By E.A. Roberts
There is a feeling among some individuals that city commissions should only act in an advisory capacity. As both Chair and Vice-Chair of the Davis Senior Citizens Commission, I for one have never subscribed to that notion. Instead, I have consistently encouraged our commission to take on appropriate projects. To the delight of our Senior Citizens Commission, in partnership with the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the recent Transportation Safety Expo held in Davis on September 19 was a resounding success. More importantly it highlighted the issue of transportation as a top concern for seniors.
The event covered two major themes: 1) older drivers need to constantly assess their driving skills and adjust accordingly; 2) if operating an automobile is no longer possible or advisable for an elderly person, there are plenty of transportation alternatives in Davis. The event was well attended by seniors, law enforcement, and service providers. City Councilman Lamar Heystek made an appearance, taking time from his busy schedule to be present. The atmosphere was supportive and collaborative, with every attempt made to make the elderly feel welcome in a non-threatening venue.
It is extremely hard for seniors to give up driving privileges, something which represents independence. Once it is no longer possible to hop in a car and drive to a doctor’s appointment, the grocery store, a lunch date with a friend, life becomes considerably more difficult and isolating. This is especially true for an experienced motorist of countless years. To forgo the ability to drive is a loss of immense proportion, that cannot be underestimated. If you don’t believe it, try going without your car for an entire month. The loss of the capability to operate a vehicle can wreak devastation, drastically altering an entire way of living.
In consequence, seniors do not give up their driving privileges easily. However, many are constantly assessing their abilities, and voluntarily make wise changes in driving habits. For instance, older drivers often stop going onto freeways, don’t travel at night, avoid driving when fatigued or overly medicated. Some only drive when absolutely necessary, for instance solely to medical appointments or the grocery store. These prudent folks know their limitations.
Sadly, there are a few reckless senior drivers who will not curb themselves in any way, despite knowing they should. The results of such irresponsibility can be devastating to the public. A stark reminder is the recent case in Los Angeles of an older driver inadvertently plowing through a farmer’s market with his car, killing a number of people in the process. It appears he accidentally stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake. It is my understanding this man had a less than stellar driving record.
As an older driver it is important to constantly reassess your driving skills, then modify them in view of any changes in the ability to drive. You can obtain a special DVD called “Roadwise Review” from your nearest AAA office. An interactive computer program, it assists with testing skill sets for operating a motor vehicle. “Roadwise Review” helps gauge where changes need to be made, or highlights what particular weaknesses are present, to prompt the senior to limit their driving under corresponding circumstances. You can sign up for an appointment to be examined this way at the Davis Senior Center. Many elderly consumers who took the plunge the day of the Transportation Safety Expo were intrigued and pleasantly surprised by their test results.
A CarFit station was also accessible at the Transportation Safety Expo, sponsored by AAA, AARP and our Area Agency on Aging. Seniors were able to have their specific car configuration evaluated. Suggestions were made as to position of seat and mirrors, or what adaptive devices might be available to make them a better driver. A vast line of autos formed, with lots of senior drivers eager to take part in the program. All appreciated the opportunity to learn something new about what is out there to make them improved motorists.
The other part of this equation is the availability of public and private transportation options. Many vendors of such services were more than willing to participate in the Transportation Safety Expo – Unitrans, Yolobus, Davis Community Transit, Amtrak, Airport Shuttle, Checker Cab, American Cancer Society Volunteer Drivers, to name a few. Law enforcement was well represented, with literally piles of useful information from the CHP and Davis Police Department. The City of Davis Street Smarts campaign was prominently in evidence, including tips on bicycle safety. A DVD on local transit options was available free of charge. Copies can be obtained from the Davis Senior Center.
CHP Commander Ike Iketani was on hand to give a talk on older driver safety and answer any questions from the enthusiastic crowd. Other vendors on related topics were there with a wealth of excellent materials, such as the DMV. Older drivers should note it is possible to obtain a provisional drivers license, which might restrict driving to daylight hours only, no freeway driving, or just to essential destinations such as medical appointments. The AARP has a wonderful Driver Safety Program for seniors, that can result in a discount on car insurance rates.
Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide was on hand to film the entire event for an upcoming DVD contracted for by the CHP. Attending seniors, including four intrepid Senior Citizens Commission members, were interviewed for this forthcoming DVD aimed at older adults. Ogilvy, often chosen for projects involving civic protection, has already produced a wonderful CHP DVD for caregivers of senior motorists. It gives tips on when concerned family and friends need to have the conversation with an impaired older adult driver to give up keys to the car. This type of tough discussion is not an easy topic to broach with someone.
Lessons to be learned: If you are an older adult driver and subject to blackouts, or your driving abilities are such that you should not be behind the wheel of a car – then voluntarily STOP. The life you may save could be your own or that of a loved one – or someone else’s beloved. It is your absolute responsibility to continually reassess driving skills, and make modifications accordingly. If your night vision is becoming compromised, don’t drive after dark. Reflexes that are becoming too slow might require the termination of freeway driving. Try public and private transportation options now, BEFORE the need becomes acute to discontinue driving. It will make the transition easier when the actual time comes to give up your keys.
