Two years before Hesperia officially became a city, the Hesperia Recreation and Park District made a historic move of its own when it hired a young Northern California visionary to lead the independent agency into the future.

Twenty-two years later, Cal Camara is still propelling the park district forward. His leadership has helped keep the district's programs vibrant and its finances robust.

Earlier this year, the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce named Camara its 2008 "Business Person of the Year."

In 1986, park board president Percy Bakker visited Camara in Santa Maria, where he was a park district supervisor.

"He visited me in the Santa Maria Community Center and Gymnasium," Camara remembers. "He said, 'We need a facility like that.'"

A decade later, Bakker's words would become prophetic.

"The Novack Center is pretty close to that," Camara says.
Accepting the offer to become general manager of the Hesperia Recreation and Park District, Camara quickly realized he was in for a big change.

"It was a smaller operation than I was used to," he says.
Camara's first major tasks were to revive the district's finances and help create a master plan. After accomplishing his goals, he thought it was likely he would leave and pursue new challenges elsewhere. "But I really came to enjoy the people and the place. It grew on me."

To help secure needed funding, Camara created one of the state's first assessment districts based on Proposition 218.

His financial acumen was key to the district surviving the challenges of a recession, which hit the state around 1990.

"There was an economic boom [in the mid-1980s] but shortly after that the bottom fell out. The city wasn't in the position to help the park district."

So the district negotiated with the City of Hesperia for Redevelopment Agency funds, which were leveraged to purchase three shopping centers and a restaurant. The properties were transformed into park district venues, which generate revenue and house district program activities.

While many park districts subsist from property tax revenue, the Hesperia park district, through its non-profit Hesperia Area Recreation District, receives only about 10 percent in property taxes.

"You don't see that very much," Camara says. "We had to generate revenue through programs. We had to generate funds innovatively."

The park district's main mission is to provide and maintain baseball fields, soccer fields and the like, he says. But the district has ventured other areas such as bolstering the fishing program at Hesperia Lake Park, maintaining Greencar Raceway and running the roller-skating rink.

"We did things like that. We've taken some program and facility risks to move forward. It's worked."

Camara is quick to credit his staff, which keeps the district's many programs and facilities operating smoothly.

"The staff help each other all the time. It's always been that way. They work very well as a team."

He also applauds the staff's dedication to the community. Some could leave the district for more lucrative opportunities, but they choose to stay.

Camara also is grateful for the cohesion on the park district's elected board of directors over the years. Dedicated board members have played a key role in helping to move the district forward.

While the park district has maintained its independence through the years, Camara believes the relationship with the city is imperative.

"It's very important for the city and park district to have a strong relationship," he says. "I think it's an excellent relationship."

In fact, according to Camara, Hesperia is lucky to have its key agencies operating together.

"The school district, the city and park district, and even the Chamber of Commerce, you take those agencies and you throw in the Kiwanis and they have really had an identity you don't find anywhere else. You just don't find that. People might not realize how blessed they are to have that kind of structure."