As cards were being shuffled, a game of gin rummy at Glendale's Adult Recreation Center was interrupted. Four women and two men--all over 60--stopped to talk with a visitor about a topic close to their hearts: the unusually large number of senior citizens who live in Glendale.
All six had raised families in Glendale and stayed there rather than move to beach or desert retirement communities. After all, they said, Glendale is a relatively safe, pleasant and well-run community where longevity as a resident earns respect.
"I wouldn't want to live anyplace else," said an 80-year-old widow who still lives in her own home.
But the card players' discussion took on a tinge of resentment as they talked of recent changes in Glendale, of the massive redevelopment that has introduced high-rise offices and traffic into a once sleepy suburb and helped fuel spiraling rents.
'Not Even a Drop in the Bucket'
Why, they asked, haven't more of the benefits of that redevelopment been earmarked for seniors, especially for housing? Why is there no rent control in Glendale?
Yes, the city in the past few years has increased services for seniors, such as dial-a-ride vans and referrals for home-sharing. "But that's not even a drop in the bucket," said another player, an 84-year-old man.
That informal talk recently reflected the ambivalence that many people, young and old, in Glendale feel about the fact that about 22% of the 150,000 residents are over 60. Of the 84 cities in Los Angeles County, that percentage is topped only by the tiny City of Industry, with 30%, and West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, both with about 28%, according to 1980 census figures. The countywide average is 14.1%.
On one hand, residents say, it is a compliment to the quality of life in Glendale that so many seniors decide to remain and stay active in churches and social organizations.
Small Town With Big Attractions
"People simply don't move out in great numbers," said Mark Doyle, a retired professor of gerontology at Glendale Community College. He ran unsuccessfully last year for City Council. "It is a small town with all the attractions of a big city."
On the other hand, officials and residents worry about a drain on the city's vitality and tax coffers if the elderly population continues to grow. To counterbalance the elderly, many of whom bought homes in northern Glendale before real estate prices skyrocketed, officials say they want to attract younger families by helping developers build economical town houses in southern Glendale. Many people in their 60s say their children cannot afford to stay in Glendale, even though they want to.
Concerns about the aging population have come to the forefront in recent months as spokesmen for the elderly in Glendale have become more forceful in demanding services from a municipal government that has traditionally frowned on many social welfare programs. Despite their numbers, Glendale's seniors have not made many such demands because so many are affluent, conservative homeowners.
In that lack of demands, Glendale contrasts sharply with other communities with large elderly populations, such as Long Beach and Santa Monica. Now, that may be changing.
"Glendale is currently experiencing some of the growth characteristics of the older population that other communities may experience in the future," said Robin Wilkes, chief executive officer of SHINE, or Senior Help Information and Networking for Elderly, a Glendale-based organization that, among other things, arranges foster-home care for the frail elderly.
"There's a trend nationally for there to be a shift in the senior population from the inner cities and rural areas to the suburbs. It seems Glendale was a bit ahead of that shift," said Wilkes, whose organization gets some of its funding from Glendale's federal community-development allotment.
Although they stress that most seniors in Glendale are financially comfortable and that the city has stepped up programs for the elderly, city officials will soon begin studying how many seniors need additional services such as subsidized housing.
"Yes, we do have a greater number of senior citizens than some other places, but we also have a greater number who are financially able to take care of themselves," said Councilman Carl Raggio.
Mayor Jerold Milner, in explaining the study soon to be undertaken by the Community Development Department, said: "The difficulty is that none of us knows the magnitude of the problem. I can deal with specifics. I can't deal with emotional generalities."
According to the 1980 census, about 2,700 elderly Glendale residents have incomes below the poverty level, defined as $6,023 a year for an older couple and $4,775 for an older person living alone. But Glendale officials say those statistics do not take into account how many of those seniors may own their own homes without a mortgage and how many may live comfortably with relatives.
Meanwhile, many local institutions, such as hospitals and Glendale Community College, are catering more to the elderly, administrators say. Even the Glendale Galleria began 1 1/2 years ago to co-sponsor the Go-Getters, made up primarily of senior citizens with heart and lung problems. They hike for exercise through the air-conditioned shopping mall.
"Because of the socioeconomic stability here, there was a perception that the needs of senior citizens in Glendale were not as great as elsewhere," said Wilkes. "That perception is changing, among the government and among seniors themselves. And that's a healthy recognition."
Last month, that recognition was reinforced by the announcement that Glendale is among only 104 cities in the nation with enough senior citizens to apply for a grant from the New York-based Living at Home Program, geared to keeping seniors out of nursing homes. The only other California cities eligible are Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Francisco and Stockton. A coalition of Glendale organizations and hospitals has applied for $350,000.
Lag in Services Cited
Senior activists and younger social workers complain that Glendale lagged behind neighboring Burbank and Pasadena in providing municipal services for seniors and remains far behind Santa Monica and Long Beach, where more of the elderly are renters and more politically active than in Glendale.
