Saying that becoming a cowboy poet “is within the realm of possibilities,” Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp has announced his retirement, effective in December.
“This is just a good time for me,” he said. His two daughters are grown and moved away, and the list of accomplishments under his watch is long and impressive.
“It’s been just an experience of a lifetime,” he said. “But it’s time to move on and do something else.”
Pulskamp, 56, said he is leaving city government entirely. Asked if he had any specific plans, he said “it will be whatever I want” – even joking about the cowboy poet, having played a part in the Festival’s establishment 19 years ago.
He came to Santa Clarita in 1988 as the Assistant City Manager to George Caravalho and took over the reins when Caravalho left for another position in 2002. He holds the distinction of being the city’s 17th employee.
“I’m not leaving Santa Clarita, but the thing I will miss is the interaction with the people. We have great city council members, great staff and community. I’ll miss all of the relationships I’ve built up over 25 years.”
Asked if he had any advice for the person taking over his position, he emphasized the honor of the job.
“My advice is to really honor the whole profession of city management,” Pulskamp said. “Having the opportunity to be instrumental in building a community is such a privilege and honor. Anybody who takes it over, I hope they have that attitude and understand what a great opportunity it is to be in local government and to work for a city like Santa Clarita.”
In a four-page letter sent to Mayor Frank Ferry and members of the City Council, Pulskamp talks about the excitement of developing a new city, taking it from an underserved sprawling area with “no mall, no Costco or Home Depot, no movie theaters in Canyon Country, no curbside recycling, no community centers and no Metrolink stations, a handful of marginal parks, no trails or publicly-owned open space and traffic was bad and getting worse” and helping turn it around.
“A handful of dilapidated parks have been transformed into 22 beautifully-appointed parks including Veterans Plaza, two dog parks, and the 130-acre Central Park. 60-plus miles of off-street trails, three Metrolink stations, the 60-acre Sports Complex brought about by our city, are regularly utilized by tens of thousands of residents. We planted thousands of trees, we added beautifully landscaped medians, we shone a laser focus and made great strides on reducing crime, helping our youth, creating jobs, adding services and protecting the environment; all of which has transformed Santa Clarita into a top California city.”
In everything he wrote, Pulskamp emphasized the teamwork involved and lauded the city’s volunteerism in getting things done, including the response to various natural disasters, such as the 1994 earthquake,
“I can’t say I enjoyed working 17 hours a day out of a tent in the city hall parking lot, or trying to run a city without basic needs, but I can look back with pride on our City’s action-oriented response and effectiveness in bringing Santa Clarita back stronger than before. If ever there was a test of commitment and resilience, it was the 1994 earthquake; our City’s leadership was pivotal for the entire valley.”
According to a press release issued by the city, Pulskamp has a good reason to rest on his laurels.
“Over the last four years, he successfully guided the city through the recession ensuring financial stability, continuation of programs and services for residents, lowered crime rates and completion of major capital improvement projects. Under Pulskamp’s leadership, Santa Clarita has 100 percent track record for an on-time, balanced budget with a 16 percent reserve fund.”
Some of his top achievements over the last 25 years include:
* Building a new city from the ground up including hiring staff and creating a city hall.
* Solving gridlock traffic issues in the City with the Cross Valley Connector, widened bridges and roads, and a series of “quick fixes.”
* A public safety program with the Sheriffs that has resulted in the City’s lowest crime rate, with proactive education, enforcement and community policing programs.
* Building a park, open space and trail system that spans the city.
* Creating an emergency response program and training that has stood up to 11 federally-declared disasters and improved emergency conditions in the city.
* Created a culture of transparency, ethics, public service and excellence at city hall.
* Revitalizing Old Town Newhall, including additions of a new community center, Metrolink station, park, Veterans Plaza, streetscape, events and infrastructure.
* Beautification projects city wide through the creation of a landscape maintenance district.
* Creation of a transit system that services thousands every year.
* Environmental programs and facilities that reduce waste, improve air quality and promote a healthy environment.
* Creating a robust economic development program that has attracted new businesses, added jobs, and helped make Santa Clarita a fiscal success.
* Under Ken’s leadership, Santa Clarita has won dozens of regional, state and national awards for excellence.
LETTER TO CITY COUNCIL
August 27, 2012
Dear Mayor Ferry and Members of the City Council:
RCA Founder David Sarnoff wrote: Work and live to serve others, to leave the world a little better than you found it and garner for yourself as much peace of mind as you can. This is happiness.
For the last 25 years, it has been my honor to serve Santa Clarita as its Assistant City Manager and beginning in 2002, as City Manager. After 35 years in city management, at the close of this year, I will be retiring, handing the leadership baton to the next generation, a little better than I found it.
When I arrived in Santa Clarita in 1988, there was a Kmart, Target, Mervyn’s and shabby indoor/outdoor carpeting on the center median near Bouquet Junction. There was no locally-based government, no mall, no Costco or Home Depot, no movie theatres in Canyon Country, no curbside recycling, no community centers and no Metrolink stations. There were a handful of marginal parks, no trails or publicly owned open space, and traffic was bad and getting worse. An infrastructure study at the time revealed $900 million in needs. As much as Santa Clarita needed physically, it also needed something else; it needed its own voice, and control over its own tax dollars and destiny.
The 189 people whose names appear on the City Founding Committee plaque that hangs in the back of the Council Chambers on Valencia Boulevard not only understood these needs, but they took a giant leap of faith to try and leave their world a little better than they found it. God bless them. On December 15, 1987, our City mothers and fathers handed off the new City of Santa Clarita to the first City Council and our first city management team. I couldn’t wait to get started.
