It’s not easy growing old. Aching knees, blurred vision and slower reflexes are just part of it. Oftentimes it is the mental more than the physical that brings difficulty dealing with the transition. The inability to be independent, the loss of loved ones and the isolation that may come from being home-bound take their toll on the psyche. That, in turn, can accelerate physical ailments, making it critical to remain an active member of the community.
It’s no wonder then why so many seniors are outraged by a plan by city officials to shift most services for them to the Ken Edwards Center where WISE & Healthy Aging currently offers meals, rides, counseling and other support. No services are being reduced. What’s at the core of their displeasure is, in their eyes, another loss — the loss of the Senior Recreation Center in Palisades Park, and with that the beautiful views of Santa Monica Bay.
City officials have yet to finalize a plan for programming, but the idea is to create an activities center for all segments of the community where the Senior Center currently sits. They recommended the plan, and the City Council approved it Tuesday (Councilmembers Bobby Shriver and Kevin McKeown were opposed), because they felt consolidating services with WISE, and in one location, would make it easier for seniors to access them. While that may prove to be true, it still hasn’t softened the blow. It’s understandable given that seniors deal with so much loss in such a short period. They cherish the ocean view that comes with the Senior Center, they like the routine and, most of all, they enjoy the camaraderie. In letters to this newspaper, seniors said they now feel marginalized.
But when looking at the list of services approved by the council, it doesn’t feel that way. The council expanded on-call transportation by 1,000 hours, which city officials estimate will help keep 50 more seniors in their homes. The council also further strengthened its relationship with WISE & Healthy Aging, a reputable organization that not only helps seniors access benefits, manage their bank accounts and avoid being the victim of scams, but also gives them a voice, empowers them and provides them ample opportunities to remain engaged. In all, City Hall spends approximately $16.2 million a year on services for adults 65 and older. Clearly, this community cares about the older and wiser generation.
That said, the transition is going to be difficult for some. City officials and WISE must move slowly and show sensitivity, something that has been lacking in this process. There must also be a detailed road map for the move and a clear idea of what programming will take place at the new activities center. The lack of such a plan was part of the reason why Shriver ultimately voted against the proposal, and rightfully so. It should have been fleshed out more since uncertainty only breeds fear, and with fear comes anger.
It would be ideal if during the days, when those who are younger and theoretically working, the center continues to offer programs for seniors, such as the popular improv and exercise classes and bingo. Take use of those inspiring, uplifting views. Seniors will still be able to socialize, and those who want the lunches or access other vital services can use Dial-a-Ride or take the Big Blue Bus to get to the Ken Edwards Center, which is just a few blocks to the east from Palisades Park. In the evenings, and perhaps on weekends, the activities center could offer programming tailored for a younger crowd.
If that is the plan, the Daily Press supports the consolidation of services and the transition of the Senior Center into an activities center for all. But it must be handled with care and compassion. We do not believe the plan was devised as a means to punish seniors or is a land grab by City Hall, as some letter writers have alleged. That just doesn’t make sense given the facts. The plan is meant to help and if done correctly it will and the pain should be minimal. If not, elected officials could feel the pain come election time, a pain that even Ben-Gay won’t be able to make go away.
There’s no doubt that the Ken Edwards Center isn’t the most attractive building in Santa Monica, but it’s functional, has ample parking and is centrally located near many bus lines. It makes sense to have a one-stop shop there for seniors. But that view of the bay from Palisades Park means a lot to those who use the Senior Center, and City Hall should keep that in mind.