If the canopied glens of Lamorinda shelter its residents from the outside world, the Tice Valley that cradles the Rossmoor retirement community literally locks the world out. Uniformed guards stand watch in security kiosks that straddle the only access road, and unless the computer recognizes the bar code glued to your car window, the gates stay shut. Inside, the nine thousand seniors who call Rossmoor home drive golf balls along the 27 links that line the valley’s floor, or drink cafeteria coffee and play bridge inside the Gateway Clubhouse. Thursday is “Fun Day,” when residents sing along to “Camptown Races” or Irving Berlin. Some residents drink away their nights in front of the TV; others awake at dawn to watch wild turkeys graze the lawns in front of their million-dollar homes. Dogwalking is huge. The one thing people never do is risk arrest to confront the big shots who run the place. But last month, for the first time in its forty-year history, the revolution came to Rossmoor.
Just before eleven on the morning of February 1, nineteen people slid into the soothing waters of the community’s Stanley Dollar pool and pretended to go about the business of warming their arthritic limbs. Along the pool’s edge, roughly forty supporters tucked protest signs under their arms and swapped scandals concerning the Golden Rain Board of directors, the unfortunately-named council elected by residents to govern the valley. For years, they told each other, their apathetic neighbors had napped while the directors issued arrogant fiats, secure in the knowledge that old people don’t raise hell. But when the Man cut back on the hours Dollar Pool would be heated, he went too far.
The clock chimed eleven, and the pool manager ordered his lifeguards to roll the tarp over the pool. Then he saw the signs taped to the lawn chairs: “Can you feel our arthritic pain, Golden Rain?” “Can you cut some small change loose, Golden Goose?” The swimmers refused to budge, treading water and staring up at him in their goggles and swim trunks. A photographer from the Contra Costa Times started snapping pictures. “They said, ‘We’re going to cover the pool,’ and I hoped they would,” says Jackson Stephens, a retired schoolteacher and a leader of this pool-protest movement. “What a story that would have made, if they covered the pool with a bunch of old people in it!”
The manager turned around, walked into the nearby clubhouse, and locked the doors, but residents followed him and flung them back open. As the crowd cheered, Stephens floated to the center of the pool. With slick black hair turning gray along the sides, a pencil-thin mustache, and a voice trained by years of ordering kids to open their textbooks, he bobbed with the chlorinated waves and rallied the crowd with an old-fashioned barn burner. Golden Rain thinks we’re a bunch of sheep, he shouted, but we’re not going to take it anymore. We pay through the nose to live in Rossmoor, but every year, the amenities dwindle away. Our voices have to be heard! Gnarled fists jabbed the air: “Yeah!”
Rossmoor has seen its share of revolts over the years. In the 1970s, a group calling itself the Rossmoor Residents Association spent years fighting for more direct democracy in the valley, and in 2001 residents organized a reform group known as the Committee for Open and Responsive Government, which campaigned for open government laws, filed lawsuits against the administration, and ran a dissident slate of candidates for the Golden Rain Board. But these were essentially “good government” citizens’ groups, which used conventional electoral means to push a reform agenda. Nothing like what protesters dubbed the “swim-in,” with its civil disobedience and ’60s theatrics, had ever happened before. And for this, many Rossmoor denizens credit — or blame — the appearance of a new species of senior, the baby boomer, that promises to drastically alter the physical and social landscape of retirement communities around the country. The Rossmoor swim-in was just a shot across the bow.
“A lot of people here just want to go with the flow,” notes Doug Krutilek, a 55-year-old Rossmoor resident who was among the pool-protest’s leaders. “A lot of the fight has gone out of them. … I suggested that we wear our Speedos and bikinis at the board meeting to get noticed. They said, ‘Oh, I would never want to be seen in that!’ I said, ‘Yeah, well, the board wouldn’t want to see you either. That’s the point.’ Somewhere in their mind, it clicked: ‘Wait a minute, I can be heard.'”
