by David Mendez
When Mary Pizel moved to Redondo Beach from Huntington Beach three years ago, she was all but alone. The only people she was close with locally were her family, her daughter, and grandchildren. Her friends were an hour’s drive away.
“Whenever I wanted to meet a friend, I had to go to Huntington. And I’ve got friends in Lancaster, so when I wanted to see a friend or go out to lunch, I had to drive,” Pizel said.
But long drives to visit her family in Redondo are what sparked her move in the first place. After about a year, Pizel called Redondo’s Community Services department and learned about the city’s senior clubs.
“The rest is history,” Pizel said.
Today, Pizel is in her second year as President of the Perry Park Senior Club, which has events planned five days a week. Like Redondo’s two other senior centers, Perry Park is always bustling.
“People need people, and it sounds like a song, but the fact is, it’s really important to have connections with other human beings,” Pizel said.
Many seniors she’s seen, are lonesome because their family isn’t nearby, or because they’re unable to drive, or because they’re living in a place that causes them to hole up, even when they’re beginning to need greater care.
Pizel is in her early 70s, a senior on the front-end of the post-World-War-II “Baby Boomer” generation (born between 1946 and 1964), and she’s in a vastly growing company. According to AARP, 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. The Beach Cities, like much of Los Angeles County, counts a dense, and growing, the population of boomers within their city limits.
Scholars and government agencies are reading the signs and believe that the wave of seniors – a so-called “Silver Tsunami” – is coming. The Beach Cities Health District’s proposed Healthy Living Campus has sparked controversy for a plan to develop senior housing but aims to bolster its already established senior services. Other government agencies, from regional coalitions to individual cities, are also working to increase their senior programs and policies.
“The thing is, Baby Boomers are the predominant cohort, or population, in a lot of cities around Los Angeles, in the LA region, including the Beach Cities,” said Caroline Cicero, a professor at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology.
According to figures taken from the 2016 American Community Survey, nearly 20 percent of Redondo Beach’s 67,664 residents are 55 years old, or older. About 23 percent of Manhattan Beach residents are within that age group, as are about 18 percent of Hermosa Beach residents.
In other words, Manhattan and Redondo have some of the highest concentrations of Baby Boomers out of all cities in Los Angeles County. But while those cities are leading the pack, the trend is being seen throughout the region.
“All of our cities are experiencing definite growth of the aging population,” said Grace Farwell, of the South Bay Cities Council of Governments. Farwell is the SBCCOG’s point person on aging-related issues, and staffs the Senior Services Working Group, which began meeting in 2014.
“[The population] is not so transient — all of our cities are definitely aging, and transportation is one of the biggest issues,” Farwell said. The working group, she said, has identified a number of potential solutions, from a taxi and ride-share services to city-based dial-a-ride programs.
One model that the Working Group has identified is the “village” concept, which establishes a community of older adults to provide services, referrals, and activities for those who want to stay in their own homes as they age. Villages have been established in Torrance and on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.
“The idea is to keep people connected to their community,” Farwell said. “Isolation is something we try to work against and find solutions for.”
Isolation, gerontology researchers have found, is a significant health risk. Isolated and lonely adults are found to have increased mortality risks on par with smoking, obesity or sedentary lifestyles.
Socialization and activity are pillars of the Blue Zones lifestyle, promoted by the Beach Cities Health District.
“We’re encouraging everything that’s part of the Blue Zones Project, from healthy eating to more walking, more exercise, social connections – all of those things play into healthy aging,” said Kerianne Lawson, BCHD Director of Lifespan Services.
BCHD’s work on that front can be seen throughout the community. Its Center for Health and Fitness gym encourages members to stop in regularly while walking groups and moias encourage people to meet up regularly for activities.
But keeping people healthy is only one prong, Lawson said. The other is providing services for those who have become frail.
“Our goal is to support people in their homes for as long as is safely possible. We want people to be able to age in their own homes and stay in their communities, and we have a variety of programs to help people fill in the gaps,” Lawson said. “We try to intervene at the earliest point possible and in the least restrictive.”
Lawson began with BCHD as a care manager. One of her early experiences was with a woman in her 80s, living in North Redondo. After nearly slipping in the shower, the woman asked for an emergency response system. Though Lawson offered other services, from errand volunteers to homemakers, the woman declined.
“But the thing we have here that you don’t see in other management systems is the gift of time,” Lawson said.
As years passed, and Lawson checked in, the woman thought about it more. She could use help with someone in the house, just for a few hours a week, to help keep her from falling and to keep the house clean.