If you are a relative or friend of an older driver whose driving capacity has become highly questionable, sit down and have the necessary conversation – no matter how awkward. Offer transportation alternatives. If absolutely essential, an impaired but stubborn senior driver can be reported to the DMV for retesting. It is a safe way to give the older driver a chance to prove themselves still fit to drive. At the same time it forces the senior to face reality, and admit any limitations that must be addressed for the safety of the community.
As a citizen of Davis, watch out for our vulnerable seniors – especially those using public transit, bicycles, or who choose to walk. Reflexes of the elderly may not be what they once were. An elderly person is not necessarily spry enough to make a mad dash for the other side of the street, to avoid an oncoming automobile that isn’t paying attention. One of our own commission members recently took a “header” over his bicycle handles, because the inconsiderate motorist from behind crowded him into the curb. Fractured ribs of this poor bicyclist were the painful result.
Have patience for the older driver, who is actually obeying the speed limit, but seems to be going excessively slow. If you are lucky, you may survive long enough to live to a ripe old age. Then you, too, can irritate the next annoyed young whippersnapper who feels the need to drive somewhere at top speed, in order to arrive one or two minutes sooner.
Confidential to Anonymous: A reader commented that his/her HOA here in Davis refused to work out a payment plan, when regular monthly association dues were not forthcoming because of a job loss.
Please note that CA Civil Code (CCC) 1367.1(C)(3) states that a homeowner may submit a written request to meet with the board to discuss a payment plan for the debt noticed pursuant to CCC 1357.1(a). However, this request needs to be mailed within 15 days of the postmark of the notice received from the HOA.
But was there proper written notice given to the homeowner? There are very stringent requirements that the HOA itself must follow. Look to CCC 1367.1(a), which requires:
(1) a general description of the collection and lien enforcement procedures of the association; the method of calculation of the amount; a statement the owner had a right to inspect the association records; a statement in 14-point boldface type in capital letters “IMPORTANT NOTICE: IF YOUR SEPARATE INTEREST IS PLACED IN FORECLOSURE BECAUSE YOU ARE BEHIND IN YOUR ASSESSMENTS, IT MAY BE SOLD WITHOUT COURT ACTION”.
(2) An itemized statement of the charges owed;
(3) A statement that the owner is not liable for late fees if it is determined the assessment was paid on time;
(4) The right to request a meeting with the board;
(5) The right to dispute the assessment debt by submitting a written request for dispute resolution to the association pursuant to the association’s “meet and confer” program as described in CCC 1363.810
(6) The right to request alternative dispute resolution with a neutral third party pursuant to CCC 1369.510 et seq.
If you are a homeowner faced with a similar situation, don’t do anything by telephone. Put everything in writing. If the HOA did not give the proper notice, then demand community mediation. This will inject a neutral third party into the process, forcing the association to comply with its own responsibilities. Often a HOA will rely on management or an outside collection agency to ramp things up – which is not appropriate if the HOA did not do everything in its power to avoid filing a lien or foreclosure.
Furthermore, there is an old adage that seems particularly apt in the situation as above described: “There but for the grace of God go I”. None of us will ever be immune from falling on hard times. Folks lose jobs all the time, medical emergencies can always occur, the loss of a spouse can be financially devastating, as can divorce. While a HOA must be able to collect regular monthly assessments to operate effectively, it also needs to behave like a good neighbor. This occasionally requires the insertion of some flexibility when homeowners find themselves faced with extraordinary circumstances. The loss of someone’s home is profound, life-altering, and emotionally and fiscally destructive. Foreclosure should be a step taken only as the very last resort. The law requires it. Any HOA that does not operate within such a humane framework deserves to have its current Board of Directors voted out.
Response To MBA Real Estate: Yes, a HOA can raise property values in the short term, but at what eventual cost? A HOA in Woodland unsuitably made all sorts of cosmetic improvements at the expense of making necessary repairs. This will most likely result in the necessity of either raising regular monthly assessments and/or levying a special assessment. Should that occur, many homeowners will have to sell out and move away. Already, many homeowners have placed their townhouses up for sale, but to no avail in this slow economy. These particular homes are now a glut on the real estate market. I wouldn’t be surprised if word is getting around about the HOA itself, and its unsavory practices. One homeowner living in that complex said to me he will never again purchase a residence if it has a HOA governing.
Elaine Roberts Musser is an attorney who concentrates her efforts on elder law and aging issues, especially in regard to consumer affairs. If you have a comment or particular question or topic you would like to see addressed in this column, email her at: email@example.com. You can also submit your concern in a letter to the following address: Elaine Roberts Musser, Word to the Wise, P.O. Box 2366, Davis, CA 95617.