Ever since the swim-in, Rossmoor’s neo-beatniks have made sure they’re being heard. Each Saturday morning at eleven, they have picketed the road leading to Rossmoor’s gates, drawing honks from motorists and the occasional bus driver. Almost twenty were out one morning last month, crouching under yellow slickers and holding cardboard signs cannibalized from old humidifier boxes. The sky threatened more than a mere drizzle, but Charlene Wilcox’s spirits were hardly dampened. “It’s really a dictatorship in here — the residents in here have no rights at all,” she snapped from behind her rose-tinted glasses. “We’re tired of it, we’re just tired of it. I mean, it’s gotten to the place where we’re not going to stand for it anymore.”
Protests inevitably draw a nut or two, and the pool demo didn’t disappoint, as a Rossmoor bystander wandered by to shout “Slow down!” at cars rounding the corner at 20 mph. Jackson Stephens took little notice as he orchestrated the event from his command post on a nearby traffic island, checking his watch every five minutes and booming “Thank you!” at every car horn. The 64-year-old came of age at a time when young Americans were rejecting their parents’ deference to authority and embracing rebellion, nonconformity, and the primacy of the individual. Although Stephens predates the baby boomers by a few years, he spent his adult life absorbing the boomer expectation that the world would have to change to accommodate him. And here he was, putting the Golden Rain board on notice that he and his friends were about to change life at Rossmoor forever. As a woman in a silver Mercedes-Benz SUV shot him the first scowl of the day, Stephens glanced at her rear bumper and guffawed, “A Cal sticker! Oh, my God! She must have been before Mario Savio!”
When developer Ross Cortese founded Rossmoor as part of a chain of “Leisure World” retirement campuses in 1963, he envisioned a white-picket-fence world of mainline churches, Kiwanis clubs, and golf. With mortgages guaranteed by the Federal Housing Authority, he broke ground on what would eventually become more than six thousand housing units, ranging from apartments near the Tice creekbed to luxury homes on the hillsides.
Rossmoor is among the largest planned communities in the Bay Area, a safe haven for seniors who still have some serious living to do. Most residents survived the Great Depression and World War II and built a world where you tried to fit in, ate the same mass-produced food, and looked out for your neighbors.
“Every Rossmoorian holds his head high and greets everyone he meets,” wrote the editors of Rossmoor’s weekly newspaper in its twentieth-anniversary edition in 1984. “[T]he welfare of Rossmoorians is protected by the friendliness of their fellow neighbors, who realize that all people their age are apt to need a helping hand. They take in each other’s mail when on a trip. They notice any unexplained absences and check with security immediately. They listen for unusual noises in the night, or the lack of that usual hum of the air conditioner.”
Now, a new crop is arriving: The front end of the great demographic bulge known as the baby boom is trickling into active-senior communities nationwide. According to Debbie Pate-Newberry of the California Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, the number of Californians over 65 will grow by three million by 2020. These boomers will bring their anti-establishment ethos, assertiveness, and self-consciousness with them, transforming an industry designed around a far more docile and proletarian generation. Although many boomers sank into a poverty their parents never knew, a substantial percentage enjoyed a lifetime of conspicuous consumption, marketed as the means by which they assert their individuality. They created organic produce, personal computers, designer jeans, and New Age mysticism. Born after World War II, relatively few were ever asked to sacrifice for something greater than themselves.
Retirement-industry leaders around California say they expect to invest a fortune reorganizing planned communities around a generation that refuses to be planned for. In place of cafeteria food, fraternal clubs, and arts and crafts classes, the boomers will demand Internet access, state-of-the-art fitness clubs, wine-tasting rooms, and an endless array of bistros and ethnic restaurants. Senior communities like Rossmoor once stressed volunteerism, charity fund-raising, and other pastimes that displayed a democratic, almost quaint civic-mindedness. Now that world is being eclipsed by a way of life that values privacy, “wellness,” customized lifestyles, and avant-garde theater and music.
“This is a very competitive industry, and they have to make it attractive to the lifestyle the boomers want,” says Amber McCracken, a spokeswoman for the Alliance for Aging Research. “They are going to have to put in the funds to change the face of retirement, to change the way people think of these communities in general. Because the boomers don’t want to think of themselves as aging, they don’t want to think of themselves as retiring. They want to think of themselves as continuing the fun journey they’ve had.”