Glendale officials prefer "to spend money on street repairs and police protection instead of having a run-down city and handing out money" to social welfare programs, Councilwoman Ginger Bremberg explained. "It was a pattern set many, many years ago."
But there is general agreement that Glendale officials began to build a network of senior services in the past decade, using federal, state and county funds and the transportation-dedicated portions of sales tax revenues.
The city's philosophy is "to be more of a facilitator and clearinghouse for senior services than to be a provider itself," said Judy Brooks, recreation supervisor for senior programs. "We can't be all things to all people, but I think we are looking at innovative services with an emphasis on self-help."
Among the achievements and plans city officials point to are:
More than $800,000 contributed by the city in land and funds for two federally subsidized senior citizen housing projects built under the auspices of Southern California Presbyterian Homes. The 97-unit Park Paseo building on South Isabel Street opened last summer and has a waiting list of 1,700 eligible tenants; the 167-apartment Casa de la Paloma on South Kenwood Street opened four years ago and has a waiting list of 500.
A city promise of land and aid for a proposal by the Soroptimist International of Glendale to build a 51-unit senior citizen building at Louise Street and Monterey Drive. That project, however, has been turned down for federal subsidies twice; another application will be made, Soroptimist officials said.
The construction seven years ago of a new building to hold a large dining room for the senior lunch program at the Adult Recreation Center, 201 E. Colorado St. About 250 free or low-cost lunches are served every day there and at senior centers in two parks, Sparr Heights and Maple. Officials hope to double the size of the building at Sparr Heights this year and finish reconstruction of outdoor shuffleboard courts and lawn bowling facilities at Colorado Street.
The city takeover five years ago of a dial-a-ride van service for seniors that now provides about 2,000 rides a month for a suggested donated fare of 75 cents a trip. Hours are expected to be expanded soon and drivers will be required to help carry groceries and assist passengers from the vans to their homes. Also, the city last year began the Beeline, a 25-cent-a-ride shuttle bus through downtown that stops at housing projects for seniors and is heavily used by them. The city also uses some of its sales tax funds to help subsidize senior discounts on Southern California Rapid Transit District buses.
$126,500 contributed by the city to SHINE over two years for its home-care placement service and nearly $80,000 for a new city program, Home Sharing for the Elderly, which tries to match seniors who have extra space in their houses with others who need inexpensive lodging.
Free office space and $1,000 a year over the last three years to the Senior Employment job placement service run by the Greater Glendale Council on Aging. An estimated 500 seniors a year have found work through that service, council officials say.
Glendale was ranked in the middle third of cities in Los Angeles County in amount of discretionary public funds spent on projects for the elderly in a study by Ray Steinberg, professor emeritus of gerontology at USC. But Glendale ranked in the top third when social workers were asked about available services.
"Glendale looked better than actual dOllars reflected," Steinberg explained. "That could mean that its reputation outstrips reality or that the dollars are used more efficiently."
There is disagreement among local politicians and among senior activists on how strong a political force the elderly are in Glendale.
'Ants on a Log'
Charles Cressey, 74, former Glendale representative to the Senior Assembly in Sacramento, described the local elderly as "a fractured group. . . . As a result, he contended, the City Council "gives us lip service, but not very much more."
Others, however, say that the Greater Glendale Council on Aging has produced powerful leaders in such people as the Rev. Eugene Golay and Helen Berger. The council is a private consortium of senior citizen groups.
"I think the needs of seniors are being recognized because there is more funding for it, but also because we have some good, influential people like them in Glendale who can get things done and don't stop until they do," said Grace Farwell, supervisor of Home Sharing for the Elderly.
Golay, a 74-year-old Methodist minister, said, "I think we are making an impact because the council has been very good on transportation and recreation." But, when it comes to housing, Golay said, "This council and Redevelopment Agency have not understood the changing demographics."
Plea for Housing Aid
At the Dec. 17 Redevelopment Agency meeting, Golay made an impassioned plea--one councilman caustically referred to it as a sermon--that the city begin to set aside 20% of its tax increment for subsidized housing, especially for the elderly. Under a change in state law enacted last year, Glendale must do that but can defer the action for 10 years if the agency has other financial obligatIons.
The agency, stressing its plans for a new downtown garage, hotel and office, retail and housing center, voted to defer the housing subsidy for at least a year. Building a strong tax base to support city services, including those for the elderly, should take precedence over immediate housing needs, the agency decided. In the meantime, officials said they would do a study of the needy elderly.
The change in the redevelopment law was enacted to stop abuses of redevelopment projects in other cities, Milner said.
"It would be terribly shortsighted of us to use even 20% of our tax increment for stopgap measures to aid a segment of population that has never been adequately identified, as opposed to using it to hasten the redevelopment of downtown, which will help the entire community," he said.
Golay's statement made something of splash in the usually placid waters of Glendale politics and he says he'll keep at it. "There are lots of seniors here who are well-to-do. Not millionaires, but people who have plenty to live on," he said. "But there are also lots who are just getting by on Social Security."