Santa Clarita's answer to a dearth of neighborhood parks is a gaily painted panel truck that brings bored children blaring rap music, street hockey and arts and crafts.
Every day after school, the Parkmobile visits a different housing tract, carrying barricades to block traffic and workers to supervise the two-hour street party.
"It's the only thing really to do around here besides watch TV," said Tommy Field, 12, who arrived 20 minutes early recently to help close a one-block street in east Canyon Country.
The 10-month-old Parkmobile program is only one of a handful in the state, park officials say. The city, which has only eight small parks for a population of about 111,000, used a $13,000 donation from the Newhall-Saugus-Valencia Lions Club to help buy and outfit the vehicle.
"I remember what it was like growing up around here and how hard it was to get to the park because it was so far away," said John Lang, 38, the club's secretary. "So we thought, 'Let's bring the park to the kids.' "
It costs about $27,000 a year to operate the program and pay the salaries of three workers, said Dianna Boone, the city's recreation supervisor.
That's far less than the $100,000 per acre the city needs to develop 15 acres of vacant municipal parkland, said Jeff Kolin, the city's director of parks and recreation.
Like other cities in California, Santa Clarita can acquire land and money for parks under a 1965 state law nicknamed the Quimby Act. The city has the authority to require a builder to donate three acres of parkland for every 1,000 people expected to move into a development. If a developer is allowed to give cash in lieu of land, the payment is based on the value of an acre of land in the area of the development.
The city now has $130,000 in Quimby funds, only enough to develop a fraction of the 15 acres of vacant land it acquired previously under the law, Kolin said. Several developers recently postponed their projects because of a slump in the housing market, forcing the city to wait until the economy improves to build more parks, Kolin said.
The National Recreation and Park Assn. recommends that cities develop 10 acres of parkland for every 1,000 people. In contrast, Santa Clarita, with eight parks, has seven-tenths of an acre per 1,000 people.
"That's small, very small," said Chris Jarvi, director of Anaheim's parks department, which has a mobile recreation program similar to the Parkmobile.
Even though Anaheim has two acres of community parkland for every 1,000 people and a comparable amount of open space at local schools, it established a mobile recreation program because "lack of access for some residents is a problem, just as it is in Santa Clarita," Jarvi said.
"I wouldn't dream of letting my kids walk down a very, very busy street to Santa Clarita Park," said Jackie Haberkorn, 33, a resident of Ash Glen Circle. "The great thing about the Parkmobile is how all the neighborhood kids get to play together."
Before Santa Clarita's Parkmobile arrives to shut down a street, the city sends a letter to residents whose driveways would be blocked. If anyone objects, the program is moved to another street, Boone said.
The day before the Parkmobile arrived one recent Wednesday, city workers distributed flyers to residents of the Flowerpark Drive area of Canyon Country informing them of the visit.
The next day, resident Georges de Seve stepped into the sun-washed street to greet Parkmobile workers and ask them to keep the children out of his flower beds, which had been trampled the last time. But he wasn't complaining.
"The damage is nothing much--the program is great," said De Seve, 59.
Within 10 minutes, workers created a temporary park by erecting white barricades at either end of the street. About 25 restless children, many on roller skates, charged out of their houses, eager to bat a tennis ball with hockey sticks, make lanyards or try the latest dance step.
"Let's get rockin'--put Hammer on," screamed 8-year-old Ruth Shertzman, referring to rap star M. C. Hammer.
Some adults also seemed to welcome the release. Angela Sharaby played a hot game of table hockey with her 4-year-old son, Yusuf. Homeowner Karen Dinson dribbled a basketball to the song "Can't Touch This" while keeping an eye on her three boys. Children under 5 must be supervised by an adult.
"The kids around here have nothing to do," Dinson said. "This keeps them from tipping over the garbage cans and rolling themselves inside them down the street."