Hermosa Beach older adults work to steer city services
by Ryan McDonald
In the early 1970s, President Nixon and Chairman Mao thawed relations between the United States and China through the exchange of table tennis players. This week, the Hermosa Five-O Advisory Committee had to do a bit of ping-pong diplomacy of their own.
The committee had gathered Tuesday morning for its monthly meeting at the Senior Activity Center inside the Community Center. Among the issues up for discussion: whether to declare Sunday’s ping-pong sessions to be for “advanced players.”
“It does become very political sometimes. You’re telling people how advanced they are,” said Larry Berlant.
“Well, it’s not like we’re telling people they can’t come,” said Cambria Vint, an office assistant with the senior center.
“Most people who come to the center are coming for an interactive exchange,” chimed in another member.
The Hermosa Five-O Senior Activity Center opened seven years ago and is open to all South Bay residents over 50. The advisory committee holds regular meetings once a month, determining policies and programming at the Center, and has taken on new relevance in recent years as the region’s population ages.
The committee acts as a sort of collector of ideas, like suggestions for group excursions. Issues, when they emerge, are dealt with in a loose, collaborative process among the members. (One member, Michelle, recommended the new tai chi class on Monday afternoons: “If anyone needs help slowing down and being in the moment, give it a try,” she urged.) A new class, for example, might be tested and, if it doesn’t work after a while, something else will go in its place.
“It’s kind of done on a trial-and-error basis, but it’s actually been working really well,” said Lisa Nichols, recreation coordinator with the city’s Community Resources Department, who oversees the advisory committee meetings.
The Advisory Committee also holds periodic informational meetings for senior-specific issues. The group previously hosted federal government employees discussing Medicare, and last month Captain Milton McKinnon of the Hermosa Beach Police Department spoke to members about crimes directed at the elderly.
These issues have drawn increasing interest as people over 45 have displaced 20- and 30-somethings as the city’s largest demographic cohort. With that has come a rising demand for city services.
Some of these are provided by the organization itself. Dave Lombard, a member of the Advisory Committee and a former manager at Boeing, leads a volunteer group offering in-home tech assistance to seniors.
“We’re booked about a month in advance. We’re always looking for more volunteers,” Lombard said.
And sometimes it is just a matter of connecting seniors with existing municipal programs. For example, Hermosa offers a taxi voucher program, which provides those who can no longer drive with steeply discounted rides. Melissa Andizzi-Sobel, director of community services for the Beach Cities Health District, made a presentation to the committee about services the district provided through its Older Adults Program.
Among those attracting the most interest was a free program in which the district will send one of its four licensed social workers to a home, and do an in-home assessment of the care needs for people over 60. (The service is also available to those between 18 and 59 who suffer from a disability.)
And other times it involves mustering political will. Isabel Rodriguez, an advisory committee member who also sits on the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission, said that senior issues often face an uphill political battle in getting approval from the city council, and can require years of sustained organizing for significant changes.
She cited as an example the long-hoped-for installation of pickleball courts at Clark Field in the place of a former tennis court. (Pickleball is a net-and-racket sport that resembles tennis, but has attracted growing numbers of seniors because of its lower impact.)
“I’m just glad they had the tenacity to hang on,” Rodriguez said of pickleball advocates.
But other proposals have stalled, like one to add a decomposed granite path along a portion of the Greenbelt to facilitate use by those in wheelchairs and walkers.
“For years I’ve been talking about senior issues, and people turn a deaf ear,” said committee member Isabel Rodriguez. “Well, we’re here. And we’re old.”
“And they’ll be old too soon enough!” another member joked of project opponents.