What will Palo Alto look like when Baby Boomers turn 80? | August 2, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

- August 2, 2013

What will Palo Alto look like when Baby Boomers turn 80?

Even with exercise and nutrition, chronic illness and 'major life events' come with age

by Chris Kenrick

Palo Alto may be a mecca for young tech entrepreneurs, but it also has a disproportionately high number of residents 65 and over — and that segment is expected to grow as Baby Boomers age in place.

The oldest Baby Boomers, born in 1946, turned 67 this year. The tail end of the cohort, born in 1964, is 49.

People 65 and over comprised 17.1 percent of the city's population in the U.S. Census of 2010 — up from 15.6 percent in 2000. In California as a whole, seniors make up just 11.4 percent of the population.

Age by itself is a poor yardstick for predicting what people will need or what the community will look like.

"There are some very young 80-year-olds and some very old 60-year-olds," notes John Sink, vice president for programs at the nonprofit senior agency Avenidas.

But even as many Boomers vow to stay young through exercise and nutrition, chronic illness and "major life events" such as loss of a spouse inevitably come with the years.

Sink, who watches the numbers as he helps plan programs for "older adults," says, "We're studying the needs of folks very carefully.

"It's hard to go by age. You have to go by needs and interests."

An informal 2006 "white paper" on the impact of aging Boomers on Palo Alto — authored by a task force of community leaders, including city officials — raised the specter of a community where "upwards of 40 percent of our total population will be 55 years of age or older" by 2030.

That surprising projection was based on a survey of more than 300 Palo Alto Baby Boomers, who said they aim to age in their homes and remain active in the community, according to the paper, titled "Impact of the Aging Baby Boom Population on Palo Alto's Social and Community Services." It was co-authored by Richard James, then director of community services for the City of Palo Alto and Lisa Hendrickson, president and CEO of Avenidas.

The survey found that 80 percent of Boomers, who possess a higher education level than any past generation, have no plans to leave Palo Alto when they retire.

That, and other surveys confirm that "older adults going forward are not going to fit the same model of older adults of the last generation," Sink said.

"They have a different self-image, different view of independence and self-sufficiency and of what they want. They're very interested in health, fitness and nutrition."

High on the priority list for this group are strategies for "aging in place" — staying in the home, but using an array of supports to do things like help turn a mattress, clean the gutters or care for a family member.

Sink segments current and future users of older-adult services into a range of categories: lifelong learners, health seekers, practical-help seekers, volunteers and the frail elderly.

The relative sizes of those categories could shift as Baby Boomers age.

In a recent snapshot of Palo Alto's current senior population, gleaned from a January 2013 survey of Avenidas users, Sink found that 40 percent come to the agency for "lifelong learning" opportunities; a third come for practical help; one in five come for fitness and not quite one in five come for the weekday hot lunch program, La Comida.

Twenty percent of respondents (81 out of 398) described themselves as "caregivers" to a spouse or another household member, a figure significantly up from 13 percent in the past.

"People don't self-identify as caregivers, but we're starting to see that dial go up," Sink said.

"A big chunk" of today's seniors have no monthly housing expense, with mortgages fully paid off, he said.

However, nearly half the Avenidas survey respondents said they're living on incomes of less than $50,000 a year.

Sink said he has yet to fully analyze the survey and also is awaiting age-specific data from the 2010 Census, particularly on income.

"We take our responsibility as being experts on older adults in Palo Alto very seriously because part of our charter is to consult with the city on the needs of older adults in the community," he said.

As Palo Alto's over-65 population expands, so does its cohort under the age of 18.

The segment of the city's population that's under 18 grew from 21.2 percent in the 2000 Census to 23.4 percent in 2010.

In the same period, enrollment in the Palo Alto school district has grown from 10,000 to 12,400 as of last fall, and school leaders are looking to build new elementary and middle-school classrooms.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.


Like this comment
Posted by barron park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 3, 2013 at 1:03 am

I am glad Chris Kenkricks addresses these important concerns. It seems current builders/city planners are not considering "parents' who may have to move in with grown kids. Three story town homes are not "senior friendly". Its critical to think about the aging population in all aspects of city planning. The senior concerns overlap with the safety concerns for children, but are just a bit different. Homes and streets need to consider the 65-80 year old who can no longer use stairs and can no longer drive safely. Its not like seniors will give up stairs and driving as Palo Alto planners provide few reasonable options for seniors.

