Op-ed: More voices needed to set priorities for older Berkeley residents

Last Sunday afternoon, while some Berkeley residents recuperated from a half-marathon run, a decidedly older demographic gathered at the South Berkeley Library for a specially convened meeting of Berkeley’s Commission on Aging. Like all City Commissions, the task of this appointed panel is to make recommendations to City Council, in this case regarding ways to improve life for older adults in Berkeley. The Sunday meeting’s purpose was to hear what residents have to say about such issues as health, safety, housing, transportation, communication, and community involvement.

The most frequent comments emphasized a need for increased information, communication and publicity about activities of interest to older adults, this very meeting cited as a prime example of a somewhat under-the-radar event.

Ideas ranged from easily accessible online information and social media to neighborhood bulletin boards. Also of primary concern, a need for increased city efforts to help older adults live safely in their homes, walk on Berkeley’s sidewalks and across its streets. Suggestions included the very specific (e.g., longer walk signals at intersections) as well as the more systemic (ensuring resources to assist successful downsizing into affordable, “age-friendly” housing).

Of course, there is nothing controversial about improving lives of older adults — who would be against that? But people differ in the what and how. And when recommending policy to City Council (or to the county or state for that matter), it is also about money. How the city allocates resources to Aging Services — in light of competing claims, for instance, of children and youth — is a conversation that needs to be ongoing. With the older population getting larger, the variety of needs and interests among those in their 50s or 60s, the over 85s and all in between will continue to evolve.

As a recently termed-out Aging Commission member, I know the planning and discussion that went into Sunday’s meeting. I know that community members are always welcome at the monthly sessions and that very few ever come. I know also how hard city staff, led by the Aging Services Director Leah Talley, work to provide programs and needed services for older adults.

These activities extend far beyond our Senior Centers, as do the Commission’s concerns. To better convey to the Council priorities of older Berkeley residents, community input is essential.

Regular meetings begin again in January — the 3rd Wednesday of each month, from 1:30-3:30 at the North Berkeley Senior Center. The agenda is posted ahead, on the City website and at the Senior Center; each meeting starts with public comment on any topic, followed by open discussion of items on the agenda. Anyone can suggest a particular concern to be included on a future agenda.

The Commission welcomes participation of older residents, adult offspring who may live nearby, service providers, indeed anyone concerned about making our entire city age-friendly. They need only show up.

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Judy Turiel, EdD, a Berkeley resident, served for eight years on the the city's Commission on Aging. She is a longtime Board of Directors member of LifeLong Medical Care, a network of Alameda and Contra Costa County community health centers, and the Marin Adult Day Health Center.