Day 50, CHM and Channing House

Saturday, 1/19/2019

I started the day by leading a tour at the Computer History Museum for 15 comp. sci. students from Santa Clara U. When talking to people all of whom were born after Amazon.com was, I keep catching myself. There’s a point where I explain about vacuum tubes and how unreliable they were in the early computers. I say they are like incandescent light bulbs, they have a filament that burns out. Well you know, these students may have seen an incandescent bulb at some point, but a bulbs’ unreliability isn’t part of their daily experience.

So I managed to keep their attention for my 50 minute tour, then handed them off to the live demo of the IBM 1401 that starts at 11am every Saturday. I hung around to watch that; the docents who run it do a great job.

Home again and I put in about two solid hours adding some near-final touches to my program. It’s a game, and what I was doing at this point was adding sounds, bleeps and clicks and bonk noises. That entailed spending a lot of time prowling websites that offer free downloads of royalty-free sound effects, listening to various sounds and trying to pick out the right ones. But it all went together and now my game makes noises. There’s a couple more minor things to do and then I’ll let people play with it. When that’s done, I will turn to the two partially-completed books that have been simmering quietly on the back burner of my mind for months. However today at 4:40 I left for the short drive to

Channing House

and dinner with Craig and his wife Diane. They’ve been living at Channing House (click for official website) for six years, since they sold their home in Professorville. That’s the name for the residential part of Palo Alto on the North side of Embarcadero Road. I’m on the South side of it, and tonight I learned that because of that, my house will sell for more money than theirs. It seems that houses in that older part of town can’t easily be “scraped” and replaced with McMansions, like the place next door to our house was and like this house almost certainly will be shortly after I sell it. Fewer speculators are interested. But that’s by the way.

Financing and Governance

Unlike some other ILFs, Channing House is run by an independent, non-profit corporation. It isn’t part of a chain or owned by a for-profit corporation. A paid CEO runs the in-house staff under direction of a board of trustees. Two residents are nominated to the board, and also the president of the resident’s council — who is currently my hostess of the evening, Diane — sits in on board meetings to present resident concerns.

The organization is funded by people’s buy-ins and monthly rental. They have and are continuing to do extensive and expensive renovations; these are funded in part by contingency funds and in part by long-term bonds. Diane says the board includes a number of financial people who have worked out how to keep it solvent.

One of the renovations done just after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was a seismic retrofit. In the basement you can see massive flexible joints that were installed in the building’s support structure. It should be able to function after an earthquake.

Layout

The House is eleven stories high. The top floor is a glassed-in penthouse used for social events. The ground floor has a large lobby, dining room, a performance space, and other public spaces. There’s a pool and fitness facility in the basement (Craig led me on a tour of all these areas). The second through tenth floors are divided into 2- and 1-bedroom and studio units, each with a balcony, looking West or East over Palo Alto depending on which side it’s on. Every floor has a pleasant public living room, a laundry, and a dining room with kitchen so you can entertain a group (something I’d never do, but there you are).

Originally, the second floor was a medical facility for rehab and assisted living, but just a few years ago, they built a new, separate, two-story health care center. Current residents can and do move back and forth between the IL part and the assisted-living part as their health varies. Craig had a medical incident recently that needed rehab so he slept in the health care wing for some nights to have access to an on-call nurse, but returned to their apartment during the day.

There was an unintended consequence of splitting out the medical facility to a separate building. The main building, when it housed a medical operation, had been under the jurisdiction of the State of California. When it became 100% residential, it moved into the jurisdiction of the City of Palo Alto, and in particular, the Palo Alto Fire Department. They recently decreed that the building needs to have a sprinkler system for every unit. That meant tearing out the ceiling on every floor.

The board decided that, since ceilings had to be opened up, they might as well replace the HVAC ducting and the electrical, tv and internet wiring at the same time (much of which dated to the original 1961 structure). This renovation is being done floor by floor, from the top down. Currently it’s the 8th floor that is closed off. People on that floor had to move to other units for a few weeks. I had a quick look at the refurbished tenth floor; it doesn’t look a lot different except that lighting in the halls is better.

Food Service

The dining hall serves cafeteria-style. (Note that at the ILF that I visited for New Year’s eve on Day 31, the dinner service was restaurant-style. The staff came to the table to take your order and bring your food to you. I think actually cafeteria style is more to my taste.) The evening’s menu was interesting and seemed well-prepared.

There’s no opt-out of paying for meal service unless you are going to be away for a week or more; then you can apply for a refund for that period. On the other hand, Craig said the actual amount you pay is calculated on the assumption that the average resident eats only 1.8 meals a day.

Social

Both  assured me that the other people living at Channing House were interesting, including many retired medical people and Stanford professors. There are active committees to organize musical performances and other entertainments. Craig is on a committee of resident nerds who help others with their computer, internet, and cable TV problems. “We take maybe two calls a day”.

Costs

Channing House is a “buy-in” place, where to enter you pay a sizable fee (on the order of $1M). If you leave during the first 3 years, you can get back a prorated portion of that fee. After that, not. And unlike some buy-in places, you aren’t actually buying anything. When you die, none of the buy-in fee will be available to your estate.

The reason is that your use of the attached assisted living and skilled nursing facility, short- or long-term, is included in the standard rental. There is no extra fee for assisted living care, nor for help with the medications or other nursing visits. (That’s not the case with other ILFs.) Basically, this is where your buy-in has gone; in effect, you’ve paid up front for a long-term care insurance policy.

Summary

As I said to Craig, this evening certainly set a high bar for other ILFs to meet. I already had a requirement that an ILF be easy walking distance to a town center. Channing House certainly meets that requirement, being only a couple blocks off University Ave. Besides that I will now be looking for:

  • Access to “continuing care” both temporary and permanent, the convenience of it and the cost to use it.
  • Ownership vesting: whether local corporation, regional or chain corporation, whether for-profit or non-profit.
  • A seriously good story on seismic safety (can you imagine your ILF being red-tagged?)
  • Resident participation and influence in governance.
  • Active resident-run committees for entertainment and other activities (as opposed to everything run by paid staff).
  • (late edit) Parking! since I mean to keep my car.

Channing house has basement parking but it is charged-for separately. I didn’t ask how much it was; but I don’t like paying for parking, nor do I like the idea of parking on the streets of Palo Alto as some residents do.

 

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