As cards were being shuffled, a game of gin rummy at Glendale's Adult Recreation Center was interrupted. Four women and two men--all over 60--stopped to talk with a visitor about a topic close to their hearts: the unusually large number of senior citizens who live in Glendale.
All six had raised families in Glendale and stayed there rather than move to beach or desert retirement communities. After all, they said, Glendale is a relatively safe, pleasant and well-run community where longevity as a resident earns respect.
"I wouldn't want to live anyplace else," said an 80-year-old widow who still lives in her own home.
But the card players' discussion took on a tinge of resentment as they talked of recent changes in Glendale, of the massive redevelopment that has introduced high-rise offices and traffic into a once sleepy suburb and helped fuel spiraling rents.
'Not Even a Drop in the Bucket'
Why, they asked, haven't more of the benefits of that redevelopment been earmarked for seniors, especially for housing? Why is there no rent control in Glendale?
Yes, the city in the past few years has increased services for seniors, such as dial-a-ride vans and referrals for home-sharing. "But that's not even a drop in the bucket," said another player, an 84-year-old man.
That informal talk recently reflected the ambivalence that many people, young and old, in Glendale feel about the fact that about 22% of the 150,000 residents are over 60. Of the 84 cities in Los Angeles County, that percentage is topped only by the tiny City of Industry, with 30%, and West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, both with about 28%, according to 1980 census figures. The countywide average is 14.1%.
On one hand, residents say, it is a compliment to the quality of life in Glendale that so many seniors decide to remain and stay active in churches and social organizations.
Small Town With Big Attractions
"People simply don't move out in great numbers," said Mark Doyle, a retired professor of gerontology at Glendale Community College. He ran unsuccessfully last year for City Council. "It is a small town with all the attractions of a big city."
On the other hand, officials and residents worry about a drain on the city's vitality and tax coffers if the elderly population continues to grow. To counterbalance the elderly, many of whom bought homes in northern Glendale before real estate prices skyrocketed, officials say they want to attract younger families by helping developers build economical town houses in southern Glendale. Many people in their 60s say their children cannot afford to stay in Glendale, even though they want to.
Concerns about the aging population have come to the forefront in recent months as spokesmen for the elderly in Glendale have become more forceful in demanding services from a municipal government that has traditionally frowned on many social welfare programs. Despite their numbers, Glendale's seniors have not made many such demands because so many are affluent, conservative homeowners.
In that lack of demands, Glendale contrasts sharply with other communities with large elderly populations, such as Long Beach and Santa Monica. Now, that may be changing.
"Glendale is currently experiencing some of the growth characteristics of the older population that other communities may experience in the future," said Robin Wilkes, chief executive officer of SHINE, or Senior Help Information and Networking for Elderly, a Glendale-based organization that, among other things, arranges foster-home care for the frail elderly.
"There's a trend nationally for there to be a shift in the senior population from the inner cities and rural areas to the suburbs. It seems Glendale was a bit ahead of that shift," said Wilkes, whose organization gets some of its funding from Glendale's federal community-development allotment.
Although they stress that most seniors in Glendale are financially comfortable and that the city has stepped up programs for the elderly, city officials will soon begin studying how many seniors need additional services such as subsidized housing.
"Yes, we do have a greater number of senior citizens than some other places, but we also have a greater number who are financially able to take care of themselves," said Councilman Carl Raggio.
Mayor Jerold Milner, in explaining the study soon to be undertaken by the Community Development Department, said: "The difficulty is that none of us knows the magnitude of the problem. I can deal with specifics. I can't deal with emotional generalities."
According to the 1980 census, about 2,700 elderly Glendale residents have incomes below the poverty level, defined as $6,023 a year for an older couple and $4,775 for an older person living alone. But Glendale officials say those statistics do not take into account how many of those seniors may own their own homes without a mortgage and how many may live comfortably with relatives.