fled to Larkspur by ferry that night, since they had no other way to get back to Alameda County. I offered to drive one man across the Richmond Bridge back to his home, but he declined, not wanting to cross over any bridges while the aftershocks kept coming. He called his wife, got a cab, and found a hotel in Marin for the night.

I was particularly concerned about my co-workers and those in FM whom I knew would be covering the quake live. At that time KQED was a bit smaller, somewhat informal, and we enjoyed a tightly-knit community at work. 

For many years employees donated Thanksgiving turkeys, money and food to Project Open Hand, and in return they would roast a few turkeys for our staff's Thanksgiving potluck. Since we had many staff members from different cultures, employees brought dishes from their heritage, and it was a really wonderful gathering every year. Managers, administrators, and production personnel all mingled during this annual event, asking about our kids, families and holiday plans.

As I drove home from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal that night, I listened to reports on KQED-FM 88.5, hearing the familiar voices of my colleagues and friends, hoping they remained safe as the aftershocks continued. At home it was reassuring to hear the Channel 9 announcers I worked with every day still making  live announcements from the broadcast logs, as it meant that the station was still intact and the generators were working in our old building.

Many were off work for a few days if their buildings had been hit or power was out. Because I rode the ferry, I was able to work at KQED which had its own generator. However, I rode MUNI up and down Market Street for the rest of my career, no longer willing to get back on BART or to travel underground again.

Bill Graham hosted a series of Earthquake Relief concerts at various venues around the Bay Area. Graham flew Bob Hope to each concert site by helicopter, so he could welcome the large crowds who turned out to raise money and enjoy major name acts like Carlos Santana, Neil Young. Bonnie Raitt, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Pete Escovedo, Bobby McFerrin, Taj Mahal, and Los Lobos.

When one of our KQED staff members asked the then 86-year-old Hope if he was ever planning to visit the troops again, Hope replied, "Son, the only battles I visit at my age are those on the golf course." He joked that he was a survivor of the 1971, 6.6 magnitude San Fernando Valley Earthquake, where he "got up and ran around the house and then the house got up and ran around me."

Earthquake Relief and Bill Graham raised over $2 Million dollars from 22,300 people who attended concerts in Watsonville, Oakland, and San Francisco, as well as donors to the live telethon broadcast on KQED Channel 9. Mayor Willie Brown offered viewers a matching grant of $50,000 from his re-election campaign. The entertainers and their generosity were a catalyst in healing the Bay Area, Santa Cruz, and Watsonville. It was the first time in 35 years that KQED was given a waiver by the FCC to raise money for an entity other than itself, so it could broadcast the Earthquake Relief fundraiser live from 8th and Bryant.
Back in Santa Clara Valley,  St. Joseph's Seminary lost one resident when an historic tower collapsed. 

Around the Bay Area and down the coast to Watsonville, many residents lived and slept outside their homes during the 51 aftershocks which followed over the next 24 hours. Some of the aftershocks were real jolts at 3.0 magnitude. 

Residents had no idea how long aftershocks might continue or how powerful the jolts might be. Every aftershock could further weaken already compromised structures. 

The Loma Prieta epicenter was located in the Forest of Nicene Marks, 2 miles North of Aptos. It had a devastating impact on San Francisco's Marina District, since much of the Northern part of the City had been built on landfill over marshy areas that were once part of San Francisco Bay and subject to soil liquifaction.

Santa Cruz and Watsonville also suffered major downtown damage. The historic brick buildings at the Pacific Garden Mall, a popular gathering area in downtown Santa Cruz, partially collapsed, causing three deaths. 

A Watsonville man died when his car hit horses escaping from a damaged enclosure. 

Other businesses were closed for for clean up and repairs. The quake had a huge impact on the Peninsula and coastal economy, which had been in recovery after a 1980 recession, an oil and energy crisis and double-digit inflation.

In October of 2014 it will have been 25 years since the Loma Prieta Earthquake hit, since the World Series between the A's and the Giants took place at Candlestick, and a very long time since the Earthquake Relief Concerts brought the Peninsula and coastal communities together to rebuild and offer comfort to those who lost family, friends, homes and businesses. In light of all of that, two important questions still remain:

How safe are Bay Area bridges? Are we willing to invest in structural safety?

