A new senior community center is coming to Placentia – a city where about 14% of the population is 65 years and older – as Orange County expects a boom in its population of older adults.

Orange County Board of Supervisors this month approved a 75-year rent free lease agreement with the City of Placentia to design, construct, operate and maintain a senior center at the county’s Tri-City park.

Supervisor Doug Chaffee, who represents the area and is chairman of the board, said the effort will provide “an especially needed community center in Placentia especially with emphasis on seniors.” 

Placentia will be responsible for construction costs and will have an option to extend the lease by 24 years or even buy the park from the county for one dollar during the term of the lease, according to a county staff report.

The county has also authorized alcoholic beverage service at the expected senior center with the city planning to host various events.

Nicolette Vialpando, a spokeswoman for the city, said in an email the center will also serve as a community center and serve people of all ages.

“A new facility will provide the City of Placentia and the surrounding communities a much-needed space to better serve the growing needs of our senior population and residents by offering robust programming for all ages,” she wrote.

These programs will include a senior congregate meal lunch program, senior trips and excursions, contract classes for all ages, art and dance classes.

The Senior Boom

The new center is coming as Orange County along with the rest of Southern California is expecting a senior boom. OC Health Care Agency officials have estimated that nearly one in four people will be a senior by 2040.

But questions remain if the county is adequately prepared for this boom.

Orange County Aging Services Collaborative rang alarm bells about the issue in a 2019 report stating there’s “insufficient funding county-wide to support this (senior) population” and that local infrastructure, services, and programs are ill-equipped for the coming crisis. 

[Read: Orange County Unprepared For Looming Senior Population Boom, Experts Warn]

Jim McAleer, co-chair of the Orange County Aging Services Collaborative, said county officials are beginning to focus on seniors a little more deeply – expanding their Office on Aging as well as issuing a request for proposal for their master plan on aging.

“I just hope they continue that focus and continue to expand their looking lens and reach into the senior community because if they don’t, it’s going to create some serious problems,” he said in a Wednesday phone interview.

In May, his group released their 2022 report on OC’s Older Adults.

The new report projects that 65 years and older residents will make up 27% of the population by 2060 – a growth at a rate faster than the rest of California. 

Census data shows that demographic make up about 16% of the county’s population. The city with the highest percentage of senior citizens is Laguna Woods where residents 65 years and older make up 82% of the population.

McAleer said having senior centers in the county are crucial to help address the expected boom.

“Seniors 65 and older are the only growing demographic in the county; every other age group is diminishing,” McAleer said. “Those central places where they can go for support, for socialization, and meals are absolutely vital.”

The 2022 report estimates that between 113,000 and 200,000 older residents may not be getting enough to eat due to economic reasons and that more than 95,000 seniors are at risk of social isolation.

Benefits of a Senior Center

According to the National Council on Aging – a non-profit organization that advocates for older Americans, senior centers connect a million older adults to vital community services that can help them stay healthy.

These services include meal and nutrition programs, health and fitness programs, arts programs as well as public benefits counseling.

According to the council, research shows that seniors who utilize such programs can learn to manage chronic diseases and see improvements in their physical, social and mental well being.

The 2019 report on Seniors highlighted that almost every senior center in OC offered a congregate lunch program for free or at a low cost.

Senior Centers in Orange County

Placentia already has a senior center on Bradford avenue that offers activities like movie screenings, Bingo on Wednesdays and Fridays as well as a ladies knitting and crocheting club.

The center is also used to distribute food boxes and groceries to seniors in the city with help from local food banks.

But Vialpando wrote that an evaluation of the current center showed the center was not meeting the needs of the city’s growing senior population.

“According to the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), 2019 Local Profile of the City of Placentia Report, between the years 2000 to 2018, the 65 plus age group represented the City’s largest increase, growing from 9.1% to 13.8%,” she wrote. 

“Of all the Placentia demographic age groups, the 65 plus group added the most population. This growth is anticipated to continue.”

Placentia is not the only Orange County city with a senior center.

Cities like Santa Ana, Irvine, Tustin and Costa Mesa have senior centers too.

Age Well Senior Services – a nonprofit organization – provides services and programs at 10 senior centers across south county with various programs, according to their website.

The Orange Senior Center, operated by the nonprofit – Orange Elderly Services,  provides food services, activities like fitness classes, medical screening and computer training.

Seal Beach – the city with the second highest percentage of residents who are 65 years and older – has a senior center that offers a pinochle club on Tuesdays.

About 42% of Seal Beach residents are 65 years or older, according to census data.

Even so, McAleer said more centers are needed in the county and can benefit places like Anaheim.

In Anaheim – the city with the highest number of seniors in OC according to the 2019 report – there are local community centers like the Downtown Anaheim center that offer senior programs.

Residents this year however have called for a stand alone senior center along with more public pools and their libraries open seven days a week. 

[Read: Orange County’s Largest City Only Has One Public Pool]

About 12% of the population in Anaheim is 65 years or older, according to census data.

McAleer said that the centers have to be close to where people live to have a real impact.

“Most of our folks as they age are less comfortable driving and certainly driving long distances. So you kind of have to get close to home to provide real concrete value,” he said.

McAleer pointed to the senior centers in Huntington Beach as well as the OASIS center in Newport Beach’s Corona Del Mar as being exceptionally high quality.

“It’s programming. It’s what do you offer,” McAleer said about what makes a good center.

“They just have a really good set of educational programs, recreational programs, fitness programs, there’s a lot of engagement. And they’re very well used as a result of it.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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