Rossmoor chief executive officer Steve Adams has the unenviable task of keeping the peace as the generation gap — now between the old and the very old — has returned. As Rossmoor’s present population inches toward the grave, he must spend millions building new facilities to attract the boomers, while older working-class residents accuse him of jeopardizing their financial security in pursuit of the next generation. “The economic picture of Rossmoor is changing,” he says. “Rossmoor is looked on by the city of Walnut Creek as low-income housing, but we have homes today that routinely sell for over a million dollars. You’re finding that the people who are moving in are more affluent than the people moving out. It’s becoming pricier to live here than it was before.”
Nothing has inflamed this tension quite like the controversial Creekside Development, a plan by Rossmoor executives to borrow $22 million and build a variety of new amenities, including an indoor pool and fitness center geared in part toward the boomer appetite for healthy living. Despite Rossmoor’s tony atmosphere, hundreds if not thousands of its residents live near the poverty line in shabby apartments, dependent on Social Security and perhaps a modest pension. Many of them nurse dark fears that the Creekside plan will load up Rossmoor with so much debt that their monthly membership dues will spike to cover the costs. If Creekside goes bad, they say, they’ll be forced to move out so the Baby Boomers can have a new space for their Pilates sessions.
Rossmoor citizens Sheldon Solloway and Jim Jackson formed the Committee for Open and Responsive Government, CORG for short, in part to give residents a say in big capital projects like Creekside. Three years ago, they campaigned for a community ballot initiative that required the Golden Rain Board to seek approval of Rossmoor voters for all major capital expenditures. The initiative passed by a three-to-one margin, and many CORG candidates won board seats in a divisive election. But in September, a Superior Court judge threw out the new bylaw, and some of CORG’s leaders have begun fighting amongst themselves and quitting the group in disgust.
Today, as Rossmoor prepares to bet millions on the new face of retirement, CEO Adams claims CORG’s problems signal the last gasp of a generation for whom citizenship and public life meant something. “A lot of the older residents are very much the old-time liberals,” he says. “As they leave, then the people moving in will never have known the deprivation of the Depression, the tragedy of the war. That’s the group that’s taking over. And what you’re seeing is far more apathy. Or perhaps not apathy — their interest is other than getting involved in governing the community.”
As the postwar years created the largest middle class in history, and Social Security and pension plans offered long-term security, millions of elderly Americans uncoupled their destinies from the fortunes of their children and charted a new, independent retirement, often in vast “active senior” communities. Starting in the 1950s, retirement centers with populations of ten thousand or more began springing up along the Sun Belt, creating new subcultures of self-governing, self-segregated elderly residents who live longer and more vigorously than ever before. Life after retirement can stretch past three decades, during which seniors build new identities beyond those of parent, professional, or spouse.
Ross Cortese had such a world in mind when he bought the Tice Valley from the family of shipping magnate Stanley Dollar and laid Rossmoor’s first cornerstones. Up until the early ’70s, Cortese had focused on low-cost housing, and a generation of teachers and factory workers on fixed incomes moved into his 3,300-plus cheap, medium-density apartments, which were organized into self-governing co-ops known as “mutuals.” But before he could finish construction, a series of financial setbacks forced him to relinquish control of Rossmoor to the residents, who formed a nonprofit to govern community affairs, with a board of directors elected by the residents. A new developer took over construction of the remaining 3,400 units and went decidedly upscale, building first townhouse condominiums, and finally luxury homes that now fetch around $1 million. These days, retired senior executives cruise the links past the original two-story apartments, where many of their fellow seniors live on food stamps and meals on wheels.
Class division is just one aspect of the outside world replicated inside Rossmoor’s gates. The valley is a city unto itself, with its own public works department to maintain roads, its own public transportation system, a city council in the form of the Golden Rain Board and, until the board leased out its medical center two weeks ago, its own health-care system. Rossmoor also operates a television channel that broadcasts low-impact morning exercise programs, videos of residents’ Egyptian vacation cruises, and interactive bingo games. The Rossmoor News, a weekly newspaper operated by the Golden Rain board, employs a roster of reporters and editors and is packed with ads from Realtors, car dealers, and medical research centers seeking human guinea pigs to test new drugs for age-related disorders. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barbara Boxer stumped for votes here.