It would be great if aging issues became a concern of the city in their planning. City planners should work on keep seniors in their homes or in the homes of their family members,when possible. City seems to want seniors to live in small, tiny apartments away from their longtime residences, away from family. Planners should address ways to make senior access easy in new residences and planned communities.

I do not quite understand Chris' comment about seniors having "incomes of $50,000". Does that include savings or is this income based on investments and social security.

also any info on price of new Palo Alto commons senior apartments?

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 3, 2013 at 8:26 am

If this is really something we want to look at, then we should start thinking about the issue of "granny flats" or "in law quarters" being allowed on many of the homes in town. In my extended family, this has worked well. At times the senior still lives in the same property but has part of the ground floor for sole use and someone else lives in the majority of the house, even with a separate entrance. In another case, a separate studio has been built on the side and the two groups share the same living/family room but a small bedroom/bath and kitchenette are built to accommodate.

At present, with the time it takes for things to be done in Palo Alto, to do something like this takes so long that it is impossible to do this work in a hurry. An older person may have already got beyond the stage of needing it before the necessary work can be done.

This type of arrangement needs to be done quickly to meet the needs of families. A two year schedule is not realistic when it comes to seniors' living needs. A fall or some other diagnosis may mean that changes in living arrangements have to be made very quickly. The Palo Alto process is too slow for this to happen.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 3, 2013 at 10:57 pm

My uncle and aunt have lived here for many years. Now in their 80's. Both active and 'with it'. They are hounded by realtors who "cold call', inquiring if and when they may be moving to a senior retirement facility. Who wants to live in a one bedroom tiny apartment, with elevator or walk up after years in their own home? Even with help, it's cheaper to stay. For whom are all these proposed senior apartments destined? Are they only for Palo Alto residents? Those from other counties coming to be near their own children? Are there restrictions on who can live in PAHA senior housing? - or any designated senior housing, What is the entrance minimum age limit? Must they be American citizens? And before anyone corks off re: my comments, just think about it. FOR WHOM are we supposed to build this housing? And what are the entrance requirements? That's a fair enough question.

Like this comment
Posted by barron park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 4, 2013 at 12:59 pm

granny flat idea sound very useful. I would hope planners thinking about the future would be discussing this and sharing information, instead of these "apartment options" for seniors. Developers should be required to have plans that accommodate future 'senior" issues.

The really nice apartment options for seniors are soooo expensive. For my parents ( as long as health permits) the best option will be for us to become an "extended" family. House will have to be redone in some manner for this. We are planning this now, before its needed.

I believe for healthy seniors options of being near family is very important. Mainly because they really need to limit driving in the busy Palo Alto area. Giving up driving is a primary concern I have for seniors as young drivers do not realize they are 'sharing the road".
I cannot imagine driving challenges improving for seniors in Palo Alto.

Seniors need to be near family who can casually limit seniors' time on the road. Of course improved "shuttles' would be great, but for many seniors walking is a risk. Shuttles need to be almost door to door.

Hope city council /planners take on project that keep seniors in their homes or in the homes of family members.

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2013 at 4:42 pm

Ah we come to the aging question and what to do in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years time. Seniors should not be forced, cold called or even taxed out. In fact staying in ones home is healthy but that home will end up costing in time and upkeep. Major life change that could be anything from death of loved one to stroke.

Remember senior friendly housing is needed along with care homes and nursing homes.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 4, 2013 at 4:48 pm

I'm not sure if door-to-door shuttles is something that the city can or should be involved with, other than enabling private taxi services within the city.

One thing the city can do is encourage neighborhood services (like grocery stores and restaurants) that are easily accessible either on foot or via quiet roads (not Alma or El Camino).

Also, the city needs to more strictly enforce the speed limits on 25mph residential roads so that seniors are not scared out of their own neighborhoods (eg Middlefield or Arastradero).

Like this comment
Posted by Walkable-Neighborhoods-Don't-Work
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 4, 2013 at 8:50 pm

> One thing the city can do is encourage neighborhood
> services (like grocery stores and restaurants)

We've just gone thru an example of a neighborhood market (MIKIs) failing --in large part because of a lack of customers. Most markets need more than 20K square feet for the store, and fairly large parking areas. Where in the world, in Palo Alto, does this poster believe that anyone can plop down these kinds of commercial activites within walking distances of Palo Alto's seniors?

