By MIA NAKAJI MONNIER and NAO NAKANISHI, Rafu Staff Writers
When it began in September, the Ad Hoc Committee to Save Keiro was motley group of just four members, concerned about how residents would be affected if Keiro Senior HealthCare sold its facilities to a company outside the Japanese American community.
Less than three months later, the group has grown into an organized movement, with subcommittees, custom-printed buttons, and the support of several local politicians. On Monday night, it held its third public meeting at JACCC’s Aratani Theatre. With an audience of about 500, under the lights of the stage, the Ad Hoc Committee was almost unrecognizable from its humble beginnings.
At its first two public meetings, held at Centenary United Methodist Church, the mood was confused and angry. On Monday, however, perhaps encouraged by the committee’s growth, the crowd seemed hopeful. “They didn’t come tonight to be convinced,” said Charles Igawa, a chairman of the committee. “They were here to be reassured that it’s not over yet.”
The meeting came just after an exchange with the California Attorney General’s Office. On Oct. 19, the Ad Hoc Committee turned in a petition to Attorney General Kamala Harris asking her to consider postponing the sale and holding a public meeting. Assemblymember David Hadley (R-Torrance) wrote Harris a letter in support of the committee, and soon after that, Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena) and 15 other members of Congress sent a letter as well.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Tania Ibanez replied on Nov. 5. “While it has been requested that the Attorney General postpone the sale, this office cannot legally retract its approval,” she wrote.
But the Ad Hoc Committee continues to fight, and at Monday’s meeting, Hadley, Chu, and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Gardena) all pledged their support. It may be because of Waters, who said that she made a personal call to Harris, that the committee was able to secure a meeting at the Los Angeles branch of the Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday afternoon.
“The idea that someone could be there now who could live for the next 10 years, 15 years, but they (Keiro) don’t even attempt to deal with anything beyond five years,” said Waters, referring to one of the attorney general’s conditions for the sale, that the new owners maintain Keiro’s existing programs and services for five years. “What’s going to happen to someone like the people we saw tonight on the screen (in a video) who sold their homes expecting that they would live here for the rest of their lives? And if you are 90 years old and the five years are up, you have no protection, where are you supposed to go? And there will be seniors with no families, who have outlived their families. What are they supposed to do? It’s a scary situation.”
Keiro, for its part, has grown frustrated with protesters, whom CEO Shawn Miyake and Chairman of the Board Gary Kawaguchi both describe as having their own agenda, rather than being concerned about what is best for Keiro. After Chu and fellow congressional representatives sent their letter to Harris, Kawaguchi sent them all a letter of his own, asking them to retract their letter.
“Having read this letter signed by you and other members of the Congress was a great disappointment to me, since not a single person ever contacted Keiro… for our reasons why we are moving forward with this sale,” he wrote. “I’m disappointed that you would leap to such conclusions without even verifying if anything you were told was true.”
Both Chu and Waters said they have no intention of retracting their letter. The Ad Hoc Committee, meanwhile, is making bigger demands than ever. On Monday, for the first time, Igawa formally called for the resignations of Miyake and all board members.
Representatives from both Keiro and the Ad Hoc Committee were invited to speak before the general meeting of the Little Tokyo Community Council on Tuesday. There, Kawaguchi reiterated that the decision to sell Keiro was not an easy one for the board. He mentioned that application rates at the retirement home have dropped 80 percent since 2005, and the occupancy rate is falling as well.
“If there was any way to continue the current facilities’ operation without the threat of closure, we would have done that,” he said. “Without the sale, the Keiro facilities will eventually be forced to close completely, or lose its focus on the Japanese community.”
After the Ad Hoc Committee, along with Waters, met with representatives from the Attorney General’s Office on Tuesday, they expected a response within the next week.