Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are now the only “Age-Friendly” cities in California, earning the distinction two weeks ago from the World Health Organization. They join Des Moines, Portland and New York as the only cities in the United States with the designation.

Los Altos resident Anabel Pelham, a member of the Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Senior Commission, called the designation “huge.”

“It opens up the door to major funding,” said Pelham, founder of the Institute on Gerontology at San Francisco State University.

Such sources of funding might include the National Institute on Aging and the Administration on Aging. Cities recognized as “Age-Friendly Cities” could be eligible for large grants in the range of $500,000 annually for five years.

Such significant funding could make possible a number of projects that are only pipe dreams now: benches for every bus stop, a warm-water pool for the senior center or funding for an overhaul of the senior center.

Commissioner Karen Jenney, a Los Altos resident and former executive director of Pilgrim Haven retirement community, agreed that the age-friendly status is beneficial.

“It puts you on the map in the world of gerontology,” she said, adding that when applying for grants in either the public or private sector, “your name floats to the top.”

Los Altos has a sizable older population. Current demographics reveal that approximately 20 percent of the city’s 29,000 residents are 65 and older. Pelham added that the community comprises approximately one-third baby boomers, whose oldest members turn 65 this year.

Although senior commissioners have pursued age-friendly status and improvements in services that focus on older residents, Pelham said the designation also indicates that the community is successful at servicing a range of ages.

“You have to make a concerted effort to welcome people of all ages,” she said. “It’s about building an intergenerational community.”

The age-friendly status caps a busy two years of efforts to help older local residents, including formation of the two-city commission, the development of a binder containing senior resources, a survey of local seniors and the age-friendly application.

Next steps include commission discussion on grant applications and a presentation before the Los Altos City Council at its Dec. 13 meeting. Senior commissioners plan to present first-year goals under the recent age-friendly status, Jenney said. These goals are in line with WHO objectives, which include a wide range of quality-of-life improvements.

Results from a commission-conducted survey earlier this year demonstrated that Los Altos’ needs parallel those of the rest of the world: improved housing and transportation and trusted assistance for seniors who want to live independently.

Jenney said that locally, the transportation issue stands out.

“If you don’t drive, you’re in trouble here,” she said.

Jenney said commissioners have encouraged builders to include such items as open showers and grab bars – “little things that could be in anybody’s home” – for those attempting to scale down by moving to local condos.

“Everybody wanted a decent senior center,” she said of other survey results.

The Los Altos Civic Center Master Plan includes a new senior center, but if funding doesn’t materialize, Jenney said the commission could pursue a sprucing up of the current facilities.

The grab bag of improvements could range from resetting traffic lights for longer crossing times to providing more streetlights to eliminate dark spots. Other possibilities include educational sessions featuring experts to assist seniors with tax-law compliance or handling the sale of a longtime home.

“Everyone is excited about the possibilities,” Jenney said. “We feel very fortunate.”