Of course, no service is more highly developed than Rossmoor’s recreation department. In addition to the ubiquitous golfers, dozens of groups offer classes and games from as early as six in the morning. The lawn bowling club conducts regular matches on the greens; the “hot flashers” dance troupe offers intermediate tap; and CB radio operators get together on Saturday mornings, followed by the Domino Club at noon. The Organ Melody Makers have been playing concerts since 1965, banging out hits such as “Chopsticks” and “Spanish Eyes.” On Fun Day, mezzo-soprano Lisa Houston might sing arias from The Marriage of Figaro, or the Hawaiian band ‘Ono Like might perform “Tiny Bubbles” prior to the bingo game. Rossmoor even offers getaways to Yakov Smirnoff routines in Reno, or tours around California tracing the life of Ronald Reagan.
Despite the retro lineup, Rossmoor’s social life is changing. Fraternal service organizations were once the foundation of social life here — the Kiwanians, the Lions, and the Masons boasted hundreds of members apiece. They did much more than throw pancake breakfasts and cocktail luncheons. Masonic organizations such as the Shrine Club and High Twelve raised tens of thousands of dollars for children’s hospitals, meals on wheels, and the Rossmoor Scholarship Foundation. But their members began dying off, and their leaders recruited fewer replacements every year. In January, these two groups held their final meetings and dissolved, disbursing their final donations and drinking a toast to old times. “I was sad, but on the other hand, it was so hard to get people to participate any longer, that it was almost an impossible task,” says former Shrine Club president Bob Campini. “Both of them had a final luncheon at no cost to the members, and it was hard to get even 60 percent of the members. … The dance clubs, dinner dance clubs, entertainment clubs are the ones that catch their attention, to the detriment of the old standby service clubs.”
For their part, younger residents have started consumer clubs like the Macintosh Users Group, or support groups dedicated to therapy and New Age spiritualism. Rossmoor may have become more sophisticated — while the Organ Melody Makers came within a hairbreadth of disbanding last year, the sixth annual Rossmoor Women’s Conference offered novelist Ayelet Waldman as the keynote speaker — but it also has become less generous, more inward-looking. As the Shrine Club and High Twelve ended their decades of volunteer work, the Metaphysical Discussion Group, the Bacchus Society, and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays were in full blossom.
Even when younger Rossmoorians get involved in civic life, they often do so more out of a boomer affinity for rebellion than a genuine sense of community. Gilbert Doubet snuck into Rossmoor ten years ago at age fifty, through a loophole that skirted the requirement that all residents must be at least 55. He still relishes the memory of that first time he bucked the system, and he has been needling Rossmoor’s leaders with cyberpranks and political theater ever since. “An awful lot of people here are very conventional, very middle-class,” he says. “Especially the older people. I call it the burgher mentality, where they just want to be good burghers, good neighbors. … I went through the ’60s, you know, Vietnam and stuff. I’ve got a different perspective; I’ve got a different outlook on the whole thing. You know, raise hell, and if you don’t like something, change it.”
Perhaps Doubet was a little too young for Rossmoor. He made few friends, except for a smattering of old ’30s leftists and red-diaper babies. Among the manicured lawns, he grew annoyed by the Fun Day singers who play the retirement home circuit and croon ninety-year-old standards, or the chipper tone of the official news media. “The TV station is run like a goddamn romper room!” he exclaims. Denouncing the Golden Rain Board and Steve Adams, Doubet joined CORG and developed its Web site, YourRossmoor.com. He also began a running feud with Rossmoor News editor Maureen O’Rourke, whom he calls an administration stooge and who refers to him with an equally acidic tongue.