Anyone thinking that plopping retails stores deep in our residential neighborhoods (like on Cowper, in Midtown) is a good idea is not thinking very clearly.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 4, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Santa Clara County has a great door-to-door service called Outreach. I am signing up my aunt and uncle in case they need it. Avenidas does a great job but limited by the volunteers to do the driving. Kudos to Trader Joe's - great with helping seniors with walkers and enabling them to shop. Can't manage a walker and a cart at the same time. It's finding reasonably priced repairmen/women, reliable housekeeping help, and in home care which can cost $50.00 an HOUR. There are the ones who do take advantage, money-wise - of the elderly ESPECIALLY IF THEY LIVE IN PALO ALTO. So be careful.

Like this comment
Posted by House Poor
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 5, 2013 at 12:09 am

Many Palo Altans are trapped in their homes by taxes. If you've lived here for many years, you have low property taxes and a big capital gain. If you sell, you'll have to pay capital gains taxes and you may face higher property taxes for a smaller place. But if you stay where you are and your estate is under the $5.25 million exclusion, no capital gains taxes will ever be paid, and your children may also enjoy your advantageous property tax bill. Prop. 30 exacerbated this. The best answer is to cut the property tax rates, but that won't happen in this political climate. So the local real estate market will be tight, and the population will have huge incentives"age in place."

Like this comment
Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2013 at 7:54 am

How about seniors pay no property tax and allow them to sell with little or no capital gains. This would allow them to buy smaller units and give them much needed money for future health needs.

Long term health care.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 5, 2013 at 8:25 am

> How about seniors pay no property tax

California allows something like this now, via Prop.60 and Prop.90--

Web Link

If you or your spouse who resides with you is age 55 or older, you may buy or construct a new home of equal or lesser value than your existing home and transfer the trended base value to your new property.

This is a one-time only benefit. You must buy or complete construction of your replacement home within two years of the sale of the original property. Both the original home and the new home must be your principal place of residence.

In other words, you can transfer your current property tax assessment to another property, if you want to downsize.

With home prices above a million dollars, and the need for a significant "nest egg" for a comfortable retirement, it pays to have a comprehensive asset management program in place before you retire. Prop.13 also has provisions for transferring one's property to a child at the same base assessment.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 5, 2013 at 9:33 am

It would help if the city planners took older people and their needs into account. Many can't ride bicycles, so all this forcing people to ride bikes or walk isn't helpful. Taking away parking close to stores isn't helpful. Even if a person has someone drive them, they still can't walk long distances just to get to the store entrance. Tiny narrow parking spaces (like those at Miki's) don't work, because they can't get the door open wide enough.

Like this comment
Posted by Subhash Narang
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 5, 2013 at 9:47 am

I agree that multistory, high density apartments are not convenient for seniors. Palo Alto should allow seniors the choice to build an annex to their current dwelling. They could move into the annex, rent out the the original house for extra income ( considering that many of them do not have sufficient income) or have their children move into the house. As a result, they will have people nearby to check on their welfare on a daily basis. An added benefit will be avoidance of traffic congestion around the high density housing alternatives.Disproportionate burden on communities like Maybell will be avoided. The city and the citizens should consider this approach to demonstrate that all communities are treated in a fair and equitable manner.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet L
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 5, 2013 at 11:26 am

"I agree that multistory, high density apartments are not convenient for seniors." Subhash

That's not true at all. Many seniors trade in single family homes for smaller dwellings that are easier to take care of. With an elevator, being multi-floor is not a problem. My grandmother sold her house and bought a 2Bdr/2Bath condo in a building with an elevator and it was perfect for her after my grandfather died.

No one is stating that seniors have to move out of their homes, however. That's a personal choice influenced by economics and their capabilities. To offer more dense housing options aimed at seniors does not mean that the city or anyone else is trying to force them from their homes.

As for driving vs walking, most people are capable of walking safely long after they cannot drive safely. I see rather frail elderly seniors walking slowly to the grocery and getting on the bus in my neighborhood all the time. One gentleman takes his mobility scooter right down the street. I'm glad they don't need to set up rides to take them everywhere. A walkable neighborhood keeps them independent, saves them money and keeps everyone safer on the street.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 5, 2013 at 12:04 pm

I agree that many seniors prefer high-density housing. A big house with a big yard is too much work for people that no longer have children living at home and hiring maintenance people is too expensive and open to fraud.

However, please include wide safe sidewalks to these high-density homes. Narrow sidewalks close to speeding cars and blind driveways are very intimidating.

