Aging in Place Strategy Aims to Keep WeHo a Livable Community for Older Residents

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Athletic young men jogging shirtless in the sun up and down Santa Monica Boulevard. People at local gyms and studios trying to master the latest fitness trend. Partiers strolling from club to club at night on the Strip and in Boystown or lining up to gain entry to Laurel Hardware. That’s a popular vision of West Hollywood.

But there’s another. The fifty-something woman slowly navigating her electric wheelchair up the incline on North Sweetzer Avenue. The four men in their eighties playing chess in Plummer Park and joking with one another in Russian. The partially blind woman with her dog’s leash in one hand and her walking cane in the other waiting for someone to open the door for her at Starbucks.

In West Hollywood, a city of 34,399 people as of the 2010 U.S. Census, 5,125 of residents are ages 65 to 79. Those who are 80 and older number 1,904. And while West Hollywood and its residents continue to age, the question is whether its residents can age in place. Consider that 80% of us are renters and the majority of the city’s residential buildings were built 30 or more years ago, well before government accessibility standards were in place, and many need repairs. While rated one of the most walkable cities in California, many in West Hollywood still depend on motor transportation to get access to basic services, not an option if you’re visually impaired.

Those and other factors are behind an effort by the City of West Hollywood to develop a five-year plan to let its residents “age in place,” the term of art for remaining in one’s own home while growing older rather than moving to a senior center or assisted living facility.

This article is the first in a series that describes each of the eight elements of the proposed aging in place strategy. The strategic plan continues to be reviewed by various city boards and commissions and other groups for feedback.

The project, called “Aging in Place / Aging in Community,” is being shepherded by Elizabeth Savage, director of the city’s Department of Human Services and Rent Stabilization. Already Savage, who has been working with various other city departments and divisions as well as consultants and local residents, is getting the plan in front of residents and decision-makers to get their feedback. The overall vision is stated in a draft of the plan. “West Hollywood is a caring and supportive city where aging is embraced. Therefore, it has the vision that adults as they age are supported in ways that help them to remain in their homes. The city, as an age-friendly community, is the place where older adults safely age with health and dignity.”

Savage said the idea of an aging in place effort has come from a number of directions. There are the conversations in recent years about setting up a system that would allow seniors on second floors of building to have first rights to rent vacant units on the more easily accessible first floor. Could a resident of a multi-bedroom apartment who no longer is living with children or a spouse swap it for a one-bedroom apartment and still remain under his or her former rent stabilization protection? In 2010, Barbara Meltzer, a public relations and marketing consultant, worked with Lindsey Horvath, then a city council member and now mayor, and Victor Regnier, a USC professor of architecture and gerontology, to stage a symposium called “Pathways to Positive Aging” at Plummer Park. With the conversation growing, in 2014 the City Council asked city staffers to develop an aging in place strategy.

The strategy that has been developed is organized around eight areas that the World Health Organization has identified as having an influence on the health and well being of older adults. They include open space and buildings, transportation, respect and inclusion, housing, communications and information, civic participation and employment, health and community and community services and social participation. Goals of the first area are as outlined below. Succeeding articles will explain the other goals.

OPEN SPACE & BUILDINGS

The draft of the plan notes that WeHo already is described as a “small town surrounded by the big city” and is noted for its walkability and community spaces such as the library and the community center. Going forward, the plan proposes additional measures to create a safe and accessible places for other residents to gather.

Priority 1 Goals:

  • Use the Neighborhood Watch model to increase involvement of neighbors with one another. Neighborhood Watch is a public safety effort in which volunteers in different neighborhoods work together to keep an eye out for possible crimes and make sure the Sheriff’s Station is notified.
  • Encourage the Sheriff’s station to establish a permanent bicycle team in West Hollywood. Currently in WeHo, the 16th most densely populated city in the nation, sheriff’s deputies for the most part patrol in cars, a practice more typical in less densely populated areas. That practice increasingly is giving way in other cities to foot patrols or bicycle patrols that increase police engagement with local residents.
  • Increase lighting in public areas and embed lighting on city streets.

Priority 2 Goals:

  • Redesign the Plummer Park senior lounge as a space where older adults can share art and culture as well as meet to talk and play cards.
  • Encourage the development of creative open and green spaces where older residents can gather. These might include spaces on rooftops or in alleyways.
  • Partner with local businesses to use existing space as gathering spaces. Some local businesses — independent coffee shops, businesses that operate during untraditional hours, businesses with patios — may be willing to let older adults gather there.
  • Install places to sit in public areas and beautify the crosswalks and sidewalks that are important transportation passageways for older adults on foot.

Priority 3: Goals

  • Improve public access to city facilities by installing where necessary ramps, wider entrances, more readable signs, easier seating.
  • Encourage local businesses to also improve accessibility with easier to navigate entrances and lighting.
  • Improve the accessibility parking spaces for people who can’t walk easily. Many parallel parking spaces in lots in the city have such little room between them that it is difficult for anyone to get out of the driver’s seat, much less a person who must get out with a walker.
  • Improve the visibility of walking paths to accommodate scooters and walkers.