Since 2001 Doubet has administered a Yahoo chat board for Rossmoor affairs, which he uses to disseminate the complaints of Rossmoor employees and swap grievances with other residents. Its slogan: “Speak freely here — no [Golden Rain] censorship.” Last May, Doubet even found a way to stir up Middle Eastern politics at the retirement haven. The Rossmoor TV station regularly broadcast a local lecture series, airing the same speech seven days a week. But when it showed a talk by Allison Weir, an advocate for Palestinian grievances, viewers flooded the station with complaints, and editor O’Rourke, who runs the station as well as the newspaper, pulled the program. “It was a little over the top, so we took it off the air,” she sighs. “In a community like this, what’s the use? Why get everybody all riled up? If it’s that offensive, sure, take it off the air.”
Doubet promptly logged his response to the censorship on the Yahoo chat group. “Rossmoor appears to have caved in to the pressure of a small but vocal group of loudmouth ‘brownshirts,'” he wrote. “Our basic rights and freedoms have been trampled upon once more. And look, wasn’t that CEO Steve Adams ducking around the dark corner with that smile on his face again?”
Condemning what he saw as a Zionist stranglehold on Rossmoor media, Doubet proceeded to form Human Rights in the Middle East, a pro-Palestinian film society, and plans to begin showing documentaries in the valley’s clubhouses — along with the Weir lecture. “I’ve got a VHS copy of the broadcast before they took it off the air,” he declares. “And we’re gonna fuckin’ show it in Peacock Hall to anyone who wants to come!”
Doubet’s rabble-rousing got some older residents so worked up that one — a retired Air Force colonel who flew combat missions in World War II and Korea — suggested the federal government should shut him up. “Who is ‘Gilbert Doubet’?” he wrote in a post to another chat group, which Doubet enthusiastically reposted on his own. “What are his formal educational qualifications, his background, and his history? … Would it be prudent to do a local, regional and federal law enforcement agency background check? … Do we have a civil rights abridgement legal issue with him that needs to be pursued?”
Thirty years after Vietnam, Doubet had managed to piss off his parents’ generation all over again.
The Bay Area’s history of social protest has given its inhabitants a distorted view of what baby boomers are really like. We may think of them as conscience-stricken idealists, but most are more interested in doing well than doing good. According to “Reinventing Aging: Baby Boomers and Civic Engagement,” a 2004 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the boomers broke with their parents’ volunteerism and withdrew into themselves. “By every measure of engagement one can think of, they do less,” the authors wrote. “They vote less, read newspapers less, are less apt to join churches or civic organizations.”
This didn’t happen by accident, the study’s authors add. The World War II generation lived through national traumas that instilled a sense of collective fate — almost everyone knew someone in the front lines or on a bread line. Among white Americans (and Rossmoor is indeed an overwhelmingly white community), these “unifying experiences” were reinforced by both racial segregation and suburban migration that blended European ethnicities into a monotonously white culture. The dark side to this uniformity was a stultifying pressure to conform, and intolerance for different ideas.
The boomers demolished such groupthink, empowered women, and built a more diverse, exhilarating country. But their world, fragmented by race, immigrant experience, and class, lacked the social cohesion that drives the volunteer impulse. If their parents are citizens, the boomers are consumers who define themselves through lifestyles more than politics, ethnicities, or neighborhoods. Retirement industry leaders expect that the boomers will impose these lifestyles on their senior communities. “The one thing you’re going to find with baby boomers is you’re going to find a generation with a lot of choices,” says Debbie Pate-Newberry. “When they move in, they’re going to want and even demand the same kind of consideration. Whereas right now we have a lot of elderly women who were at home with whatever we offered, in the next twenty years the generation of Vietnam War protesters and free love are going to move in and say, ‘This is what I want.'”
As senior VP for strategic planning at American Baptist Homes of the West, Kay Kallander spends most of her time worrying what the boomers will demand from her homes. First on her to-do list, she says, is to demolish the cafeterias. “Dining currently in most retirement communities consists of a large formal dining room where residents come and have dinner together,” she says. “They have a communal dining experience, which has served seniors well in the past. I see the baby boomers wanting a very different dining experience.”
The boomers, Kallander predicts, will demand an unprecedented array of food choices — comfort food will be out, arugula and Belgian endive in. And the boomers will customize their spiritual needs as well: Rather than traditional chapels, Kallander says, her homes will build interfaith meditation centers — ashrams are coming to a Baptist retirement center near you. A concierge may even be on standby to buy symphony tickets or pick up dry cleaning. And because the boomers have fetishized the concept of wellness, a host of fitness centers, personal trainers, and peer support groups will be installed.
