Santa Cruz County will conduct a needs assessment of older county residents to help the county secure membership in a network of age-friendly communities.

Membership will help the county make itself more livable for all ages. Plans for the assessment come as the county is beginning to see a steeper proportion of aging residents than the state as a whole.

The survey will be preceded by a separate needs assessment that will be conducted statewide for the first time, according to Clay Kempf, executive director of the Seniors Council, a nonprofit serving seniors in Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties.

Kempf gave a presentation Tuesday alongside Alicia Morales, director of the county’s Adult and Long Term Care Division, to update the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on the efforts to prepare for an increasingly aging population.

“We are looking at transforming systems and services based upon the needs of our local community, and Santa Cruz, in particular, is facing some unique challenges,” Morales said.

A network of age-friendly communities

Santa Cruz County’s population is aging faster and at a greater rate than the state as a whole. There were more county residents under 18 years old than residents older than 60 until 2015. Statewide, the intersection of those two categories occurred in 2021.

About 1 in 4 California residents will be over 60 by 2030. In Santa Cruz County, that number is closer to 1 in 3 residents, according to county projections.

Santa Cruz County joined AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in June. The needs assessment by the county is required to complete the membership process. The network is part of a global effort begun by the World Health Organization in 2010 to create cities and communities around the world that are livable for all ages. The state of California became a member in 2021.

People attend an AARP Livable Communities Presentation at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History in August 2019, when an effort was underway to have Santa Cruz County recognized as an age-friendly community. The county joined AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in June this year. (Seniors Council of Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties/Facebook)

AARP’s age-friendly community network will give local leaders information, guidance and resources on how to achieve those goals, which are centered on at least eight areas of emphasis, referred to as domains. Participating members can choose additional domains. Santa Cruz County will add “emergency preparedness” and “elder justice” to a list that includes categories of livability ranging from communications and healthcare to parks and housing.

What the survey will show

The state’s Master Plan for Aging, implemented through the California Department of Aging, is also helping the county organize its efforts. Past needs assessments have been done by regional nonprofits like the Seniors Council, which are designated through legislation as Area Agencies on Aging, or AAAs. But this year the state Department of Aging is conducting its own survey of older adults statewide for the first time.

Kempf said that the statewide survey will be helpful in providing universal answers to the needs of seniors and whether they were being met locally.

“We had 33 different surveys, and you could not compare Santa Cruz County to Monterey County or Santa Clara County.”

Clay Kempf, Seniors Council executive director

“We had 33 different surveys, and you could not compare Santa Cruz County to Monterey County or Santa Clara County,” Kempf said.

The state’s needs assessment is currently open. Kempf said local planners did not want to release the local assessment at the same time and wanted to see the results of the statewide survey to help plan their own.

“We’re trying very hard not to duplicate each other’s efforts and to come up with something that lifts both of us a little bit higher,” Kempf said.

The county’s needs assessment is being planned through a steering committee consisting of 10 members from the senior community and nonprofits that work with them. The assessment is expected to be released in early 2024.