A rendering presented by Pacifica shows plans to construct 45 units at Sakura Gardens in Boyle Heights on the siate that is now the Intermediate Care Facility.

Rafu Staff Report

With the fate of 68 seniors and 70 staff caregivers at stake, concerned community members offered commentary during the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council Planning and Land Use Committee meeting on Sept. 10 to oppose plans that would wipe out the nation’s only bicultural and bilingual intermediate care facility (ICF) for Japanese Americans.

Some 187 people were in attendance, including relatives of current ICF residents. The proposal by Pacifica Companies LLC, outlined by Pacifica representative Ryley Webb, calls for replacing the Sakura Gardens ICF with a multi-unit family apartment complex and parking garage.

U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who in 2015 stood alongside members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro, was among 34 speakers who expressed opposition to Pacifica’s plan.

“Many of my constituents have parents and grandparents that were in (Keiro) and are very concerned about how this will affect their families. We’re talking about a cultural interruption here,” said Waters, whose 43rd Congressional District includes Pacifica’s South Bay property.

In 2016, as a condition imposed by then-State Attorney General Kamala Harris, Pacifica agreed as part of the purchase that they would not substantially change the culturally sensitive living environment at the former Keiro ICF for at least five years.

Rep. Maxine Waters, shown speaking in November 2015 at the Aratani Theatre at a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro, was among those who voiced opposition to Pacifica’s new proposal. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

“The impacts of gentrification are quickly changing many of the neighborhoods in the Los Angeles region. These are the type of development decisions that hurt our communities the most because they displace longtime residents and eliminate valuable cultural landmarks,” Waters added.

“We can’t allow profit motive alone to dictate such important decisions,” Waters concluded. She urged Pacifica, “Please allow our seniors to continue living in their home, eating the food they like, interacting with the people who understand them, and ask yourself, ‘How would you feel if they were your parents?’”

Also speaking in opposition to Pacifica’s proposal was Rev. Mark Nakagawa, Los Angeles Area district superintendent for the United Methodist Church, who oversees two local churches, Centenary in Little Tokyo and La Trinidad in Boyle Heights.

Nakagawa’s father lived at Keiro from 2010-12. He pointed out that the proposed adaptive reuse of the ICF “violates the agreement made between Pacifica and Attorney General Kamala Harris five years ago that nothing on this property would change within the five-year period, which is still in effect until February.”

“Even though Pacifica might be phasing out ICF, there are still residents there, and particularly during this COVID pandemic, it would cause much severity and harm to those families and individuals at least for the next six months,” he noted.

“While workforce housing is commendable, (such housing) violates the integrity of that property as a residential place for retirees, seniors who need assistance, people who need intermediate care and similar facilities.”

Rev. Nakagawa recommended building an assisted living facility there to replace the ICF. Assisted living is very much in need, he pointed out, as the population of seniors continues to grow, especially among seniors of Japanese ancestry, who statistically tend to live longer than the national average in the U.S.

Sanjoy Datta, whose mother-in-law is a Sakura Gardens resident, expressed dissatisfaction with how Pacifica has managed the facility. “They haven’t shown the requisite accountability. Right now, they are already chipping away at the Japanese character of the facility by reducing the amount of Japanese food available to the current residents.

“The whole point of having an ICF is, as you get older and sicker, the residents in the retirement facility are able to move (from assisted living) into an on-site ICF. My mother-in-law’s own mother stayed in that facility when it was run by Keiro, and the whole point of the Keiro Retirement Home…was to help the Japanese American community to have a place for its senior citizens to stay,” reminded Datta. He called Pacifica’s plan to mix senior citizens with regular housing “strange.”

Dr. Takeshi Matsumoto reported that he has cared for literally hundreds of residents in the ICF since 1968. Of the 68 elderly patients currently at the ICF, 14 are Dr. Matsumoto’s patients. In addition, 31 are Japanese-speaking, and 60 depend on Medi-Cal. The unspoken question no one seemed to be able to answer: Where are they going to go?

Tim Manaka reminded the BHNC committee members of the historic significance of the ICF site, where the Jewish Home for the Aged once stood. “There’s been a long history of the Jewish community and the Japanese American community utilizing that site.”

Dr. Kenji Irie recounted the story of a 105-year old woman whose mind is mentally clear. She moved in with her granddaughter, but her family had to hire help. She did not want to see her family suffer, so she moved into the ICF. “That’s why the ICF is ideal.”

“I hope you will look into what this (Japanese American) community has been through,” advised Adele Lutz. “In the internment camps, everything was taken away. Without the specific care they’re given, it would be a crime, unbelievably sad.”

David Silvas, who moderated the BHNC session, said he was “profoundly concerned” by the proposal, which he likened to “a bomb dropped on the community.”

BHNC board member Vivian Escalante said, “I’m very shocked that a company would come in and do something like this. Especially now with COVID. You should re-think it.”

Webb responded to the onslaught of disapproving comments, vowing to “work with each individual resident to meet their needs.” He emphasized that the planning process is in the “very, very early stages” and will take years.

Other speakers included:

Kristin Fukushima, whose uncle was one of the co-founders of Keiro;

Former State Assemblymember Warren Furutani;

Keiko Ikeda of Koreisha Senior Care and Advocacy, who urged “compassion for these seniors in their last years of life.”

John Kanai, also of Koreisha, who stressed that the ICF residents have no place to go;

Jon Kaji, who opposed the sale of Keiro’s facilities to Pacifica;

Mark Masaoka, whose grandmother lived at the retirement home;

Rose Matsumoto, whose mother, an ICF resident, suffers from slight dementia and doesn’t speak English;

Professor Kensaku Nakayama of California State University Long Beach, whose 92-year-old mother is a resident at ICF;

Michael Okamura of Little Tokyo Historical Society, whose grandmothers were at Keiro;

Michael Toji, whose mother lives at ICF;

Karen Umemoto of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, whose parents donated to Keiro every year.

BHNC Planning and Land Use Committee members voted against Pacifica’s plan. Next step will be for the full Neighborhood Council to hear the committee’s decision. The matter is next expected to go before the L.A. City Council Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee. No date has been set.

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