Palmdale Community Builds New Recreation Facilities

The City of Palmdale won the League Partners Award for Excellence in City-Business Relations in the 2008 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence Award program. For more information about the program, visit

Between 1990 and 2000, the City of Palmdale’s population grew by more than 77 percent to 147,897. Although housing, schools and other amenities kept pace with this growth, the city lacked adequate recreation facilities, particularly for its young residents. Long waiting lists for sports activities and swim lessons frustrated kids and parents; teen programs could not be developed without a place to house them.

The city recognized the need to provide recreation facilities and encourage event tourism, but lacked funds. Palmdale’s city council and staff examined the option of establishing an assessment district to finance the design, construction and operation of new recreation facilities. By using a local ballot measure to ask property owners to approve an annual assessment, the city could raise enough money to fund the needed items — in combination with grant funds and some city revenue.

In 2000, Palmdale contracted with a research and analysis firm that administered scientific surveys to evaluate property owners’ recreational desires and determine how much they would be willing to pay toward new facilities. The findings confirmed there was strong community interest in new facilities, and residents were willing to help fund them. People wanted recreation centers, pools, playfields, an amphitheater and a water park. So the city hired a consultant to help initiate an outreach program and develop a ballot measure.

Putting It Together

Parents, teens, seniors, business leaders, school representatives, church members, aquatics teams and sports leagues formed a grassroots group, the People Advocating Recreation and Kids’ Safety (PARKS) Committee, in 2001 and spread the word that new recreation facilities would improve Palmdale’s quality of life and help build a safer community.

Because Palmdale covers 100 square miles, it made sense to build facilities on both sides of the city. Staff prioritized amenities and scaled them back to reach an achievable budget of approximately $42 million to acquire land and develop the initial phase. The city identified six funding sources that combined would provide the needed funding. An assessment of $36 per parcel was presented to voters as “$3 per month for safe parks and recreation facilities second to none and available for all.”

A mail ballot requiring a simple majority was used to present the measure to property owners; it was mailed in June 2002 and passed with 56 percent approval. The assessment district was created.

To develop the facilities, the district acquired a total of 73 acres. An architectural firm generated visual displays and incorporated staff and community concepts into the plans. Staff from city departments, including finance, planning, parks and recreation and public works, participated with residents in the project’s design and preparation phase. The project went to bid in January 2004.

“What makes this so special is that the project came from our city’s residents,” says Mayor James C. Ledford Jr. “It was their energy, their input in the design and scope of the project and their desire to push the assessment through that made the project such a success.”

Making It Real

The City of Palmdale simultaneously developed several major recreation facilities for residents of all ages. The east and west side locations each have:

  • A 16,800-square-foot recreation center containing a regulation basketball court with two cross-courts, multi-purpose hall and dance studio, and game room; and
  • Separate swimming facilities with competition pools.

In addition, on Palmdale’s east side, the municipally operated DryTown Water Park offers several themed attractions. A free-flowing lazy river, a tower with three water slides and children’s water playground are complemented by a snack bar, gift store, covered picnic areas and an area for group functions.

On the city’s west side, the Palmdale Amphitheater provides the community’s only venue for community concerts, fundraisers and festivals. Perhaps most exciting, the Best of the West Softball Complex, with seven world-class lighted softball fields, covered dugouts and stadium seating, is the only facility in the region that provides fields specifically for girls’ and women’s leagues.

Economic Benefits Despite Recession

Palmdale’s Department of Parks and Recreation increased its part-time work force by 40 percent to staff the new facili ties, providing employment for youth. Lifeguard staff now provides certification opportunities to job applicants. With the new pools, aquatic program revenue increased by 40 percent and participant use tripled despite the economic downturn of 2008. DryTown Water Park reaches its attendance capacity each summer, and thousands attend free summer concerts at the Palmdale Amphitheater. Attendance at the recreation center is consistently high year round, and the softball complex hosts tournaments for professional teams. Event visitors benefit the local economy, spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping and entertainment.

Palmdale has shown how a solid plan, grassroots support and a commitment to excellence can produce positive results for a community — providing quality, family-oriented programs and events, increasing opportunities for youth and enhancing the local economy.

Contact: Russ Bird, director of parks and recreation, City of Palmdale; phone: (661) 267-5611; e-mail:

This article appears in the April 2009 issue of Western City
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