The issue facing the City of Palmdale is the on-going challenge of restoring economic vitality in its deteriorating downtown. Many older cities across the country share the same problem, that of deteriorating downtowns. Once the center of activity, downtowns are facing challenges that must be addressed in order to bring economic vitality back to the core of the community. Downtowns have suffered for many reasons, including a shift in traffic and shopping patterns, the development of new business and regional shopping centers away from downtown, deteriorating buildings, storefront vacancies, deteriorating surrounding housing, increased levels of crime, and a lack of funding to revitalize the downtown area.
While the City of Palmdale’s newer areas are developing, downtown has not kept pace and is showing the classic symptoms of urban decay due to long deferred maintenance, significant vacancies, deterioration of buildings and landscaping, and undesirable businesses.
The City faces a number of alternatives in restoring economic vitality in its deteriorating downtown including: maintaining continued commitment to the City’s Downtown Revitalization Plan; commitment and funding for the newly approved Palmdale Boulevard Commercial Façade and Parking Lot Improvement Program; increasing public safety; analyzing how Cities faced with similar challenges overcame their problems through best practice models; attending professional conferences to learn new practices; and membership in key professional organizations.
The preferred alternative for the City of Palmdale is multifaceted and includes maintaining continued commitment to the City’s Downtown Revitalization Plan; commitment and funding for the newly approved Palmdale Boulevard Commercial Façade and Parking Lot Improvement Program; increasing public safety; analyzing how Cities faced with similar challenges overcame their problems through best practice models; attending professional conferences to learn new practices; and membership in key professional organizations.
II. Introduction and Problem Statement
The issue facing the City of Palmdale is the on-going challenge of restoring economic vitality in its deteriorating downtown. The policy analysis will review the alternatives available to the City of Palmdale, the policy issues at stake, and why the issue is important. The analysis will also examine the best practices of the cities of Arcadia, Brea, Eureka, and Ventura, all faced with similar issues, the programs each city created to address the restoration of economic vitality in their deteriorating downtowns, and the impacts the programs have had to date.
Incorporated in 1962, the City of Palmdale, located in north Los Angeles County, has grown from a small rural town of 2.1 square miles to a thriving community with a population of more than 127,000 residents and over 102 square miles. Along with the growing population has been a surge in construction of new homes, and commercial and retail developments, which have had a significant impact on downtown where businesses are struggling, as residents choose not to patronize the establishments due to their appearance, variety of shopping and dining opportunities, and safety concerns.
Recognizing the significance of the problem, the City developed the Palmdale Downtown Revitalization Plan in 1995, to address the issue of the restoration of economic vitality of the downtown. The comprehensive Plan outlines challenges and options in planning, traffic and walking circulation, parking, rehabilitation and upgrading of buildings, their facades and signage, public safety, preserving historic buildings, and attracting the proper mix of business to make downtown a desirable place for residents and visitors to patronize.
Elected officials, City staff and residents worked together in the development of the Plan through the Downtown Revitalization Committee (DAC), providing important public input and comments into the vision for downtown Palmdale. The DAC consisted of eleven community leaders and business owners, and several members of the City Council and Planning Commission, who served as non-voting members. The DAC was assisted by the Project Team, which consisted of the Technical Advisory Committee, consultants, and project management. The Technical Advisory Committee was comprised of key City staff from the following departments: Economic Development, Building and Safety, Library, and Code Enforcement. In addition the Planning Department provided data collection and document preparation services. A team of six consultants were hired to provide professional advice and to prepare technical studies including the circulation plan; architecture, design, and landscaping concepts; economic development and marketing plan; financing plan; infrastructure plan, and a computer generated parcel map of the downtown area. The City Manager and Planning Director provided project management and oversight.
Understanding the importance of public input into the development process of the Downtown Revitalization Plan, the City encouraged the public to make comments and suggestions. In addition, public hearings on the Plan were held at the Planning Commission and City Council meetings prior to the Plan’s approval by the City Council in July 1995.
The progress of the revitalization of downtown Palmdale continues to receive support by elected officials, City staff and residents who understand the importance of the Plan on the overall economic health of the City and its ability to reverse the decrease in property values and increase public safety in downtown.
