Being a college town, Davis has for decades reflected a degree of youth culture. But the city is now in the midst of a long, gradual transformation, as the percentage of local residents in the senior citizen category swells.
Due to the demographic bulge of aging baby boomers, local residents deciding to remain in town after they retire (but perhaps in more age-appropriate housing), retirees who’d previously lived in other parts of the state relocating here and related trends, Davis is graying.
The population projections released earlier this year by the California Department of Finance’s Demographic Research Unit indicate the substantial scope of the change:
* In 2010, Yolo County had 38,098 residents in the college-age category (18-24 years), compared to 19,917 residents age 65 or older.
* By 2060, Yolo County is projected to have 39,607 college-age residents (18-24 years), and a whopping 78,674 residents age 65 or older. That’s a spectacular increase among residents at the upper end of the age spectrum.
Not only are the numbers of seniors increasing, the Department of Finance also is now segmenting the population over age 65 into three groups — young retirees (65-74 years), mature retirees (75-84 years) and seniors (85 and older). This corresponds to the way the Department of Finance differentiates between preschool-age (0-4 years), school-age (5-17 years) and college-age (18-24 years).
Similar trends were reflected in a study done for the city of Davis in 2009 by the consulting firm Bay Area Economics.
Several factors are driving the trend. People are, on average, living longer. And college towns are increasingly viewed as a desirable place to retire, particularly among people who have a university education and have pursued careers in academic research or teaching.
Davis — with cultural amenities like the Mondavi Center, and a walkable downtown filled with shops and restaurants — is an appealing place for seniors looking for a lifestyle that involves less driving on the freeway. There also are seniors who move to the Davis area to be closer to their adult children and grandchildren who have settled here.
What are the implications for Davis institutions as the number of seniors living in the community grows?
Historically, the Davis Food Co-op has offered a 5 percent senior discount to both members and nonmembers age 62 and older. Co-op membership director Doug Walter noted in his column in the July/August Co-op newsletter that “there’s general agreement that those over 62 have contributed a lot to this community and cooperative … (but) you might not know that the fastest-growing category of sales are those to seniors — including nonmember (seniors).
“While sales are sales, all our other discounts together as a percentage of sales rose a bit less than 1 percent in the past two years, while senior discounts rose well over 3 percent,” Walter wrote. “We are certainly attracting investments from young people, some of whom will live here for quite a while. We cannot, however, assume that growth of sales and members will continue — especially when competition for sales and a relatively steady population in town removes two factors that could stoke it.
“If Davis’ population stays close to stable, with residents aging and our discounted sales growing, this could become an acute problem.”
Walter observed that “Nothing is inevitable, but we’re starting to talk about the consequences of change. One could be to not make a senior discount automatic. Rather, it could become dependent on financial need, as with our current 5 percent ‘community discount,’ for those using CalFresh, receiving WIC vouchers, or otherwise self-identifying as suffering financial hardship.
“Another would be to keep the blanket nature, but raise the eligibility age. Changing the discount age to 70 has been suggested, because many households greatly reduce their food buying by that age,” thus limiting the impact of their discount.
The changing demographics of the city’s population also have implications for the Davis school district, which saw enrollment ramp up substantially during the 1990s — from 6,758 students in 1993 to a peak of 8,827 students in 2002. Since that time, enrollment has declined slightly, to about 8,600 students.
Educators are well aware that enrollment growth is driven by two factors: the birth rate, and new home construction. The birth rate is, to some degree, influenced by economic factors — people tend to postpone having children when facing economic uncertainty. And during the past few years, when California’s economy felt the impact of a nationwide recession and falling home prices, the birth rate in Yolo County declined to the lowest level in decades. This low level of births five years ago is being reflected in this fall’s low kindergarten enrollment at Davis schools.
The growing population of seniors — who, by and large, do not have school-age children living with them at home — will impact school district enrollment in years to come. The Davis Chamber of Commerce recognized this last year, in a statement urging local voters to approve the school parcel tax Measure E, even if those voters don’t have a child in school.