Unfortunately, reports about continuing funding shortages for needed bridge and infrastructure repairs, plus ongoing discovery of serious Bay Area bridge safety issues, are becoming more urgent and frequent:

  • ABC 7 Bay Area Report in May 2013
  • KTVU 2 Bay Area Report in May 2013
  • NBC 11 Bay Area Report in March 2011
Since 1989, voters missed some opportunities to adopt measures designed to retrofit our Bay Area bridges, voting some measures down during elections due to increased tax costs to homeowners.

Many of our roads and overpasses need seismic and structural updating, however, there is even less funding now than there was back in 1989, due to the mortgage banking products collapse of 2008, which decimated cities and counties. 

Could it be time for a preemptive strike in the form of a second Bay Area Earthquake Relief concert, but this time held long before the next Big One hits for needed infrastructure and safety upgrades and repairs? 

Sadly, Bill Graham and Bob Hope are no longer with us. KQED remains robust and committed, still able to apply for another FCC waiver in the event of a second Bay Area catastrophe. KQED is geared for telethons using their large Mary Bole Hatch production studio, existing phone banks, and talented, experienced staff who already work with the public (and international and local talent) while organizing large, charitable-giving events.

However, we now also have the social media stars of Silicon Valley (Facebook, Google, Apple, and others) who have the capability to develop and fund Bay Area 'Virtual Relief" events immediately, long before (or soon after) the next "Big One" hits. 

The generosity of Bill Graham and the stars of Earthquake Relief in 1989 live on in the high tech boardrooms of Silicon Valley, where many do not remember 1989 and it's devastation of this region, yet know the impact of recent natural tragedies in Oklahoma and on the East Coast, as well as overseas in Japan, Haiti, and in other world regions.

Could we do it differently this time? Raise the needed funds now to improve infrastructure repairs and seismic retrofits for the safety of our communities, schools, and businesses, and as a result, save more Bay Area lives? 

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. 

According to a report by Stanford's Center on Philanthropy and Civic Society, philanthropic giving in Silicon Valley has a "weak philanthropic base" in terms of giving to local communities. Many of the donated funds from valley high tech firms, the Stanford PAC reports, are earmarked for overseas charitable work, not for infrastructure and social programs needed here in Silicon Valley or in the Bay Area.

Stanford's position is refuted by the Wall Street Journal article, "The Tech Moguls That Gave Big in 2012." WSJ reported that SV "moguls" donated stock to local charitable groups in greater amounts than in previous years.

The Foundation Center proposed that high tech donors really feared that a federal charitable deduction benefit would be lost in 2013, which artificially escalated the amount of high tech charitable giving in the Valley towards the end of 2012.

A Forbes article, "How Silicon Valley Profits from Giving Back," talks about our local philanthropy as a result of sharing abundance, rather than seeking future returns. Forbes implies that Silicon Valley donors are more engaged in sharing their success to empower others. Clearly, Silicon Valley is a source of conjecture as a new model of wealth, with a unique, global approach to charitable giving and philanthropy.

Personally, I believe our high tech community is populated with generous people who believe in lifting others up and expanding local safety, since obviously, they live here too. 

Hopefully, our amazing Silicon Valley philanthropists will continue to dig deep for our communities, yet stay off our local bridges, roads and overpasses, until they can successfully lobby our local transportation agencies to have these structures repaired. A major social media and funding campaign to raise awareness and capital, so repairs can be made sooner, rather than later, would be awesome.

Like us, their families, friends and co-workers may be injured or trapped in structures now known to be compromised.

Is infrastructure the job of Silicon Valley? No, not really. However, Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, and many of the other natural disasters had Silicon Valley responding with generosity and compassion.

Perhaps we are in denial about our own elephant in the living room, which is the sad state of our historic and public buildings, schools, bridges, roads, and overpasses, in light of the 63% statistical certainty that the next big earthquake may take place within the next 30 years here in the Bay Area (according to the USGS).

Perhaps we need to stop throwing peanuts at that elephant and lift the seemingly rampant denial about our lack of safety while traveling throughout Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, by doing something meaningful about it now, to significantly lower the number of potential deaths and injuries during the next seismic event.

(Photos courtesy of Wikipedia Commons, KQED, SF GATE, ABAG, Forbes, and the USGS Loma Prieta page.) Many thanks to the Silicon Valley Foundation and other groups who help connect Silicon Valley leaders with those in need from our communities.

---Catherine Alexander Bright,