“Boomers are going to want to continue to contribute and to participate in meaningful ways,” says Debra Sheets, an assistant professor and coordinator of California State University, Northridge’s Interdisciplinary Gerontology Program. “It won’t be a time about retirement and golfing but of using their education to help others.” But is America ready for the golden age of boomers – generally seen as those born between 1946 and 1964? The bulk of the baby boomer generation will begin retiring after 2010. Beginning in 2011 and for the next two decades, some 10,000 people will turn 65 each and every day. “That alone conveys the magnitude more than sheer numbers,” says Sheets, 50. More importantly for Los Angeles, baby boomers will also intensify the city’s ongoing struggle with how it will serve the needs of an older population that has grown by almost 11 percent – 60,000 more seniors between 2000 and last August alone – while federal and state funding for seniors in that time has increased by only 2.5 percent. “The aging of the population is going to have a major impact on transportation, housing, land use and location of health and long-term care services,” says Fernando Torres Gil, director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Policy Research on Aging and former aging advocate for the Clinton administration. “Fortunately, L.A. is further ahead in meeting these challenges than most cities.” Activist seniors But funding for increasing senior services and the programs of the city’s Department of Aging remain a concern. “While (the Department of Aging) has demonstrated its ability to leverage community resources effectively, despite our efforts, demand for services continues to outpace available resources,” says General Manager Laura Trejo. Officials are looking at ways to make facilities more senior-friendly – from reducing walking time to terminals at Los Angeles International Airport to lowering senior fares on public transportation, from improving nutrition and lunch programs at centers to developing volunteer programs for senior-mentoring of young people. In the San Fernando Valley, for instance, a city Department of Aging pilot project is testing a volunteer-based shared-driving program using recent retirees to help older seniors who do not drive and who face challenges using public transportation. And in the West Valley, a contingent of baby boomers is working with City Councilman Dennis Zine’s office to bring the first senior center to the area, with the Westfield Topanga Plaza considered one of the prime locations. Meanwhile, senior advocates and leaders continue pressing for more public housing, for new programs allowing aging homeowners to continue living in their homes, for expansion of accessible and comfortable public transportation, for more road signs and crosswalks safer for pedestrian use. They also want land-use changes, like zoning variances permitting long-term care facilities and the construction of “granny flats” behind existing homes. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – born in 1953 – has gone so far as to connect his campaign to overhaul education in Los Angeles schools to the future of seniors in his city. “We won’t be able to take care of the baby boomers if we don’t give these young immigrant children in our cities the skills they’ll need to compete for the good jobs in a knowledge-based economy,” he said in a speech last year to the American Jewish Committee. By 2030, the percentage of the population 65 and older is projected to almost double from its 2000 number – a phenomenon due to the baby boom population, according to the Southern California Association of Governments. But officials may find that, while services for seniors continue to grow, the baby boomers approaching “seniorhood” may be less dependent on them than their parents and grandparents were. For starters, many baby boomers blessed with better health and more active lifestyles are working longer – an average of 10 percent more men and women ages 55 to 69 are working today than in 1995, according to the Sacramento-based think tank California Budget Project. Other reports project that after retirement, a percentage of baby boomers will move to lower cost-of-living states such as Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Oregon. Senior fitness buffs But the overwhelming number of baby boomers, say experts, simply refuse to accept the physical limitations of old age and reject programs now offered at senior centers. Instead, they want more physical fitness and education. “I guess I’m typical of the aging boomer,” says Ken Koff, 65, who is part of the Valley seniors group lobbying for a senior center in the West Valley. “I’ve been a stockbroker the last 10 years of my life, and I’m just now easing into retirement.” Koff works out regularly at his gym in his Woodland Hills apartment complex, maintains an avid interest in Chinese, American and European culture and history, follows Major League Baseball closely and considers himself a computer technology buff. “My daughter, Sarah, is a junior art history major at UCLA where she’s the coxswain on the men’s varsity rowing team,” says Koff, “so I also keep pretty busy following her and her team.” Indeed, baby boomers are causing a change in the fitness-center industry, with people older than 55 now making up nearly 25 percent of all health-club members in the country, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association. Several health clubs in the Valley, including Gold’s Gym and L.A. Fitness Sports Club, confirm that their facilities reflect that change. Some programs there and at other fitness facilities are specifically designed for aging baby boomers – among them one appropriately named “Silver Sneakers.” “Silver Sneakers is designed specifically to meet the physical health and fitness needs of seniors,” says Kathleen Guiang, who oversees the program at five Gold’s Gym facilities in the Valley. The program, says Guiang, involves sit-down exercises building up cardiovascular strength using weights, tubing and balls, but the program is evolving to include yoga and additional cardiovascular exercise. Stave off aging Increasingly, though, many baby boomers are also turning to personal trainers, like Kevin Cole of Woodland Hills, who come to their homes or offices. “A lot of it is for health, but for many it’s also to stave off the aging process as long as possible,” says Cole, who turns 50 himself this summer but whose career keeps him looking 15 to 20 years younger. “It’s what I do, but keeping up with two young kids will also keep you young.” This, too, is typical of boomers – many of whom started their families in their late 30s or in their 40s – who because of their lifestyles prefer to live in communities that offer what Torres Gil of UCLA calls “intergenerational relationships.” For Torres Gil, 58, and his wife, that has meant buying a condominium across from the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles, which he says offers him all the nearby cultural, shopping and health care amenities that will be especially convenient in their retirement years. “Boomers are not going to be moving to Leisure Village, and all the surveys show that,” says Torres Gil. “They do not want to hang out with old people. They do not want to be segregated by age. They want to enjoy a variety of experiences.” [email protected] (818) 713-3761 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Baby boomers are changing the politics of aging in Los Angeles and nationwide, transforming public policy, social mores and lifestyles in fundamental ways – just as they did in their youth. The golden age of baby boomers, say experts, will ultimately revolutionize how America looks at and deals with aging, especially given the traditional youth-centered focus on pop culture, entertainment and image. “Baby boomers are aging with attitude,” says Bill Orozco, 57, a Los Angeles political consultant and aging activist. “The baby boomer seniors are active, involved in their communities and expect to live longer, healthier and wealthier lives than their parents.” They also will change the meaning of retirement and shape the future of Los Angeles and other cities through involvement in social activism, volunteerism and lifelong learning, according to experts.