Saratoga Retirement Community residents speak out against proposed expansion

Saratoga Retirement Community residents speak out against proposed expansion

The Saratoga Retirement Community, nestled in the foothills above the city’s heritage orchard, is facing an ambitious expansion project to make room for more local seniors, but current residents say the project will impact their quality of life and the character of the historic campus.

The expansion project at SRC, located at 14500 Fruitvale Ave., would expand its capacity by 52 independent living units with the construction of three new buildings.

First proposed in 2019, the project will head to the planning commission sometime this year, with several opportunities for public review. Earlier this month, the city hosted a meeting to discuss the project’s draft environmental impact report, and more than 400 residents sent in public comment letters against the project’s proposed design.

Construction noise, air pollution and impacts to traffic are top concerns among the residents at SRC.

“In a way, we really feel that this is discrimination,” said Tsing Bardin, a member of the residents group Preserve SRC Campus. “We have special mobility issues, eyesight issues, hearing and the reaction time. …  This is a retirement community.”

Staff at SRC say the expansion will increase available housing for local seniors and satisfy the city’s housing growth requirements.

“We understand resident frustration when construction occurs on their campus, but we also have to keep these communities current to meet the needs and demands of today’s retirees, which have changed dramatically in the last 20 years,” said SRC Executive Director Sarah Stel. “The number of people 85 and above is doubling every decade in Santa Clara County. While some families choose to age in place in their homes, others seek an environment that ensures their needs will be met at every stage of their lives without burdening children or other family members. We want to ensure this campus is here to serve this community as it has been since 1912.”

Saratoga’s senior population is on track to outnumber children by 2030, and senior services and housing are already at maximum capacity.

The SRC currently has 143 independent living units and 106 assisted living units, as well as 94 skilled nursing beds. The expansion would bring the total number of units to 301.

Living at the SRC is pricey: Most residents pay $750,000 to $1 million for a down payment. Bardin says she pays $7,500 a month to rent her two-bedroom, 1200-square-foot apartment, which includes utilities, food and services.

“We paid and are paying considerable money, with our entry and monthly fees, for a quiet and safe environment for the rest of our retirement lives, not expecting this kind of disruption in the last years of our lives,” Bardin said.

In addition to the new living units, the project includes a meeting room and a fitness center. To construct the new buildings, 68 trees would be removed and the campus’ central park – the SRC’s only outdoor space for recreational activities – would be the site of a new residential building.

Another building would sit directly in front of the Saratoga Manor and block the view of the iconic structure, Bardin said. Saratoga Manor is listed on the city’s historic sites inventory and is reminiscent of Hearst Castle.

Preserve SRC Campus has been offering alternative design options and has been trying to work with the leadership team at SRC.

“We reviewed it and shared with them the reasons that their proposed approach doesn’t work financially, and that was before interest rates and inflation rose to today’s new heights,” Stel said. “The current master plan would build the expansion project in phases to allow new independent living residents to move in to the community and contribute to the capital and operational costs associated with renovating the health center. The Preserve SRC plan would require the construction of a brand-new health center to be financed and built without any additional income from new independent living residents, which poses tremendous financial risks.”

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The SRC was built back in 1912 and was owned by the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and Rebekah’s, one of the oldest fraternal orders in the world. The facility saw its first major expansion project in 1999 when Pacific Retirement Services took over management of SRC.

The project completely renovated the historic Saratoga Manor building and added more apartment homes and cottages to the site, as well as a fireside lounge and bar, fitness center, indoor pool and bocce court.

While the construction impact looms, Bardin said she and the rest of the SRC residents cherish the facility.

“It’s a very vibrant community. The best thing is the people, the residents. I  made so many good friends when I came here,” Bardin said. “They are intelligent. They’re interesting. [It’s a] great place to live, a really great place.”