Once known by Caltrans, as the "Man in the Suit," Dennis Green of Green Communications has had a remarkable career and a surprisingly unique capacity in the business of settling nerves, easing tension, and organizing seemingly overwhelming transportation projects all over Southern California and in parts of Nevada.
Dennis began work for Caltrans in 1982 as an equipment operator in Palm Springs, while maintaining his small construction company in the Inland Empire. Realizing the difficulty of maintaining a successful business in San Bernardino, while working for Caltrans in the Coachella Valley, Dennis decided to sell his business. During his 6 ½ years of work on the roads, Dennis admitted to being hit twice by big rigs and while working in the bad lands, a driver attempted to intentionally run him over. While reminiscing, Dennis shared his thoughts from these experiences, "I'm getting slower. The cars are getting faster. One of us had to go." At this point, Dennis began looking for other opportunities within Caltrans.
At this time Caltrans began looking for someone with field knowledge and communication skills to start in a new position called Communications Liaison. On March 1, 1989, Dennis began in the Public Affairs Office. With a position that had not been clearly defined, Dennis began work on mitigating the impacts of the I-10 widening project between Redlands and San Bernardino. Dennis' first task: to work with officials from Norton Air Force Base, Loma Linda University Medical Center, and the businesses on the busy Tippecanoe Street in San Bernardino. Another aspect of this task was trying to gain the respect of the contractor that, until now, closed freeway off-ramps with no warning to the public or the respective businesses in the surrounding area! Dennis shared, "School buses were turned around and the children were left on the corners."
Up until this point, there were no lane closure charts, no restrictions, the contractor determined the method, and the State determined the task and time. Dennis stated, "My first job was to convince the contractor that I could get the media and the public off of his back if he would talk to me." Dennis added that his, "hardest sale was to the Caltrans engineers because the contractor was not an engineer...So I had to prove his value." Communication was the problem. Coordination began.
Dennis improved the relationship with the contractor and the businesses. Personally visiting all of the businesses affected by the construction project, Dennis sought a contact be established for each of the businesses. Hence, this contact served as an efficient way for everyone to work together to better share communication. It was at this time that Dennis developed the philosophy. "I would rather look for you than you look for me. When I look for you, I get to talk. When you look for me, all I get to do is listen."
In three months time, Dennis managed to turn the negative reaction to this project around and to this day, he considers it a stunning success.
When asked which project seemed to be his biggest challenge, Dennis told the story of the widening of Big Bear Boulevard from two lanes to five lanes, through the heart of downtown Big Bear. For this project, Dennis created his first community task force. With everyone cooperatively working together at the table, businesses actually volunteered to close their doors while construction took place in front of their establishments. Dennis remembers, "...they felt like they were part of the team."
When dealing with a "sticky" situation - overzealous environmentally conscious community members, who chained themselves to trees in Idyllwild over the Strawberry Creek Bridge project, Dennis was able to get them to unchain themselves and work with Caltrans! Dennis invited school children to walk down to the bridge and plant a tree. An Earth Fair Week shortly followed!
After many years at Caltrans, Dennis decided to retire. What does someone with all of Dennis' experience and charm do? He brings his talent to the Coachella Valley to help organize the I-10 Corridor Improvement Projects. Dennis arrived with the following goals: wanting everyone to be safe, identifying what works best for everyone, and identifying what the individual need during the project is. Dennis added, "If Tom's (Kirk) phone is ringing or Juan's (Perez) phone is ringing, then I'm not doing my job." Another of Dennis' philosophies: he is the "boots on the ground."
So what lessons has Dennis learned? "Open and honest communications work," said Dennis. Dennis has found that delivering bad news in person or with a phone call often times works better than sending it in an email. Dennis immediately tries to find an alternate available solution.
In closing, Dennis was asked what he would do differently when dealing with the projects in the Coachella Valley. Dennis indicated that the Coachella Valley is a unique setting whereby the agencies all had a common purpose and were more than willing to work toward the common goal. Dennis added that, "This does not happen everywhere. That made the difference." Through cooperation, collaboration, communication, and the general focus of what needed to be done, residents and visitors to the Coachella Valley will soon be enjoying two more newly constructed interchanges - Indian Canyon Drive and Palm Drive/Gene Autry Trail. Construction at Date Palm Drive is underway.
Thanks to the help of Dennis Green and his team at Green Communication, as well as State and local officials and their staff, construction to improve the I-10 Corridor continues to be nearly painless!