COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PAUL DOWNEY

An open letter to Mayor Bob Filner

A chance to lead on aging policy for San Diego

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Dear Mayor Bob Filner,

By 2017, there will be more people age 65 and older than kids younger than age 5 in San Diego. By 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older, and here in San Diego there will be a 75 percent increase of seniors age 60 years and older, a 91 percent increase of seniors age 65 and older, and a 41 percent increase of seniors age 70 years and older.

The economic reality today is that two in five seniors in San Diego lack enough money to pay for basic needs like food, shelter, transportation and health care. Moreover, the graying of America is not just a “seniors” issue. It impacts everyone. Increasingly, adults ages 30 to 45 are taking on more caregiver responsibilities as they raise their own families and pursue careers. This changing dynamic causes a strain on San Diego households.

You had a stellar record on aging issues in Congress that now must translate into leadership here in San Diego. If you serve two terms as mayor, you will leave office in the midst of the largest demographic tsunami in history, as thousands of baby boomers turn 65 on a daily basis. What you do now in terms of infrastructure, planning and budgeting will dictate whether San Diego is prepared for this silver tsunami.

Here are some of the areas we are looking to you for your guidance and leadership in the coming years:

Affordable housing

We need to find a solution to the loss of redevelopment funds for senior housing. About 46 percent of the seniors we take at Senior Community Centers tell us that housing is their primary issue. We believe the numbers are underreported and are probably around 70 percent. But seniors, like all of us, have pride. We are looking to you to think smarter about livable neighborhoods, which include accessibility to grocery stores, parks, health care and transit.

Parks and recreation

The current City of San Diego Park & Recreation Department is focused on kids and families and has minimal programs for seniors. Your help is needed to put seniors on equal footing and create programming and facilities that meet the needs of older adults.

Transportation

What plans do you have to make traveling for seniors more convenient, safe and affordable, while being cost-effective to the city’s bottom line? To remain independent, seniors need affordable transportation so they can make doctor’s appointments and buy groceries.

Employment gap

As more seniors retire, it is inevitable that the United States will experience a labor shortage. We look to you, our mayor, as the voice of the working senior. You are the perfect candidate to change how people think about the older worker and to do away with workplace ageism. Likewise, because of the labor shortage, the city will need to encourage employers to provide incentives to keep seniors working, allowing our economy to continue moving along.

Filner, we are looking to you to create a systemic and strategic approach to aging policy for the city of San Diego. The numbers and challenges are real. It is time to address these issues and prepare before it’s too late.



Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to keeping San Diego seniors healthy and independent. Learn more at servingseniors.org.

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