Boyle Heights - A plan to change a care facility for elderly Japanese has sparked resistance from the community, and has been opposed unanimously by the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council's Planning and Land Use Committee.
Plans have been filed with the city to convert the 48-unit/90-bed Sakura Gardens on Boyle Avenue into a 45-unit multifamily building, and to construct another building on the southeast corner of the property with 50 more residential units.
Pacifica Companies bought Sakura Gardens near the beginning of 2016, raising objections from the community at that time as well. Under the sale agreement, Pacifica promised to continue its current operations for at least five years. But those five years end in February next year.
Sakura Gardens is also notable for maintaining Japanese culture within its walls. The sale agreement - developed with California’s then-Attorney General Kamala Harris - has required Pacifica to provide traditional Japanese dishes, Japanese TV programming, observance of Japanese holidays, books, videos and discs in Japanese, and traditional Japanese activities such as ikebana (the art of floral arrangements), the koto (a stringed musical instrument), shigin (reciting/singing), and origami.
Plus, most of the residents are low income, according to David Silvas, chair of the Boyle heights NC PLUC. He notes that there is extreme concern over what will happen to the residents, and uncertainty over what will happen with the facility.
“Sakura is the only bilingual Japanese intermediate care facility in the entire country,” U.S. Representative Maxine Waters said when she phoned in for the public comment portion of the Boyle Heights planning and land use meeting on Sept 10.
A representative from the owner, Pacifica Companies, told The Eastsider the conversion to a “multifamily building” does not mean the Sakura facility would stop housing intermediate care patients - noting that there are no definite plans at the moment to shut down the facility.
But during the Sept. 10 meeting, Ryley Webb - Land Development Manager at Pacifica - would not guarantee that Japanese-centered care would continue at the ICF once the renovation plan for it began moving forward.
He also discussed where the different residents might go, depending on their conditions. Some could be fit enough to move to the retirement facility, which would continue as Japanese-centered, while some could utilize the memory care facility that was added in 2019.
"The intermediate care facility use has been phased out across California," Webb told the committee, "and other senior living care has replaced it.”
An intermediate care facility fulfills a unique niche, according to Traci Imamura. a member of the community advisory board that was set up as a condition of the sale. It’s for people who are not fit enough for a retirement or independent care facility, but not sick enough for a nursing home.
“They would have to either go home to have someone taking care of them around the clock,” Imamura said. “I really don’t know where they could go.”