“High-quality public schools are a major component of economic development in Davis,” the Chamber said. “With this gem, it is much easier to attract new, high-paying jobs to Davis. In turn, new, high-paying jobs will bring more families to Davis that will help counter the trend of our graying population and decreasing enrollment in our schools.”
Local voters apparently found that argument convincing; Measure E was approved by 69 percent of voters, even though only about 25 percent of local households have a child of school age.
The Davis school district has historically offered a parcel tax exemption to seniors age 65 or older who live in a home that they own. The school district estimates that 1,548 local homeowners are claiming the exemption.
Since a homeowner in the Davis school district is charged about $531 in parcel tax, the senior exemption has a roughly $500,000 impact on parcel tax revenues generated annually. (Some seniors say they claim the parcel tax exemption — the tax payments are not tax-deductible — and then donate a like amount to the nonprofit Davis Schools Foundation to get the tax deduction.)
Residential and transportation needs
The past few years also have seen a growing number of housing options designed for seniors in Davis. Atria Covell Gardens has served seniors for several decades, as has the Rancho Yolo mobile home park. University Retirement Community — which, despite the name, is not directly affiliated with UC Davis — opened in 2000, and has expanded since then. The Walnut Terrace apartments on Fifth Street serve seniors. And the new Carlton Plaza senior living community under construction on Fifth Street will offer another option.
Housing options for seniors at The Cannery project proposed for the former Hunt-Wesson cannery site at Covell Boulevard and J Street also have been the topic of discussion at City Hall.
Local real estate professionals also have seen a number of single-story homes being purchased by seniors, who sometimes come into the transaction with an all-cash offer (especially if they’ve just sold a Bay Area home and are moving to Davis), putting them at an advantage over other prospective buyers in some situations.
Public transportation systems offer different discounts to seniors. The local Unitrans bus system lets seniors ride for free providing they get a senior pass, available to those age 60 or older at the Davis Senior Center and at the Unitrans office in South Hall on the UCD campus. The countywide Yolobus system sells a monthly senior pass for passengers age 62 and older for $42.50, half the price of the regular monthly pass. The Capital Corridor train service offers a 15 percent discount to seniors age 62 and older, with ID.
A variety of activities take place at the Davis Senior Center, which is typically used by 150 to 200 people a day, according to Maria Lucchesi, the city’s community services supervisor for senior services.
“We definitely have a swelling population of boomers, and a large group of seniors with broadening needs,” Lucchesi said. “And we want to meet those needs.”
Lucchesi said lifelong learning is a priority, since “we are seeing an increase in people seeking second careers in retirement.” The Senior Center also hosts exercise classes (“I never would have anticipated that hula dance would be so successful,” she said) to courses in writing memoirs, tax preparation and cooking.
“We serve people from age 50 and up; we have a 102-year-old who is our oldest participant,” Lucchesi said.
Researchers believe the growing population of seniors will affect many social, family, financial and health issues. Former Assemblymember Patty Berg of Humboldt County chaired the California Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care and observed in 2006 that “Whether aging Californians live in their own homes, receive in-home support, live with a relative (or in an) assisted-living, residential facility or a nursing home, one of the keys to their well-being is quality family caregiver support.”
Given the demographic projections for Yolo County in coming decades, businesses that provide these services for seniors are likely to find their services in growing demand.
Professor Beth Ober of UC Davis, who teaches a course titled “Adult Development and Aging,” told The Enterprise that attitudes about seniors also are changing.
“Over the past 20-plus years, I have seen a shift in perspectives toward aging,” Ober said. “When I first started teaching the course, one of my major challenges was to convince my undergraduate students that growing old isn’t only about decline, depression and loss.”
Ober said today’s college students are “being exposed to an increasing number of older adults in their workplaces, neighborhoods and their volunteer/internship placements … including relatively more healthy and active elders.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at 530-747-8055 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JeffHudsonDE