Looking back over the last 25 years, the accomplishments that have been made have exceeded my wildest dreams. Serving this community, helping to shape its destiny, has not only been a highlight of my career, it has been a highlight of my life.
One of the major accomplishments in those early years of Cityhood was to create a local government from the ground up. We sought to hire the best and the brightest for our organization and this is by far one of the accomplishments of which I am most proud. We continue our legacy of excellence through best practices and mentoring programs that seek to grow our talented staff and train the next generation. Our philosophy statement, written by city employees, is more than a piece of paper that hangs on the wall; it is a living document whose tenets are embraced and beloved by our employees that seek to live it each and every day. Their commitments to public service, to a non-bureaucratic government, to being creative, humanistic, and ethical, have helped positively shape our City and set the tone for a bright future. I want to thank our amazing city employees for their incredible service to this community. Their hard work, perseverance and dedication to excellence have been a part of every success since Cityhood.
The last quarter century has seen incredible strides for our young City. While none of them were easy, all of them were worthwhile. A handful of dilapidated parks have been transformed into 22 beautifully-appointed parks including Veterans Plaza, two dog parks, and the 130-acre Central Park. 60-plus miles of off-street trails, three Metrolink Stations, the 60-acre Sports Complex brought about by our City, are regularly utilized by tens of thousands of residents. We planted thousands of trees, we added beautifully landscaped medians, we shone a laser focus and made great strides on reducing crime, helping our youth, creating jobs, adding services and protecting the environment; all of which has transformed Santa Clarita into a top California city.
We created development standards, a code enforcement program, an emergency preparedness plan, a transit system, waste disposal and reduction programs, an intergovernmental relations program. We built a Transit Maintenance Facility, a new library system and a myriad of community events such as the annual Cowboy Festival, Marathon, Concerts in the Park and Earth Arbor Day. We’ve added public art, drug education and prevention in the schools, community centers, and a conservative fiscal model that is lauded up and down the state. We’ve brought millions of dollars of grant funding to our City that has helped us build roads, bridges, trails and facilities.
In our early years of Cityhood, traffic was the number one issue. A woeful lack of roads, no grid system, challenging topography and lack of investment over the years made this our most daunting task. Today’s top issue list is not topped by traffic, thanks to two and a half decades of investment and hard work. The Cross Valley Connector synchronized traffic signals, double and triple turn lanes, widened roads and bridges and a series of “quick fix” traffic improvements has yielded big results and better flowing traffic.
As important as what our community has seen over these last 25 years, is also what you don’t see that matters. Since Cityhood, we’ve been engaged in battles to prevent our City from becoming a dumping ground from outside forces for undesirable uses. Together with the City, our community partners, and our residents, we successfully prevented the world’s largest dump and so far, prevented a mega mining project from being sited here. We stopped the massive Las Lomas development project and through our Open Space Preservation District, we prevented further urban sprawl. Without the City of Santa Clarita and our community’s courage and dedication to stand up to these outside influences, this Valley would be a very different place today.
One of our crowning achievements as a city was our ability to effectively deal with 11 federally-declared disasters, especially the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Our City’s leadership and positive action was key in our successful recovery. I can’t say I enjoyed working 17 hours a day out of a tent in the city hall parking lot, or trying to run a City without basic needs, but I can look back with pride on our City’s action-oriented response and effectiveness in bringing Santa Clarita back stronger than before. If ever there was a test of commitment and resilience, it was the 1994 earthquake; our City’s leadership was pivotal for the entire Valley.
I’m proud of the relationships our City has carefully forged over the last quarter century. Ongoing dialogue with law enforcement, fire, the County, State and Federal government, local agencies, school districts, water purveyors, non profit organizations, and elected officials has yielded big gains for our City and our community. Since Cityhood, we’ve processed nearly 30 annexations from residents who wanted to be part of our City; another testament to our well-run local government.
Over the years, our City has won many awards for excellence, for service, excellent fiscal stewardship, communication, and innovation. We were named as Los Angeles County’s most business friendly city and we regularly top various lists of cities with a high quality of life. Last year, I was the recipient of the prestigious Wes McClure Award from the League of California Cities. This top award recognized me for decades of achievement in leadership, mentoring, transparency and dedication to the field of professional city management. I was deeply humbled to receive it, and I share this award with each of you and our employees whose dedication to these values inspires me.
On a personal note, I truly love being a part of this community and I very much enjoy my leadership role on the non-profit front. I’ve embraced opportunities to serve in many capacities, including: as a founder of the Foundation for Children’s Dental Health, President of the American Heart Association, United Way, and the Sister City program. Each of these opportunities have been a rich part of my time here in Santa Clarita. On the bigger stage, I have served on the board of directors and as President of the City Managers Department for the League of California Cities. I was selected to serve on the federal Homeland Security Consortium as the only City Manager in the country.
I want to personally thank the City Council for the amazing opportunity to serve the great City of Santa Clarita. It is has been my honor to serve every city council since the advent of Cityhood. The relationships, the trust and partnerships over these last 25 years will remain a remarkable part of my life. As community leaders and elected officials, you have truly dedicated yourselves to Santa Clarita on a daily basis. Each of you should feel proud of the legacy of volunteerism, service and commitment that you have given our residents. I know that I am proud to have worked for you. I hope that over the last 25 years, I have lived up to the challenge offered by RCA Founder David Sarnoff, and that I am leaving my job as City Manager better than I found it.