Los Angeles City Councilmember Kevin de Leon was among the speakers. The backdrop was a reminder that the Boyle Heights press conference was being held on the Day of Remembrance. At right, Assemblmember Miguel Santiago holds a sign. (Photos by MARIO GERSHOM REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

A press conference was held on the Day of Remembrance (Feb. 19) by opponents of Pacifica’s plan to turn the former Keiro Intermediate Care Facility into multi-family, market-rate residential units.

Elected officials and community representatives spoke outside Pacifica’s Sakura Gardens campus in Boyle Heights, which includes the ICF and a retirement home.

Keiko Ikeda and John Kanai spoke for Koreisha Senior Care & Advocacy. “Intermediate Care Facility residents are extremely worried,” Ikeda said. “These elderly Japanese residents do not have a place to go. They are frail, and require daily assistance from the staff to live … Many are refusing to be transferred to the nursing home during the pandemic since they fear they will be sick with COVID …

“To close the facility at this time of infections and deaths among vulnerable seniors is unconscionable. The conversion of the facility must be stopped.”

Assemblymember Miguel Santiago said, “These Japanese American seniors have helped build this community … have stood side by side with Mexican Americans, have stood side by side by immigrants from all walks of life … They are part of our community.

“But the fight here represents the larger fight we’re seeing all across our region. Big for-profit corporations coming in and kicking our people out. At a point in time when we’re talking about social equity, we’ve got large corporations with no ties to our communities simply seeking the bottom line, profit over people. But they chose the wrong people to pick on …

“Simply because they’re older today, simply because they look different, simply because they have a different language, and simply because they have a different history than their shareholders and those that are demanding profit from this investment … they want to kick out those seniors who have made our community what it is today … It’s just plain and simple cold-blooded and cruel to kick out our seniors during a pandemic.”

Santiago said the battle will be fought at the local and state level. “We’re saying, stop gentrifying our neighborhood … We’re not going to stand for this. We’re not going to let the seniors [be put] out on the street.”

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi

Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi (D-Torrance) said, “Today is a very historic day in the Japanese American community. 79 years ago on Feb. 19, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, that led to the evacuation and incarceration of over 120,000 Japanese Americans … We didn’t have any elected officials or community support, so our community had to quietly be sent off to concentration camps.

“But today we are all gathered with … the entire community of Boyle Heights to say hell no, Pacifica will not evict our seniors, especially during this pandemic. Assemblymember Santiago and I have introduced Assembly Bill 279, which will ban evictions or changes in conditions in these nursing homes and intermediate care facilities during this state of emergency.”

Muratsuchi has discussed the issue with organizations and individuals, including former Assemblymember Warren Furutani, now part of City Councilmember Kevin de Leon’s staff. “I have reached out to Pacifica to request a meeting but have never received even the courtesy of a response … To the executives and the lawyers of Pacifica, I say do the right thing. These seniors … they are our mothers, they are our fathers, they are our grandfathers, they are our grandmothers. This is not just another real estate deal. Take care of them, don’t evict them, and don’t stop serving gohan and misoshiru to them.

“At the very least, let them know what your plans are so that their families can prepare.”

De Leon said he is honored to be working with Furutani, “a man who has committed his life to the civil rights of all individuals, a man who brought this to my attention.”

He noted that Sakura Gardens “has been serving the Japanese American community for decades. It’s been an institution that Japanese Americans could count on to provide care for their seniors … and to provide that care in a culturally competent manner that’s respectful of Japanese traditions and norms.

“At the time Pacifica Companies purchased Keiro [facilities] back in 2016, there was already a concern that this property developer would erase all of that. So Pacifica was required by the Attorney General’s Office to maintain the services that Sakura Gardens’ previous owner provided the community for at least the last five years … None of us ever fathomed … a closure or relocation of residents as COVID-19 raged on throughout 2020 and only hit a national peak just three weeks ago …

“To force the existing residents out of this viable facility at the height of a global pandemic that continues to devastate our aging adults … Pacifica’s plans to close the ICF and force the relocation of many vulnerable seniors might be nothing short of a death sentence …

“Our society already wrongly treats our aging population … as something to hide, marginalizing those who have worked and sacrificed their entire lives to build a better world for the next generation … They deserve better.”

Referring to Day of Remembrance, de Leon said, “Here we are … fighting to protect some of the same people whose rights and dignity were stripped of them eight decades ago. It’s unfathomable that these seniors face yet another forced relocation in their twilight years during a global pandemic.

“Pacifica Companies … has ignored my repeated phone calls and emails to request a discussion of options to delay relocations and ensure these senior citizens are protected from becoming infected with COVID-19 … They are making profits the priority over the well-being of our residents in Boyle Heights … I’ll fight like hell with my brothers and sisters in the State Legislature … to protect the needs of my constituents over the profits of a company that shows little regard for the people they supposedly serve.”

