By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The board of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council at its Sept. 23 online meeting voted against a proposal by Pacifica Companies to build multi-family housing and a parking structure on the current site of the Intermediate Care Facility at Sakura Gardens, 325 S. Boyle Ave.
The discussion followed a Sept. 10 meeting of the BHNC’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUC), where a Pacifica representative gave a presentation with renderings of the finished project. During the public comment period, all of the speakers, including family members of ICF residents, opposed the proposal, as did the committee members.
The speakers at the committee meeting included Rep. Maxine Waters, whose district includes Kei-Ai South Bay Healthcare Center in Gardena, one of four properties sold by Keiro to Pacifica in 2016. The other properties are ICF, the former Keiro Retirement Home (adjacent to ICF) and the nursing home in Lincoln Heights.
Committee chair David Silvas recalled that the speakers addressed “the big question of what will this actually do to the Japanese American community that has been to been an integral part of the Boyle Heights landscape for many, many years … Based on the feedback and the motion made at PLUC, which was to not support Pacifica’s development of Sakura Gardens. I developed a community impact statement (CIS) that I would like to present to the Neighborhood Council for approval.”
The statement, which was approved by the board, reads: “The Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council is requesting that the aforementioned CIS be directed to the Los Angeles City Council and committees and attached to any future council number that may be assigned to this LADBS (Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety) case number …
“The Planning and Land Use Committee of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council voted unanimously against the proposed project filed by Pacifica Companies to build a 40,000-square-foot, 50-unit multi-family housing complex at the site, as well as convert the intermediate care tower from a 48-unit and 90-bed intermediate care facility to a 45-unit multi-family tower parking garage …
“Based on community feedback at the … PLUC meeting, Pacifica did not consult the Japanese American community and its members who reside at Sakura Gardens about this project. Many community members and the PLUC board expressed profound concerns over the lack of clarity about the project, its overall vision and the uncertainty of the future for the senior residents.
“Other concerns discussed were how the proposed development would impact surrounding parking and traffic in the area. In addition, community and PLUC members were concerned about the renderings for the Sakura Gardens site — the renderings do not present themselves to be aesthetically and stylistically appropriate for the historic Boyle Avenue corridor — and whether the historic auditorium and Mary Pickford Tower, which date back to the Jewish Home of the Aged, would be affected as well as the koi pond installed by the Japanese Gardeners Association.
“Considering all of the above issues, it is the recommendation of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council not to support this proposed project by Pacifica Companies at the Sakura Gardens/Keiro site.”
A public comment period followed, during which speakers were limited to one minute each.
“I have several patients of the ICF currently, and my patients are all above 90 — average is about 95,” said Dr. Kenji Irie. “Their mind is very clear. They love the Intermediate Care Facility … Their children are aging, so they don’t want to make their family members suffer because of them …
“Now they don’t have anywhere else to go except for the ICF. They came to the ICF because of … a promise they got. The promise said they would be taken care of until the end comes for them.”
“There’s a long history of more than 100 years of Japanese presence in the Boyle Heights community,” said Dr. Keiko Ikeda. “The facility was purchased … from the Jewish Home for the Aged almost 50-plus years ago by the Japanese American leaders who had a vision of maintaining the senior facilities for many generations to come.
“The residents are frail. Many are widowed and have suffered multiple losses. But at ICF, they have benefited from the safe, affordable Japanese services provided by bilingual staff, doctors, and volunteers. It’s a big family, and that gives them a sense of belonging in a foreign culture. No matter how many years you have lived in this country, there’s nothing as comforting as eating foods that you’re familiar with and speaking in your own language to people who understand you.”
“My 90-year-old mother is a current resident at the Sakura ICF,” said Michael Toji. “As her son, I am deeply concerned about the plans for converting this ICF into multi-family housing and the potential displacement of the current residents … many of whom are in their eighties, nineties, as my mother is, or even in their hundreds.
“So if they’re forced to move, I’m concerned about having to relocate, especially during this time of pandemic, given that they’re the most vulnerable among us for infection … The thought of moving out of her home, a home in which my mother thought she would live out the rest of her days, brings her to tears. It breaks my heart to hear that.”
Kensaku Nakayama, whose mother is also at ICF, said, “The residents are very elderly. They have a community of friends … and to break that up would be a very big damage to the elderly community that’s living at ICF …
“As you get older, your proclivities tend toward what you knew as a child … so foods and music and other things that they enjoy, many are reverting back to what they enjoyed when they were in Japan. So this facility provides that home in which they can enjoy their foods, their music. Religious services, of course, are held in Japanese, so that’s extremely important to the Buddhist and Christian believers in the facility. And that will be destroyed if this community is broken up.”
“The Keiro homes were established to provide culturally sensitive, affordable transitional healthcare for the Japanese elderly,” said Carol Ono. ”Despite having been sold close to five years ago, the former Keiro homes continue to be cherished and treasured institutions in the Japanese community.
“Now the ICF residents are at risk of losing the affordable homes they were assured would be safe for the rest of their lives. Pacifica’s plans will displace low-income seniors and will replace them with more affluent residents — a first step in gentrifying the Boyle Heights property and further gentrifying the Boyle Heights community.
“Pacifica should not be allowed to displace low-income residents or to erase and destroy the cherished institutions, the traditions, the history, and the culture of the Japanese American community or any other community.”
Rev. Mark Nakagawa, Los Angeles area district superintendent for the United Methodist Church and former pastor at Centenary UMC in Little Tokyo, also spoke out against the project. “All of the previous speakers have said what I was going to say. I’d simply second what they have said [about]issues regarding cultural, cultural, sensitivity, and gentrification in the immediate Boyle Heights area. Let me again reiterate what I said two weeks ago during the PLUC hearing, that Pacifica’s proposal really violates the agreement they made with Attorney General Kamala Harris five years ago, which was to keep the integrity of the property the way it is for at least five years.”
Members of the Latino community expressed solidarity with the Japanese American community on this issue, noting that development may mean less affordable housing.
BHNC board members who agreed with the speakers included Brenda Martinez, Carlos Montes, Marco Antonio Navarro and Vivian Escalante.
Also voting for the motion were Jose Orozco Pelico (president), Denisse Gory Marquez, David Pugo, Jeannette Garcia, David Lopez, Carlos Cerdan, Alma Catalan, Monica Tapia, Peter Hagan and Jenny Omana.