Some developers have already begun tailoring their communities to these lifestyles. The Redwoods in Mill Valley, for example, has long branded itself as a bohemian retirement center, drawing old Mendo hippies and Marin County New Age acolytes to its grounds. In Brentwood, developer Blackhawk-Nunn is building Vineyards at Marsh Creek, an 1,100-home active senior community catering to the Napa Valley set. Instead of a golf course as the primary motif, Blackhawk president Steve Beinke is planting grapevines along the hills, and renowned vintner Kent Rosenblum has agreed to leave Alameda and build a new winery as the centerpiece of the new boomer paradise. “The over-55 group is expanding every day,” Beinke explains. “It’s an expanding segment of the market that is different from the buyer of a generation ago.”
According to Amber McCracken of the Alliance for Aging Research, retirement homes are cropping up in frigid cities like Bend, Oregon, in anticipation of a boomer love of skiing, breaking the decades-old pattern of seniors settling in the Sun Belt. Other companies are building senior communities in small, liberal-arts college towns to meet the demand for urbane culture. Some boomer peer groups, McCracken says, are even making plans to retire simultaneously. “A whole crew of people, so you automatically have a social network where you’re going,” she says. “I’ve heard this a lot: A gaggle of your friends are retiring together, so this is a big party. Isn’t that a hoot?”
Many retirement professionals blanch at the expense of tailoring their homes to boomer tastes — one official put the cost for her organization in the hundreds of millions — but at least they have a little time. The days when all Americans retired at age 65 are over, partly because Americans lead healthier lives and feel too active to leave the workforce. But the biggest reason is the decline in the American savings ethic. While the Depression frightened their parents’ generation into saving money, most boomers simply can’t afford to retire anytime soon.
“When I talk with people at the forefront of the baby boomers who are beginning to talk seriously about retirement, people are terrified about not having enough money,” says Priscilla Tudor, a counselor at Rossmoor. “The baby boomers have not been great savers. Because we’re living longer, we’re going to need a lot more money to sustain us in our retirement years. So they’re going to have to work longer.”
While this would be the prudent time to prepare for the boomer invasion, Rossmoor may simply lack the will. Riven by a gulf between the poorer co-op dwellers and the rich folks up on the hills, and hamstrung by lingering distrust stemming from CORG’s recent voter revolt, its leaders are struggling with what kind of community it should be versus what kind of community the market may force it to become.
That even CORG’s members have turned on one another calls into question whether Rossmoor is prepared to confront the profound changes the boomers will impose upon this community. Solloway and Jackson created CORG in 2002 after becoming increasingly dissatisfied with Rossmoor’s directors, whom Solloway claims routinely met behind closed doors and ignored a bylaw that should have limited their authority to spend residents’ money. They founded CORG primarily to force the board to comply with the bylaw, and to get it to treat its electorate with respect.
The pair succeeded in getting three new bylaws on the Rossmoor ballot. One required voter approval of expenditures exceeding $750,000. Another called for public disclosure of Rossmoor executives’ salaries. The third sought to ban most closed-door board meetings. All three passed overwhelmingly, compelling Solloway and two other CORG members to themselves run for the nine-seat Golden Rain Board in 2003. During his campaign, Solloway accused CEO Adams of smearing him in a closed session, as well as improperly urging key Rossmoor figures to campaign against him, a charge Adams denied. “Isn’t CORG’s obsession with what I do beginning to border on being a little paranoid and unhealthy?” he told a reporter with the Rossmoor News. But Rossmoor residents evidently felt it was time for new blood, and CORG’s candidates swept the election.
