For Bruce Kitchen, who was named Hesperia's first mayor in 1988, one statistic resonated loud and clear during the city's drive to incorporation: There were only 1.5 deputies serving the sprawling Hesperia community of more than 50,000.


"If the deputy made an arrest and he was out in the field, there was nobody to take his place," Kitchen said last week. "You could actually get a pizza faster than you could get a police car."


And so Kitchen and the other four founding councilmembers -- George Beardsley, Percy Bakker, Val Shearer and Howard Roth -- were determined to change that.


"That was my priority, to make sure our community was safe."


First, the council had to decide whether to create its own police department from scratch or contract services with a larger law enforcement agency.


"I think the important thing was making that decision."


After ample study, the council determined that building its own police department from the ground up wasn't feasible. Conversely, by contracting with another agency, the fledgling city could have a relative wealth of law enforcement services.


"We decided what we need is a contract with a professional, ready-to-go service, which is the county sheriff's department."


Sheriff's department veteran Gary Penrod was named Hesperia's first captain, and several deputies, a sergeant and detective were assigned. The new Hesperia Police Department also had access to a sheriff's helicopter and other emergency response services.


The results were immediate: After the second year, Hesperia was the safest city in the Victor Valley and the second safest in the county behind Rancho Cucamonga, Kitchen said.


Born in Corona, Kitchen attended Riverside Polytechnic, where he was a track standout. During his senior year, he won the state 440-yard dash with a time of 48.7 seconds. The state champion also was named a high school All-America, and after graduation in 1954 he was awarded a track scholarship to the University of Southern California. Kitchen graduated USC with a bachelor's degree in business administration and then pursued his teacher's credential.


After establishing his teaching career, he was asked in 1976 to be the founding principal for a 7-12 school in Phelan that was eventually named Serrano High School. Then, in the early 1980s, he was asked again to open Hesperia's first public high school, Hesperia High.


"That was an enormous amount of fun. It was a lot of work, but to create a school was something I enjoyed immensely."


Following that assignment, he accepted a position as an assistant superintendent for the Hesperia Unified School District.


Kitchen's organizational and communication abilities helped him lead the new city council. Besides tackling the public safety issue, the council also presided over the establishment of the city's first master plan. The council also had to make sure the city had enough money in its coffers.


"We worked within our budget," he said.


Unfortunately, the year after the City Council was sworn in, the Victor Valley was hard hit by a recession, which continued for several years. The economic decline also adversely affected the school district, so three years after he was elected to the first city council Kitchen resigned.


"My work load [at the district] had gotten to be fairly significant," Kitchen said. "I didn't want to do a 50 cent job as councilman."


Over the past 17 years, Kitchen has survived two bouts of cancer and had an angioplasty procedure. But he's continued to work in the field of his passion - education. After working for the HUSD, he was hired as the head of personnel for San Bernardino County Schools. He retired from that position in 1997 but was asked to stay on as a liaison for county schools and the California Commission of Teacher Credentialing. He has continued to serve in that role, adding San Diego county schools as another agency he represents. Additionally, Kitchen is on the Cal State Fullerton faculty and works part-time for the Cal State Teach program.


"Most of my work is done online. I'm able to function in both jobs at the same time."


Kitchen says his experience as a Hesperia city councilman was a plus for him.


"It provided me a great platform to understand the political process," he said.


Kitchen's enduring memory of the first city council was of the quality of individuals the city elected into office.


"The thing that impressed me was the five very good people. They were honest and sincere, and they did it professionally."


One particular moment in council chambers brought to focus the importance of having five elected officials. Percy Bakker, who would later become a mayor of Hesperia, was enthusiastically presenting his point of view on a specific topic, but not all agreed.


"George [Beardsley] said, 'Well, Percy,' that's why there are five of us.'"


Kitchen admits things can move slowly in city government.


"Yesterday they finished paving my street. It was the first time in 30 years, but progress is working."


But he and his wife Shirley still call Hesperia home, and he says for good reason.


"I like it here. I looked at Orange County, but I just decided I would rather live here. It's a much more pleasant way of life."


Simply, Kitchen believes Hesperia made the right choice when it was incorporated 20 years ago. If it hadn't become a city Hesperia wouldn't be able to meet the needs of residents and control its own destiny.


"As a city we're so much better off."