The Revolution Comes to Rossmoor 

As the Vietnam War generation invades senior communities, an old generation gap rears its ugly head.

Page 6 of 7

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.


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