Meanwhile, a bizarre sideshow was unfolding, one that pitted Rossmoor’s administration against a mercurial character named Jim Gardner, known in the valley as the salty rancher who bopped around in a cowboy hat and kept a gaggle of horses at Rossmoor stables. When, after months of bickering, the Golden Rain Board decided to shut down the stables, Gardner rented an adjacent plot of land and moved his horses fifty feet down the road. In addition, he set up a petting zoo where residents could bring their grandchildren to play with donkeys, goats, and pot-bellied pigs. As CORG mounted its electoral challenge, Gardner was promoting the petting zoo as a symbol of impish defiance of an arrogant administration. Gilbert Doubet loved Gardner’s prank, and produced commercials for Rossmoor’s TV channel touting the petting zoo. “He put the animal park in there to jerk Golden Rain’s chain,” Adams says of Gardner. “He’ll tell you about how he loves animals, but he did it to jerk their chain.” Gardner doesn’t exactly disagree: “That really angered the board and Adams against me, because for the first time, here was somebody at Rossmoor that outfoxed us.”
Last year, after the board filed a legal challenge to the bylaw restricting major capital spending, Gardner joined forces with CORG and paid its court costs. He even ran for the board himself. But by this time, CORG’s members had begun to bicker. Another CORG-affiliated candidate ran for the seat Gardner sought, and Gardner claims Solloway put him up to running, a charge Solloway denies. “I had nothing to do with that candidacy,” he says. After Gardner lost the election, he grew so disgusted that he moved away — up to a ranch in the gold-country town of Volcano. “When I didn’t win, I said the hell with it, I’m gone,” he says. In January, the petting zoo closed, and Gardner gave away his animals.
Doubet and a few of his friends also left CORG and started denouncing Solloway’s clique as quislings and traitors. “A slicker character you never ran into,” the younger rabble-rouser grumbles of Solloway. Joe Oliver, a member of CORG’s slate on the board of directors, recently resigned from the board in disgust. And Solloway, who serves as treasurer of the Golden Rain Board, now finds himself taking flak from former allies as well as the swim-in contingent. “Gilbert Doubet’s a bomb thrower,” he says. “He represents only Gilbert Doubet. He’s a lone wolf.” Solloway finds the pool protesters just as irritating. “I’ve listened to this interminably,” he says. “When you take out all the inflammatory rhetoric, I can tell you that what has been done is a fairly circumspect curtailment of hours only for the winter. … These people on the water thing are just really off-base.”
Such is Rossmoor’s atmosphere leading up to the debate over the $22 million Creekside Development, which for some residents has come to symbolize all the hopes and anxieties associated with the boomers’ imminent arrival. Steve Adams claims the project is perfectly sound, and that his critics’ warnings of financial risk are hopelessly overblown. “We have every reliable source of revenue available to cover the cost of borrowing,” he says. “None of the cost would come from the residents here.”
Not all the residents buy it. In addition to having purchased their homes, Rossmoor folks must pay hundreds of dollars in membership dues each month, and the poorest members watch those dues as if their lives depended on it. As their old fraternal societies die off, and their health begins to fail, they can feel their world slipping away. No one knows what will come next. “They are rushing ahead with this huge financial proposal and putting us in hock for twenty years,” says Rose Michaels, a CORG member who also has grown disenchanted with Solloway’s leadership. “What’s driving it is the new generation that’s coming in, the baby boomers. They’re the ones beginning to buy in, or they’re hoping to attract them. So they’re trying to make this a younger community. But the reality is we’re not a younger community. … We’ve already had people move out because they can’t pay the bills. In the last couple of months, I heard of three people in my circle of friends. They bought trailer homes, and they say they just can’t afford to stay here anymore.”
“The younger people, they want this, they want that,” Gardner says. “They want a covered swimming pool. They want more meeting rooms, and they want more exercise equipment. But everything they ask for costs a hell of a lot of money. … They got two hundred clubs, for chrissake! They got plenty of swimming pools. But they want more.”
The baby boomers, whom writer Frances Fitzgerald once called “a generation so large it seemed to have no parents and no memory,” are only just starting to retire, but their sheer numbers are already sending shock waves through senior havens that know they’re coming, but not how to deal with them. Just as the boomers made adolescence the unquestioned ideal of American culture, they will remake the ends of their lives in ways we are just beginning to fathom. Even if few boomers have yet heard of Rossmoor, their specter haunts Tice Valley nonetheless.