The City’s vision for downtown is that it will be busy, prosperous, and alive, and will be a source of civic pride for Palmdale citizens and businesses. The Plan includes creating two business districts connected with pedestrian walkways and bicycle paths, which will be enhanced with streetlights, street furniture, and special paving features. In an effort to beautify the downtown, the Plan also calls for the under grounding of overhead utility poles, removal of large pole signs and other visually obtrusive features, and the planting of street trees, which will provide much needed shade and greenery throughout downtown (City of Palmdale, Downtown Revitalization Plan, p. 2).
To address the issue of crime and quality of life throughout the City, Partners Against Crime (PAC) is a partnership between the City, community and Sheriff, was created. The PAC team includes public safety, code enforcement, building and safety, and housing staff that work with specially assigned Sheriff’s personnel to address neighborhood concerns.
The City has created several districts where it will underground overhead utilities, as part of the beautification effort outlined in the Plan. These improvements will create a more aesthetically pleasing environment in the City by eliminating overhead utility lines. In addition, over 350 trees have been planted at various locations around the City, with another 850 trees scheduled for planting, as part of an urban tree-planting grant the City was successful in obtaining from the State.
Although there have been some successes in the effort, a large portion of the implementation of the Downtown Revitalization Plan remains, and the problem of the deterioration of downtown continues to challenge the City.
The City of Palmdale has become a suburb of Los Angeles due to urban sprawl and the need for affordable housing not available in the Los Angeles basin or San Fernando Valley. As home prices continued to soar in L.A. and the San Fernando Valley, many people found they could realize the American dream of home ownership in Palmdale. The City experienced tremendous growth in its population from 23,350 residents in 1985 to 127,000 in 1996, a key factor of which has been the City’s affordable housing. While the population continued to soar, quality employment opportunities have been unable to keep pace, forcing approximately 80 percent of the residents to commute to jobs outside the Antelope Valley, whether to the L.A. basin or San Fernando Valley. By 2003, the number of daily commuters reached 65,000 traveling back and forth on State Highway 14, which wasn’t designed to handle the high volume of traffic.
While the recession of the early 1990’s affected the entire nation, its impact on the Antelope Valley was especially severe and lasted most of the decade, due to the Valley’s over-dependence on the aerospace industry for employment. The Valley’s largest industry experienced staggering cuts in government programs, and a number of programs were eliminated entirely. The effect on the industry’s downsizing and elimination of jobs was staggering, as many laid-off aerospace workers realized that their highly specialized skills did not transition into comparable paying jobs outside the industry. Within a short time, the effects of the recession in the Antelope Valley were visible: tumbling property values and a meteoric increase in home foreclosures. During this time, the deterioration of downtown continued, as buildings fell into disrepair, storefront vacancies skyrocketed, the neglect of surrounding housing continued, and the level of crime increased.
All of these factors combined, provided incredible challenges for the City of Palmdale to overcome, which were addressed in the City’s Strategic Plan. According to Greenberg and Baron (2000), “A strategic plan is the process of formulating, implementing, and evaluating decisions that enable an organization to achieve its objectives, and is critical when the current objectives can no longer be met” (p.592). Key components of the Strategic Plan included addressing the challenges it faced with a comprehensive economic development plan, new housing programs, improving the quality of life for Palmdale’s residents, increased commitment to infrastructure improvements, and the Downtown Revitalization Plan.
Palmdale’s Downtown Revitalization Plan, focused on creating a vision for the future of the downtown, and an implementation plan to rehabilitate, beautify, and economically strengthen downtown. The Plan identified critical issues facing Palmdale’s downtown: the need to create a “heart” for the City of Palmdale in the City’s historic center; encouragement of shared public and private sector resources; flexibility of the Plan to accommodate changes; commitment to implementation of the action plan; streamlined processes and procedures for downtown; immediate need of basic amenities in downtown such as sidewalks and street widening; ease of use of the Plan document; and a variety of design and development strategies to achieve the desired results (City of Palmdale, Downtown Revitalization