Wednesday, November 25, 2009
California’s Democratic Congressman Jim Costa of Fresno is an unabashed booster of trains. As a state assemblyman and later state senator, he pushed doggedly on expansion of Amtrak service through Central California. He lobbied for the upgrading of Amtrak stations and construction of new ones. He regularly rode Amtrak from his Fresno home to Sacramento, the state’s capital.
So it’s no surprise that he is wearing a smile from ear to ear these days as California has joined several other states in applying for federal stimulus money to build a high-speed rail system.
California is seeking more than half of the $8 billion that Congress and President Barack Obama set aside for high-speed and intercity rail projects across the country.
Costa addressed a Fresno audience of San Joaquin Valley regional planners on Oct. 2, the same day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger submitted California’s $4.7 billion application for high-speed rail funding. Costa believes California’s chances are darn good.
Give Costa a lot of the credit for that. His sheer tenacity helped convince California voters to approve a $10 billion bond on the November 2008 ballot to continue design and planning for a high-speed rail system. This was after naysayers said the measure was doomed by the slumping economy and the “Buck Rogers” image of the project.
But voters did approve the bond, validating Costa’s belief that the state is long overdue for investment in its infrastructure.
To regional planners, who focus much of their energies on improving California’s transportation systems, Costa likened building a high-speed rail system to the 1950s and 1960s, when Californians created the nation’s premiere education system, a massive state water project and a futuristic freeway system.
Costa’s comparisons did not end there. He noted Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower built the massive federal highway system during troubled economic times. And Republican President Abraham Lincoln pushed through a transcontinental railroad line when the nation was divided by war, inflation was raging and the first printing of paper money was underway.
For those tempted to say these times are not the right times to invest billions of dollars in a high-speed rail system, Costa counters with historian Stephen Ambrose’s “Nothing Like It in the World,” an account of how the transcontinental railroad came into being despite overwhelming odds.
High-speed rail “is a tremendous opportunity for California and the nation,” said Costa, who contends California’s application is strengthened by voters already approving matching funds for the project and by the planning that has already been completed. California is a lot closer to breaking ground than other proposals.
Costa said applications can be expected to be submitted for stimulus funds to help pay for high-speed rail projects in 11 of the nation’s transportation corridors. In addition to California, projects in the Midwest and in the Eastern corridor will be the most competitive, he said.
But there’s no doubt about it in Costa’s mind. Californians “will get to ride on high-speed rail.”
“Hell no, we won’t go” was a protesters’ chant commonly heard decades ago during the Vietnam War. That protesting generation of baby boomers now seems to be taking the same chant into its aging years.
Joan Twiss, founder and executive director of the Center for Civic Partnerships, made that observation during a recent meeting of the California Chapter of American Planning Association.
She put it more politely – changing “hell” to “heck” – but she was clear: Boomers aren’t going peacefully into their twilight years.
Many are in denial about getting old. Consider the plethora of anti-aging creams, vitamins and beauty aids on the market.
They insist on remaining active – working, volunteering and playing hard. “Boomeritis” is a general term now being used to describe a wide range of physical maladies – from torn rotator cuffs to busted knees – that aging boomers experience as they cling to their old sports teams.
For the most part, they are sticking around. They aren’t moving from the communities where they have sprouted deep roots. They intend to “age in place.”
And many are discovering that they may not be able to afford to get old. They have not saved up enough money, or their retirement funds and their jobs have been wiped away by the most dire economic conditions to beset the nation since the Great Depression.
An estimated 15.5 percent of the people living in California who are 55 years of age or older are eligible for Medi-Cal, planners were told. The gap between the haves and the have-nots will increase, with some estimating that 55 percent of the population may be too poor to pay for the basic services needed to survive their final years.
Baby boomers – people born between 1946 and 1964 – are about 77 million strong. The generation often has been described as the “pig in the python” -- the big lump that moves along the demographic line. The “lump” that once filled up the nation’s schools, later swelled the labor force and super-heated the consumer economy, is now headed to retirement.
The first baby boomer will turn 65 in 2011. Already someone in the United States is turning 65 years old every seven seconds. The wave of baby boomers hitting the shore will be a Social Security tsunami.
Over the next decade, Kern County’s 60-plus population is expected to increase by 65 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the American Community Survey. In 2006, when the survey information was collected, the number of people 60 years of age and older was 93,585, or 12 percent of Kern County’s population.
Baby boomers are expected to be the healthiest, most active, affluent and long-living group of retirees Kern County and the nation has seen.
Are communities prepared to meet their demands and needs?
Paul Zykofsky, director of land use and transportation programs at the Local Government Commission and the manager of the commission’s Center for Livable Communities, told California planners at their recent state conference that few communities are ready for the silver tsunami.
He said baby boomers will be looking for communities that are safe, welcoming, convenient, comfortable, containing good and safe housing, and are “walkable,” meaning residents can walk from their homes to stores, offices, job sites, entertainment, etc. As people age, they are more interested in living in town houses and in downtown areas.
But in most communities, residential development has spread into the outskirts of towns, requiring people to drive their cars to get to just about any location. Public transportation and access to services, including health services,
often fall short in spread-out communities, especially those in the San Joaquin Valley.
Aging of baby boomers may be the biggest challenge, as a society, that we face. Adequate housing, mobility, employment, lifelong learning, community involvement and support services are critical to creating a healthy community.
The wave of baby boomers is headed our way. We need to begin preparing now, before it is “sink or swim” time.
This article written by JOHN HARDISTY (Jack) appeared first in The Bakersfield Californian.