By Ted AYALA and Jason KUROSU
Around 100 people gathered outside the offices of be.group on Wednesday afternoon in a spirited protest over the company’s decision to shutter the Twelve Oaks Lodge in La Crescenta. Twelve Oaks, an assisted living facility for senior citizens, had been a community fixture for over 80 years. Its future was abruptly snuffed out in late August when be.group, which owns the facility, surprised Twelve Oaks residents and their families with the announcement that it would be closing the facility effective in 60 days.
Plans to sell the facility foundered earlier last month when New Urban West, a developer from Santa Monica, pulled out of the deal. Despite that setback, be.group has remained committed to closing Twelve Oaks, its timetable to force residents out still in place.
For residents like Jim Davidson, who was on hand to cheer on the protesters, the closure amounts to more than just the loss of a home.
“My friends were all here, it was wonderful,” he said. “There were no arguments between us. It was great. We didn’t want to be dispersed like this. I can’t believe [be.group] would just sell us out like this.”
Another former resident showing his support for the protesters expressed his feelings over the closure in far more direct terms.
Frequent honks in support from passing motorists punctured the protesters’ chants of “Save Twelve Oaks,” who returned the honks with boisterous cheers.
Amid the sounds of support, local author and illustrator Frans Vischer registered his dismay over be.group’s decision.
“This facility has been here for so long, its residents have lived here for so many years – this is all they have,” he said. “The idea that to sell that property because it’s valuable and displace 50 people in the process is terrible. Morally it’s an outrage.”
As he looked around at the swirl of people chanting slogans – “Save Twelve Oaks” and “Don’t be greedy, don’t be cruel, respect our seniors, golden rule” – Vischer expressed his feeling that concern for Twelve Oaks’ residents is something that ought to strike people close to home.
“I myself could live in a place like that one day,” he said. “We need to take care of our own neighborhood. Business runs on money, but there are instances when money shouldn’t triumph over the well-being of your neighbors. This is one of them.”
Rose Chan, president of the National Charity League’s (NCL) Glendale branch, was thrilled that the community rallied behind Twelve Oaks and its residents.
“It’s very gratifying to see,” she said. “This is going to be a hard fight, so to see that this many people care really inspires our group that works on this every day.”
NCL, a non-profit organization, had operated Twelve Oaks until it transferred it 10 years ago to be.group, then known as Southern California Presbyterian Homes. Chan felt that the site’s for-profit sale violates the spirit in which their transfer of stewardship was conducted.
“We transferred the property to them without any money exchanging hands,” she said. “For them to sell the property and use the proceeds for themselves is just the wrong thing to do.”
NCL members have been among the loudest opponents of the sale. Its network of volunteers has formed a tight relationship with Twelve Oaks and its residents.
“They’ve been just lovely with us,” said Davidson of the “Tick-Tockers,” as NCL volunteers are informally known.
In the meantime, Twelve Oaks supporters have won some traction with Glendale City Council, with Councilmember Laura Friedman suggesting a one-year moratorium to explore whether the sale would fall under a state law that would hold up sales of properties deemed “detrimental.”
In the meantime, Chan said Twelve Oaks supporters and the NCL would continue the fight.
“Twelve Oaks belongs in the community,” Chan said. “There is still a very critical need for affordable senior housing. We don’t believe [be.group] when they say that operating the site is neither feasible financially or physically. Twelve Oaks has been there for 80 years. Its residents don’t want to move.”
Wednesday afternoon’s protest came on the heels of the Sept. 26 Crescenta Valley Community Association meeting that drew assuredly the largest crowd yet for a CVCA meeting. This was in response to the closure of Twelve Oaks.
The be.group has sought the sale of the property, citing safety concerns as well as insufficient funds as reasons for not continuing ownership. While the meeting suggested that the prospects of preventing the sale of Twelve Oaks were thin (although there appears to be no potential buyer at the moment), the crowd of residents still left the meeting Thursday night with a plan of action that evolved into Wednesday’s protest.
“I think we need to make some noise and call it what it is,” said Julia Leeper, a resident of Sycamore Avenue, where Twelve Oaks is located. “Maybe they’ll be shamed out of this horrible decision that they’ve made.”
Former State Assemblyman Anthony Portantino said he would contribute funds for the protest effort. Others vowed to call be.group president and CEO John H. Cochrane III, whether he listened or not.
Such were the options left them, it seemed, to keep Twelve Oaks’ senior residents from being displaced.
Justin Hager, representing Assemblyman Mike Gatto, discussed legal options for blocking the sale.
“The Assemblyman is fully aware of the situation,” Hager said. “We have already sent a letter from the assemblyman to the attorney general of California making a formal legislative request to investigate the specific language of the trust and determine whether or not a land transfer to a private for-profit organization is even legal in the first place.”
However, should it follow that the be.group has not violated any law regarding land transfers, Hager said there would not be much more the state could do.
“Unfortunately, other than ensuring that there is transparency in the legal process of the transfers and in the closure of the facility and ensuring that the letter of the law is followed, the state cannot force a private organization not to go forward with something if they are following the law,” Hager said.
Patricia Van Dyke, an attorney with Bet Tzedek Legal Services, echoed some of Hager’s points about the Twelve Oaks legal standing.
“It is frustrating. So far, they have followed the law,” Van Dyke said.
Van Dyke was brought into the discussion by the NCL to represent some of Twelve Oaks’ residents.
Van Dyke said residents could challenge the sale on a number of fronts.
“We are covering a number of improprieties in the closure procedure. We don’t believe the assessments have been done properly. We don’t believe they’ve been documented properly. We don’t think people are getting appropriate transfer information.”
Van Dyke said there could be an argument that the Twelve Oaks Foundation committed a breach of fiduciary duty, acting not in the best interests of Twelve Oaks’ residents.
But ultimately, Van Dyke said the Twelve Oaks Foundation is acting within the law as they close the property over a 60-day span.
“That’s the law. If we don’t like it, we have to change the law,” Van Dyke said. “There is an epidemic of seniors not being able to afford housing and they’re getting kicked out. I had to defend three evictions for people in their 90s. It should not be legal to kick somebody out on 30 days’ notice when they’re 90 years old.”
Chan explained that new healthcare and retirement home regulations 10 years ago convinced the NCL, which is a volunteer organization, that it should put Twelve Oaks into hands more experienced in operating a retirement home.
“This came completely out of the blue for us,” Chan added. “We find that they have no credibility with the statements they have been making regarding financial conditions. They keep pinning all of the financial issues of the whole group on Twelve Oaks and I find that offensive.
“They’re saying it’s not feasible to run a retirement home on the property,” Chan said. “It’s been running fine for 80 years. What they mean is that it’s not profitable to run a retirement home there.”