Another benefit of high-density housing is that it allows community services like grocery stores and restaurants to be close to many homes. A grocery store may not make much sense in a sparse neighborhood where few people live within walking distance, but it is perfect when hundreds of households live less than a block away.

Like this comment
Posted by Emptynestors
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 5, 2013 at 2:01 pm

The comment above by Wayne Martin about property tax solutions are correct, yet there are "gotchas". If we want to relocate to San Francisco, so we can take advantage of their wonderful transit and purchase a condo with an elevator, we can't use neither prop 60 or 90 because counties get to choose if they wish to participate.
So we "could" purchase a condo but the state of public transportation in Palo Alto is abysmal. It really does hurt those that either don't want to or can't drive anymore.
And while being downtown helps, what if one needs to go to Kaiser or wants to go a cultural event? As another poster commented, many seniors find it hard to walk any distance nor are bikes a solution.

Like this comment
Posted by Janet L
a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 5, 2013 at 2:19 pm

EmptyNestors, have you taken the bus on El Camino before? It's far from abysmal. The buses run every 15 minutes or so, even on a Sunday morning. They are air-conditioned, clean and lower themselves for passengers who need extra help boarding. I was pleasantly surprised.

Caltrain is faster, which is one reason ridership went up 10% last year. People with disabilities that keep them from walking or climbing stairs can be lifted aboard as well. I use Caltrain to go to work every day and see how it works for the blind, those in wheelchairs and those with mental disabilities.

Downtown Palo Alto is a very good location for people who want to use transit and will only get better in the future. How much better depends on how much old-timers block changes like BRT because they can't imagine how useful transit can be.

Like this comment
Posted by Gail
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 5, 2013 at 5:29 pm

There are only 4 counties left in California where a person 55 and older can sell their home and take their low property taxes with them. San Mateo County and Santa Clara County are two of these counties.
A family is smart to wait until one spouse dies before selling the family house. That way the family can take advantage of the
"stepped up" value basis. The house is appraised upon the death of one spouse. Then, when the other spouse sells the house, the capital gains on the sale of the house are based on the new, higher stepped up appraisal rate. Realtors conveniently don't let seniors know about this tax law.

Like this comment
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 5, 2013 at 5:45 pm

We do have a 'cottage' next to our house. It was actually built first and lived in while the main house was built. When our 2-story big house is too big we plan to rent it out, or have family live there, and we'll live in the cottage. It should work for us for a long time.

Like this comment
Posted by gfs
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 5, 2013 at 8:14 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2013 at 9:16 am

This is why the Maybell Project (and others like it) are needed.

Like this comment
Posted by hates Prop 13
a resident of Escondido School
on Aug 6, 2013 at 10:16 am

Senior citizens have no obligation to remain in their large homes in Palo Alto; they are free to sell these homes and move to condos in SF or anywhere else. They would just need to pay their fair share of property taxes, rather than the Prop-13 rates from when they purchased their homes decades ago. With the millions of dollars of (yes, partially taxed) profit they'd obtain from selling their larger homes, this is still very doable.

Like this comment
Posted by Louismidtown
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 7, 2013 at 9:06 pm

I noticed that no one seems to be talking about "community." Seniors are a part of a community and any city planning should consider the entire spectrum of age. As the article points out, we have increases at both ends of the age groups. Yes, the middle is paying for it, but that's what we've always had in society. And the middle will grow into the aged and expect some payoff from supporting the others.
Self-interests change with age. The planners face an especially tough job in an upscale place like Palo Alto.
How do we keep a sense of community here? Certainly not by continually adding condos and high rises. Certainly not by ignoring traffic and parking needs. Certainly not by allowing giant downtown office developments. And probably not by a bad city government that's screwed up library building and school building projects.
We can't build a sense of community with a sense of responsibility ... and I don't mean the malarkey of such BS as the meaningless statement, "I take full responsibility."
Our city council MUST take charge of keeping us a community rather than destroying it for special interests.
Solutions anyone?

Like this comment
Posted by Toby
a resident of Woodside
on Aug 8, 2013 at 11:54 pm

"A family is smart to wait until one spouse dies before selling the family house. That way the family can take advantage of the

"stepped up" value basis. The house is appraised upon the death of one spouse. Then, when the other spouse sells the house, the capital gains on the sale of the house are based on the new, higher stepped up appraisal rate. Realtors conveniently don't let seniors know about this tax law."

It doesn't quite work that nicely. Talk to an Enrolled Agent or a CPA that specializes in individual taxation.