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An open letter to the San Diego mayoral candidates

What are your plans to accommodate the influx of seniors facing our city?

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Dear San Diego mayoral candidates,

There are some basic facts you should be aware of as the potential incoming mayor of our city:

· By 2017, there will be more people 65 and older than kids younger than age 5.

· By 2030, one in five Americans, essentially 20 percent of our voters, will be age 65 or older.

· By 2030, in the San Diego region alone, there will be a 75 percent increase in 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.

· Increasingly, adults ages 30 to 45 are taking on more caregiver responsibilities as they raise their own families and pursue careers. The changing dynamic causes a strain on San Diego households.

These numbers may seem abstract and somewhat academic as you run for mayor in a city with lots of challenges in 2012. But 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. 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 will turn 65 on a daily basis. What you do now in terms of infrastructure, planning and budgeting will dictate whether San Diego is prepared.

It is important that San Diegans hear exactly what those tactics and leadership strategies are and any new ideas you may have to help our seniors now and in the future. Your participation in our mayoral forum on the evening of May 3 is appreciated, and I thank you for stepping up to share with us your thoughts and plans for aging policy in San Diego.

At the Seniors First San Diego Mayoral Candidates Forum presented by Senior Community Centers, you will be presented with key topics and concerns facing seniors:

· 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?

· Health care delivery — With a rapidly changing and evolving health care system, what measures will be taken with technology, such as wireless health, to promote wellness among seniors and to reduce financial strains on our health care system?

· Nutrition — Food is an essential part of life. With the growing senior population, how will you make an effort to provide adequate nutrition to keep seniors healthy?

· Affordable housing — With the impending influx of senior residents, how will you guide plans for affordable senior housing? Would you recommend building up, rather than out? Will you provide services within walking distance?

· Employment gap — As more seniors retire, it is inevitable that the United States will experience a labor shortage. What incentives and ideas do you have to keep seniors working and our economy moving along?

The time has come for a mayor who recognizes the importance of creating a systemic and strategic approach to aging policy for the city of San Diego. The numbers and challenges are real. The window is still open to be proactive in our planning. If that window shuts with nothing being done, we will once again be in a crisis mode for something we knew was coming.

The graying of America is not just a "senior issue." It impacts everyone. That is why it is critical that we elect leadership prepared to take action. There is power in numbers, and as a group, seniors have tremendous economic and political clout. I certainly hope all of the mayoral candidates recognize this, and that whoever is elected will commit themselves to making smart decisions regarding law, policy, services and more to positively affect the future of our seniors’ lives.

Columnist note: The Seniors First San Diego Mayoral Candidates Forum presented by Senior Community Centers is May 3 from 5:15 to 6:45 p.m. at the Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center in downtown San Diego. George Chamberlin, executive editor of The Daily Transcript, will moderate. As of press time, all four major candidates — Carl DeMaio, Bonnie Dumanis, Bob Filner and Nathan Fletcher — have confirmed their attendance. The event is sponsored by The Daily Transcript and PRIME/San Diego Seniors. Seating is limited, so please reserve your seat in advance by visiting servingseniors.org or calling 619-487-0743.

While most of our questions for the mayoral forum will be predetermined, we have left one question open for the public to contribute. Please submit your specific question for consideration by Tuesday to Christina Griffith at christina.griffith@servingseniors.org.

Downey is the president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at servingseniors.org.

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