Hoang Nguyen, aide to Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, read a statement on her behalf: “This is a moral and public health issue. In the middle of a pandemic, Pacifica should not attempt to yank away much-needed and critical housing and culturally competent services that so many Japanese American seniors are relying upon.

“I urge the company to work with the community and residents to keep the facility open, or at the very least delay the closure until the pandemic is over while finding a reasonable alternative which could accommodate the unique needs of the residents. I stand with the residents of Sakura Gardens, the community of Boyle Heights, and elected officials in the region to call on Pacifica to do the right thing.”

Traci Imamura of Save Our Seniors spoke for the families of the residents.

Hamilton Cloud, aide to Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Gardena), recalled, “Five years ago, Congresswoman Waters and Congresswoman Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) participated with a number of community organizations to express their opposition to the sale of Keiro’s four facilities to Pacifica for this very reason. They were worried that the culturally sensitive care provided by Keiro would fall victim to financial interests, and sure enough here we are five years later with the possibility of this becoming very real.”

Reps. Waters, Chu and Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) have asked the state’s Department of Justice to intervene.

Traci Imamura of Save Our Seniors also referred to the camps. “I used to hope that I would have been someone like Ralph Lazo, the 16-year-old Mexican American from Belmont High School who voluntarily entered the Manzanar concentration camp with his Japanese American best friends in an act of solidarity. Today I ask myself, what kind of person am I now? Will I stand up for my neighbor in solidarity? …

“After five years’ experience as a former Koreisha member and a current CAB member, I’ve asked so many family members to speak out publicly about preserving affordable, culturally sensitive, quality care, so I am here today in solidarity with those families and their loved ones to ask you to remember the inhumanity of the events 79 years ago. Some of the seniors in the facility behind us lived through those events …

“They have been kept 100 percent COVID-free during this pandemic in the ICF … Pacifica has proposed that these elders move from ICF to another Pacifica-owned facility, the Kei-Ai Los Angeles nursing home. Kei-Ai L.A. is … a designated COVID-19 nursing home, which means they admit COVID-positive patients from hospitals, and now it may be the deadliest COVID nursing home in California.

“Without bilingual, bicultural care in a COVID-free alternate facility, ICF residents cannot safely be moved. With 230 COVID-positive cases and 96 deaths, the county must investigate how Pacifica got this designation and why it has not kept these seniors safe.”

Dr. Ken Hayashida spoke as chair of the Community Advisory Board, which provides community feedback to Pacifica and to Keiro regarding conditions at the facilities. His great-grandmother lived at ICF for 10 years. His grandfather provided koi for the ponds at the Boyle Heights campus.

“As a USC graduate, I lived here in Boyle Heights when I attended the L.A. County-USC training program for doctors, so I really love this neighborhood,” Hayashida said. “… So it really is heartbreaking to talk about the loss of this facility, the loss of jobs for the people of Boyle Heights.”

Because of COVID testing requirements in the facilities, he said, “we have something to be very proud of, that we can create a small green zone where people are safe from the epidemic. That’s why we don’t want these people thrown out … With this Day of Remembrance, we can remember our elders but we can also rejoice in the fact that we have new friends that are fighting for what it means to be American.”

David Silvas, Planning and Land Use Committee chair for the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, said, “My family came to Boyle Heights from Romania and Hungary at the turn of the century. They found a place of refuge, a place where immigrants were welcome …

“One of the most profound things that happened to my family was during World War II. They befriended a Japanese store owner [who] said, ‘We might go to camp’ … My family took the title to that store and the property, and when half the family came back from Manzanar, they signed the title back to them … Since that story exists in my family, I was always brought up to respect my neighbors, respect different cultures …

“The Japanese culture’s respect of the elderly and seniors is monumental. Pacifica is doing the greatest disrespect to the seniors of the Japanese community, the seniors of our Boyle Heights community … I’m extremely disturbed since September when … I received notification that approximately 80 residential units were to be built on the site of this senior campus [which] has served the elders of our community for 100 years … It started out as the Jewish Home for the Aged … It’s always been a landmark of senior care in the Boyle Heights community.”

Following an outpouring of concern from stakeholders, “the PLUC and eventually the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council unanimously did not support Pacifica’s project,” Silvas said, telling Pacifica, “You’ve ignored me, you’ve ignored Council District 14, you’ve ignored higher-up officials. Shame on you.”

He added, “These vulnerable seniors have to go through this again with the possibility of being ripped out from their home – maybe not today, maybe not six months from now, maybe not a year from now, but to have that torture of fear about being displaced again is unconscionable.”

A rally focusing on the COVID cases was held Feb. 25 outside Kei-Ai Los Angeles Healthcare Center, formerly Keiro Nursing Home, in Lincoln Heights.

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