City of Palmdale logoPublicCEO is focused on city managers this week as the League of California Cities City Managers Conference takes place in Hollywood, CA. As it says in our name, this publication is centered on executives in public agencies, and city managers are a critical cohort of that population. We sat down for a chat with Ronda Perez who serves as the city manager in Palmdale, located north of Los Angeles in the high desert. With a population nearing 200,000, a vibrant technology and engineering sector, and a vision for affordable quality of life in Southern California, Ronda is leading her organization in transformation and innovation efforts to help her City Council achieve their goals.

Why did you get into local government?

It was not my plan to be in local government. I had a vision of joining the Drug Enforcement Agency to fight against drug networks. A soon-to-arrive child and my mom in the Palmdale area, who insisted that her grandchild be raised nearby, drew me back to the high desert from Orange County. It was a pleasant turn of events that gave me the family support I needed to raise my two children and build a life as a public servant and mom.  I soon found an opportunity to work for the City of Lancaster, which opened up the floodgates for me when it came to local government. At this point, my life has been built in this vibrant community.

Why did you want to be a city manager?

I have worked with some amazing teams over the years and have seen community projects come to fruition that dramatically changed the course of communities for the better. While working in Lancaster, I had several years under my belt in the leadership team, and I could see how our entire organizationwas impacting the community. My mentor in Lancaster, City Manager Mark Bozigian, embraced a culture of innovation and helped the staff and Council see that a bit of risk was needed to help the community advance. Partnering with my Council in Palmdale to help them deliver on community goals, while advising them on a pathway and the risks to achieving them, is rewarding. Our staff are pushing hard, and the City Council can see our progress. We are all raising our vision for what Palmdale can become.

What do you enjoy about Palmdale?

Palmdale has real challenges but also huge opportunities. The engineering and aerospace sector is very strong. The new Air Force long-range bomber, the B-21, is being built by Northrop Grumman right here, and Lockheed Martin Skunk Works remains a hotbed of innovation. On any given day, you will spot airmen exiting a Palmdale hotel and heading to Edwards Air Force Base or military research facilities. Our community takes great pride in hosting resources that are helping to defend America.

We have abundant land and a willingness to construct transformational projects. There is real space to build major infrastructure like energy farms, manufacturing facilities and new commercial services. Our capital improvement program is approaching $200M a year in work to get done, enabling us to drive transformative projects.

We benefit from dedicated staff. In my senior leadership team meetings, I support some directors who have been with the City for well over 20 years. They know the community like the back of their hands and are dedicated to its success. On the other hand, we have several directors who have been here less than two years and are introducing their prior experiences into the innovation conversation. Plus, as is common in Antelope Valley, we tend to live up here – so we live and work in this area, creating a stronger feeling of unity. It is fun to be on a team that is pulling in the same direction.

City of Palmdale City Council Chamber

Palmdale City Council Chamber

What are the challenges your council has asked you to take on in the City and what is the City doing to tackle those issues?

Our City Council adopted a strategic plan to guide our work at city hall. The plan incorporates four broad categories of work: Build Culture and Community; Economic Vitality and Innovation; Social Unity; and Transportation and Infrastructure. Within these categories are several specific objectives we seek to address with our work and budget. Many elements are common to other cities, but a few are unique.

For example, within Social Unity, we are taking on mental health programming and initiatives to address this silent risk. Mental health can manifest in simple acts of verbal altercations to violence or suicide. The City has offered unique programming to bring mental health into a broader community discussion and to deploy resources to support the community. One of those programs was our Wellbeing Lab which teaches community members how to “struggle well” and cope with challenges in a way that yields positive outcomes. You won’t see mental health progress like you would a street repair or a new playground, but that does not make it any less important. Our work is making subtle improvements for overall quality of life and that is key for community well-being.

Our City Council recognizes that America is divided on many fronts, but resolving those divisions starts with the people we interact with each day – so we have a special role to play in building community as cities. Palmdale has amazing facilities that serve our residents and create venues for diverse populations to meet up and connect. We are working to bring diverse people and viewpoints together for constructive conversations. We can have civil disagreements and still share common values like preserving life and liberty. We are fortunate that our Council is actively engaged with their residents and promoting this work.

It is hard to build community cohesion when people are fearful, so public safety remains a top priority for the City Council. We have a strong partnership with the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and we deeply respect the work of our law enforcement partners. But, like all the cities in LA County and most cities that contract police services from the Sheriff, we are seeing double-digit increases in our costs for services. When the line item is already the biggest in the budget, that hits hard.

To help mitigate costs and continue to address crime, we are consolidating several quality-of-life departments into a single Public Safety department, and we are hiring a public safety director to oversee the effort [link to open position recruitment]. This new operation will work hand-in-hand with our Sheriff deputies while offloading less critical calls and other more administrative and quality-of-life calls to Palmdale staff. Additionally, our City Council just adopted a Public Safety ordinance that positions our City to prosecute crimes that are otherwise not being pursued. Finally, we are layering in new innovations like Flock license plate reader cameras to help us leverage technology to efficiently identify and locate suspect vehicles involved with crimes.

Image of the City of Palmdale

Image of the City of Palmdale

What have you learned being a city manager, or what was unexpected about the role?

The city manager finds themselves with the opportunity to struggle to balance the needs of the City Council with City staff and the community’s priorities. From this vantage point, you see it all, and working to navigate those priorities and steady what could otherwise be a blizzard of needs takes patience and an ability to listen.

Secondly, you can’t let the title go to your head. Being a city manager just means you have more chances to learn and grow, and the moment you think you know it all, you will stumble. I try to spend a lot more time listening than talking.

Finally, you gotta laugh. If you don’t crack some jokes along the way, the mental stress can become unbearable. It’s as important for the team as it is for yourself — finding release with good humor is critical to weathering the stresses.

Tell me about what is next for the team you are building in city hall?

Priority one remains for our team to be focused on delivering for the City Council and community on the strategic priorities. Those are ambitious priorities, so we need a team at city hall that learns and pushes each day. We are looking to invest in our team with new skills so they can grow their capacity to deliver for the community. Meanwhile, we are also adding new positions and talent. We will soon open a key public safety director position that will lead critical quality-of-life functions for the City. And we are hunting for a deputy director of Human Resources and a senior civil engineer.

This community is growing, and our City Council is embracing innovation. So, if someone wants to see their career grow and take on new challenges, Palmdale is a great place to thrive.

If you’re a city manager in California and are interested in being featured in a PublicCEO Q&A, please reach out to PublicCEO Managing Editor Jacob Lyle at