WATSONVILLE — The Watsonville City Council on Tuesday approved an Adult Services and Senior Center Plan that will bring operations of the Senior Center under the City’s umbrella.
Watsonville will pump $176,000 from its 2019-20 general fund into the Senior Center, and also hire an Older Adult Services Supervisor that will be in charge of sustaining and expanding the services already provided at the center on East 5th Street.
That dollar amount will change from year to year, according to Parks and Community Services Director Nick Calubaquib. The new position will carry a salary range of $4,652-6,234 per month.
The plan was approved unanimously with City Councilwoman Trina Coffman-Gomez absent.
“I’m really proud about the step that we’re taking,” Mayor Francisco Estrada said. “I hope that our senior community understands that we are putting skin in the game. We are committed to our senior citizens. We’re serious about making sure you have the services that you need. You are in good hands with [Calubaquib].”
According to a 2018 U.S. Census Bureau report, in 2035 there will be 78 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.4 million under the age of 18 — a historical shift in demographics for the country.
In Watsonville children ages 0-19 make up 33 percent of the population while adults 50 or older are 25 percent of the population. But as the Baby Boomer generation ages, the latter is expected to grow at a faster rate than all other demographics, according to city staff.
“Investing in our seniors is investing in our future,” Councilwoman Ari Parker said.
The investment will create and expand programs provided at the Senior Center, according to city staff. Those will include nutrition, health and wellness, information and assistance and volunteerism — all efforts the Seniors Council Area Agency on Aging has pushed throughout Santa Cruz County.
The guidelines for those programs will be determined by a planned survey and other outreach efforts at the Senior Center and implemented by the Older Adult Services Supervisor, who is expected to be hired by December.
“It’s going to be our intent to make sure the senior services are interrupted in as minimal an amount as possible,” Calubaquib said. “The senior population, like most individuals of all ages, don’t typically appreciate change. We’re committed to working with the service providers that are there currently to ensure that services remain intact.”
City staff assured the public that all services provided by numerous nonprofits at the Senior Center would still be available under new management.
Council also suggested that city staff design multi-generational programs that could connect Watsonville’s young people and older adults.
“Those services will still be there — Grey Bears will be there, Meals on Wheels will be there — and I hope that we can keep it affordable for them as much as we can,” Councilman Aurelio Gonzalez said. “We want to increase the services, and I think it’s a good step for us as a city to take.”
Local nonprofit Association of Watsonville Area Seniors (AWAS) for the last 39 years has supervised the Senior Center, renting out the City-owned building for $1 per year.
City staff will meet with AWAS next week to discuss the transition plan, and the Senior Center will be under City management on Nov. 1.
AWAS representatives called on both staff and council to extend that transition from a few weeks to a six-month effort led by a task force of city staff, AWAS and other nonprofit leaders and members of the senior community.
“We believe our goal is the same as the City’s: to do what’s best for older adults in our community,” AWAS board member Scott Tims said. “Failure to engage those involved in the older adult services network will result in problems for those we attempt to serve, and undermine the noble attempt the City is making at this time. The problems being experienced at the Senior Center took decades to create, and we must be willing to take more than 30 days to correct them.”
Council also unanimously approved a resolution prohibiting gates in residential communities.
Leading up to Tuesday’s meeting city staff created loose guidelines for developers to follow while planning the installation of gates in residential communities:
• To prevent traffic from using the neighborhood as a thoroughfare, or a “short cut,” that would impact residents.
• When the neighborhood’s environmental layout provides natural, physical barriers from other neighborhoods.
• When a neighborhood is adjacent to a restaurant, community hall, school or business with high parking demands that would impact its parking.
Those rejected guidelines were a response to developers’ requests to add a gate to their property, according to city staff.
Though the resolution passed, City Manager Matt Huffaker said the approval of gated communities would still fall on the city council in a case-by-case basis.
“Ultimately, there’s flexibility there because the council could choose to allow a gate or not as the project comes forward for approval,” Huffaker said. “What we’re asking is for some direction to make sure that happens as efficiently as possible.”