The City of Palmdale (pop. 160,072) lies 60 miles northeast of Los Angeles in the Mojave Desert region. The city experienced a major challenge during the Great Recession when economic difficulties significantly reduced city staff and funding levels, especially in its Public Works Maintenance Division, which is responsible for renovating and revitalizing the city’s infrastructure. The division lost approximately 50 percent of its workforce, leaving few staff to address the renovation and revitalization projects. Palmdale began contracting out much of the day-to-day routine maintenance of the parks and landscapes.
Bridging the Gap With Volunteers
Residents make extensive use of the city’s parks, most of which are over 20 years old. Maintenance challenges included dilapidated fencing, sports fields with significant wear and tear, aging landscaping, outdated playgrounds and obsolete lighting fixtures. Park facilities and fixtures — activity buildings, restrooms, picnic tables, benches and trash receptacles — were weathered, and the paint in parking areas had faded. Higher priorities, such as public safety, continually superseded these maintenance needs. The situation required an innovative approach.
Because Palmdale has a strong tradition of community involvement, a community-based solution to the challenges of maintaining an aging parks infrastructure seemed the logical next step. Involving residents in renovating and revitalizing city parks included benefits such as:
- Increased community awareness of challenges related to resources and maintenance;
- Service and learning opportunities for families;
- A greater sense of community ownership of city assets; and
- Pride and accomplishment in the completed projects.
Palmdale created its Season of Service program in 2013 to give residents a way to engage in community projects and help address critical infrastructure challenges. The annual program typically features four to five projects beginning with the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service in January and culminating with Global Youth Service Day in April. Activities have included planting trees, renovating parks, constructing a community garden, eradicating graffiti and cleaning up illegally dumped trash. Since the program’s inception over 2,500 residents have participated in service day events and donated more than 10,000 hours.
Careful planning by an interdepartmental team before each event results in increased efficiency and quality work done by residents working side by side with city staff. In addition to recruiting residents and service organizations to participate, the city has established partnerships with area businesses that provide labor and materials for the various projects.
Palmdale’s intergenerational, multicultural and geographically balanced outreach efforts used a diverse array of media outlets, including print, English and Spanish radio, television, internet and social media.
Efforts Include Volunteers of All Ages
Season of Service events also provide opportunities for the community’s youngest members to participate, with children painting and cleaning alongside their family and neighbors. Young children assisted in painting hopscotch courts and decorating a playground wall with a handprint and geometric design mural, a permanent reminder of their impact and contribution.
Superintendent of Maintenance Tony Colombo says, “It’s not just about fixing infrastructure — we’re also affecting lives.”
The feedback from staff and participants has been exceptionally positive, with residents commenting on their improved understanding of the challenges facing the city and a renewed sense of ownership created by hands-on involvement.
Local Girl Scout Leader Kelly Barrera says, “As a result of this project, my girls are definitely connected to the community — that is ‘their’ park now.”
The city’s Season of Service and complementary community events provide an innovative solution to the problems presented by an aging infrastructure, reduced staff and diminishing financial resources.
© 2016 League of California Cities®. All rights reserved. Printed with permission from the August 2016 issue of Western City® magazine, the monthly publication of the League of California Cities®. For related information, visit www.westerncity.com.