But as seniors age and their abilities diminish, they’re not always able to remain in their own homes.
In 2016, BCHD commissioned a market feasibility study to determine the need for senior housing in the Beach Cities. The study, released in August 2016, found that the region could support an additional 400 senior housing units, and could comfortably offer rates that are competitive with other, local independent and assisted living complexes.
The survey found that nine assisted living/residential care communities in the area averaged a 92 percent occupancy rate, with six of the nine at over 97 percent occupancy. Four area independent living developments had 96 percent occupancy, while six Alzheimer’s/memory care facilities held 80 percent occupancy.
BCHD’s housing has planned to offer services comparable to those facilities, which differ from senior housing apartments or townhomes, such as Heritage Pointe and the Season’s complexes, in Redondo Beach.
But Redondo is a city that’s had a passionate distrust of development in recent years. Announcements of plans for up to 400 housing units on BCHD’s 514 N. Prospect Ave. property prompted dozens of residents to speak out about the project, accusing the Health District of profiteering through residential development.
That backlash, which has tempered since the initial announcement, plus new information about the state of the former South Bay Hospital Building, has caused the Health District to put the brakes on the project. At their most recent Board of Directors study session, staff announced that they would wait until mid to late 2018 before filing for development permits with the City of Redondo Beach.
BCHD spokesman Eric Garner acknowledged that the Health District is seeking to generate revenue from the site, but dismissed the notion that BCHD was looking to take advantage of residents.
The Health District, he notes, provides $3.50 in services to the community for each dollar received in Beach Cities property taxes. BCHD financials also show that the district takes in only 27 percent of its revenue from property taxes, with the rest coming from program revenues, partnerships, investments and lease revenues.
“The goal is, yes, to fill a need for residential care for the elderly, and yes, to create a sustainable financial future for the district, but also to create a hub of well-being,” Garner said.
The Health District has a great many goals for space, including transforming a broad expanse of concrete and asphalt to green space and community land. But the key, in the opinion of Redondo activist Jim Light, is the district’s reaction to community input.
“What I’ve seen, and what’s different between them and CenterCal or AES, is that they listen and make changes,” Light said. Light is on BCHD’s Healthy Living Campus working group, alongside 23 other Beach Cities and Torrance residents.
Entire buildings and plans have shifted in response to the working groups suggestions, including building configurations to better light a proposed community garden.
“What a lot of people are concerned about is, will there be a provision to make sure that local residents have a chance of being there, or is it only going to be the wealthiest people, paying the most money in there?” Light said.
“Our plan is that residents will receive priority over non-residents for the residential care facility for the elderly,” Garner said. “Being that we are still early in the planning process, however, we’re still fleshing out exactly what that will look like.”
The district’s revisions are a comfort for residents who were put off by the potential density. But, Professor Cicero argued that density isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I’m very concerned about all of the single-family home communities around Southern California, where people are car-dependent,” Cicero said. “To have more dense housing where people can be less car-dependent is a good thing.”
Cicero acknowledged that dense development that encourages giving up cars isn’t popular everywhere – particularly within Redondo Beach, which has placed a temporary moratorium on mixed-use development. But smart mixed-use development can make areas elderly- and pedestrian-friendly, Cicero said.
“There’s the idea, if you give up driving, that you can walk to a store, a park or a doctor’s office,” Cicero said. “Neighborhoods that are better for older people are better for everyone.”
Perry Park is just south of Artesia Boulevard, not far from Birney Elementary School, and well within walking distance to many shops and restaurants along Artesia Boulevard. It’s Senior Center has become the home of the Hands to Heart Quilters.
Led by Sharon Childers, the group has made itself part of the community’s fabric after less than a year. Already, placemats and napkins are being made at one table for next year’s Perry Park Holiday celebration, while at another table one woman works on creating teddy bears for charity and another is working on blocks to send to wildfire victims, so they can build their own quilts.
“The beauty of this is not so much the fabric, the batting or the patterns, but it allows us to get together and share one another’s lives,” Childers said. “This chit chat is necessary. It’s important and meaningful, and we just happened to add the quilts to it.”
“It keeps us off the streets,” one woman joked as she looked up from her work.
Pizel, the Senior Club President, was glad to just be of assistance to the club.
“It’s a good thing, to share a meal together, chat. It’s nice, getting us out of the house…the more you go out, the happier you’re going to be,” Pizel said.
“People are living longer now, with modern medicine and quality of life,” Pizel said. “There is a need for senior places, like we have at the senior center here because people need to get out. They do things, and they stay young.”
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