Tomorrow: Transportation and Respect and Inclusion

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luca d
luca d
4 years ago

i think the city should implement a tax system that forces those west hollywood residents in the upper 25% of earners and wealth held, to pay 50% of their income and accumulated wealth, annually, to support these people. aging and being poor is un-American and we should supplement their living expenses. lets start a campaign #pooroldpeoplematter, and redistribute west hollywood’s wealth and truly make this a creative city. and for the kind elderly gentleman who has to find a parking spot every 2 to 4 years to vote, the city should go and pick him up and carry him to… Read more »

Don Azars
Don Azars
4 years ago

The FIRST priority should be rent stabilization and related assistance (high floor to lower floor as described above), Access to drug stores, groceries, mandatory low/no sugar items as diabetes is prevalent among seniors, increased information flow to seniors regarding discounts, bus fares, medicare info, internet access and/or internet operators availability, – I am 70 years old, working and lucky to have my health at present, resident of WeHo since 1978.

James 'Jim' Chud
James 'Jim' Chud
4 years ago

Elizabeth, as one of the participants in the city’s event that investigated our needs for aging in place, and one of your most ardent supporters in the area, i trust that issue of cost of living is being thoroughly investigated in preparation of he city’s plan and applaud Wehoville’s taking on the responsibiity of sharing the information in a readily digestible way. Of course you know I will be going over the plan with my usual degree of analysis, and will make my views well known when i find both transgressions and quality aspects of the plan. Affordable housing is… Read more »

fine7760
4 years ago

I’m 70 years of age in pretty good health right now and own my condo. My biggest fear is being placed in a convalescent hospital if I do indeed become very sick or injured. I have a younger friend who is chronically ill and uses Kaiser Hospital. He has been placed in various convalescent hospitals over the years for about a month each time. These places are not only filthy but also very depressing. I have stated on more than one occasion I would rather be crawling on my floor than be sent to one of these depressing places. The… Read more »

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
4 years ago

WeHo being “one of the most walkable cities in California” is like the Vatican being one of the most walkable countries in Europe. I would agree that the Ellis act makes aging in place more of a lottery than a solid perspective for renters. More progressive cities in CA are also challenging the practice by sharply increasing relocation payments for tenants and therefore discouraging real estate sharks from displacing long term tenants for a quick profit. Still, I’m glad to learn of this thoughtful effort by the city and thanks to Wehoville for shining a light on it with this… Read more »

Pinya T.
Pinya T.
4 years ago

I’m 69 and I live on fixed low income. I fully agree with SaveWeho. The #1 issue is the cost of living. Other issues are more information on city programs and services for seniors in Russian by mail and more city sponsored tours, entertainment, everyday buses to Jons supermarket for affordable food.

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 years ago

Have to agree with SaveWeho on this one. If they can’t keep their place, or any place, nothing else matters. It’s a huge fear amongst our neighbors and anyone of or approaching a certain age.

SaveWeho
SaveWeho
4 years ago

@Man of Reason: I read the article and your nasty, pointless assault of a comment. My point is a lot of these other issues doesn’t hit the overwhelmingly main issue for “aging in place” which is housing. Feel free to make your point…but condescending personal attacks should be left off the board.

Man of Reason
Man of Reason
4 years ago

@SaveWeHo. There probably should also be a program for those who can’t comprehend what they are reading. The story says that the the Open Space and Buildings is one of eight parts of the strategy. One of the other parts, the story says, is “housing.” And, the story says, if you can’t read it, that Wehoville will take up these subjects one by one on different days.

SaveWeho
SaveWeho
4 years ago

While I commend these…adding bicycle cops or street lighting, etc really has nothing to do with “aging in place”. The #1 issue about aging in place is the cost of living. That isn’t mentioned here at all. Seniors, disabled, etc are on a fixed income. I’d say 80% of all seniors are considered “low income”, and 99% of the disabled. If you truly want to help these established residents…you’d look into how to subsidize their rents. Maybe this is an opportunity to expand the “affordable income units” to include seniors and disabled and keep them in place. Instead of prices… Read more »

Dan Morin
Dan Morin
4 years ago

Elizabeth Savage is to be commended for the Aging in Place scenario. However, as she and Peter Noonan know, while Aging in Place is a commendable objective it can be rendered moot as long as the dreaded Ellis Act exists. A concerted effort must be employed to radically modify this horrendous law or, better yet, eliminate it. I do not understand why WeHo doesn’t join forces with Santa Monica, Berkeley, San Francisco, etc. and challenge Ellis in court. Some say that the only way to change Ellis is via the legislature. If you take that position, then there would have… Read more »

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