Maggie Macklin, President of the Breakers Residents Council, stands in front of supporters at a rally outside the historic Downtown Long Beach building Thursday. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
Maggie Macklin exited the front entrance of the Breakers Building into a gathering of supporters and paused to light a cigarette. Macklin, the President of the Breakers Residents Council, is small in stature, but has been the voice of those who received notice this week they would have 60 days to find a new place to live after the historic Downtown Long Beach building’s owner, Bernie Rosenson, had his license to provide elder care revoked by the California Department of Social Services last month. She took a drag off her cigarette before going into the details of the meeting she had just walked out of in frustration.
“I couldn’t hear one more lie,” Macklin said. “I almost threw up.”
Present at the meeting were Rosenson and representatives from the State, social services and adult protective services. The details of the “closure plan” were laid out, and the residents were told what their options are going forward.
Solid Landings, a for-profit company from Costa Mesa that operates sober living and addiction rehabilitation centers—which finalized a lease this week to take over the building—is moving in, and seniors who don’t require medical assistance were told they're free to stay. Rosenson said that details of the closure plan were under a state-mandated gag-order until the document was completed late last week.
While Solid Landings and Rosenson have expressed to the residents that they’re welcome to stay, provided that they’re independent, those who require help moving around, bathing or need drugs administered will have to either provide their own private medical services or move to another facility, since Solid Landings wont legally be allowed to provide the level of care they need.
"Two people I know broke down in the beauty shop, people are fighting, they’re on edge,” Macklin said. “One daughter had to put her mother on anti-anxiety pills. It’s bad. There are some people here that are living check to check, that have no money and can’t get into any place because you have to have a deposit to get in. And most of them are much higher than they ask here at the Breakers.”
Rosenson said that of the 80 residents at the Breakers, 40 are planning on staying at the facility after the license expires in May. After that, Solid Landings plans to fill the remaining vacancies with its residents, which could range between 140-180 people.
“This is something that’s not right for the senior citizens, it’s something that’s not right for the greater community, so I’m helping to keep this a retirement facility,” said Eric Gray, a resident of Second District, who confirmed earlier this week he’ll be running for that district’s council seat next year.
Gray added that Macklin and other seniors have met with legal council to explore the possibility of an injunction that would keep the seniors in their home at the Breakers.
“There was a resident promised in November that everything was fine,” Gray added. “There was a resident this year promised everything was going to be fine, then all of a sudden this comes up. There are possible ways for residents to stay, and that’s what they’re looking for, any legal way for them to stay.”
Representatives from other elder care facilities in the city were on hand to help answer questions for the residents and their families in regard to other living options for those who will be forced to vacate since Solid Landings wont legally be allowed to provide the level of care they need.
The Breakers is widely regarded as one of the cheaper options in assisted living in the city, with units ranging from $2,000 to $4,500 a month. Moving to a new home could not only increase residents' rent, but would require a down payment that many of the residents just can’t afford.
Pamela Power, who has worked in the industry since 1964, including a brief stint at the Breakers facility in the mid-90s, said that her organization, Bixby Towers, was initially invited to attend today’s meeting by Jonathan Rosenson, Bernard’s son, before having that invitation rescinded the very next day. Ultimately, Power said Rosenson told her she could come and set up a table in the lobby of Breakers next week, but at a cost of $5,000 and with an agreement to pay an additional $1,000 referral fee for every senior who ended up moving to Bixby Towers.
“I haven’t heard of anything like that and I think that it’s really sad that they’re trying to profit from this situation and these residents’ loss," Powers said. “It’s very, very traumatic and even the department of licensing have a word from it, it’s called 'transfer trauma.' I’m protesting that he’s profiting off of their misery.”
Power added that she once worked at a facility located on Pine Avenue that faced a similar situation because they didn’t own the building. However, when they lost the building, she said she did everything she could to help facilitate a smooth transition for the seniors in her care. She added that she certainly didn’t ask for a referral fee.
“The way that I did that was I called every community I knew of from Santa Ana to San Pedro and I said ‘Please, I need your help, bring your things, I’m setting up tables, we’ll bring our residents to tour your properties,’” Powers said.
When asked about the tabling and referral fees mentioned by Power, Bernard said that it “wasn’t his idea.” When pressed if he would be allowing other care facilities to disseminate information for free to Breakers residents, he dismissed the statement made by Power, saying “that’s not what we’ll be doing.”
Several people showed up in support of the Breakers residents and held signs up outside the property reading “Save our Seniors” and “Don’t make my mom homeless” as passing cars honked. Steve Gallagher, a neighbor of the Breakers building who is currently in recovery from addiction, said he wasn’t opposed to a sober living facility existing there, but he was opposed to it displacing the senior citizens that have called that building home for many years.
“In my mind, the seniors have had a home here,” Gallagher said. “They’re in varying stages of health, and it’s not their fault that the company who was maintaining the services had their license removed. I think the best effort would be to find a replacement company that services seniors and could continue their care.”
The Breakers relinquished its elder care license by signing an agreement with state social services earlier this month. The process was set in motion in March 2014, when the state moved to revoke the Breakers' license after various elder abuse claims resulting in multiple lawsuits filed against Sign of the Dove, Rosenson’s organization that held the license. The motion filed by the state alleged that the facility failed to provide “basic care,” which ultimately resulted in the death of one of its residents in 2012.
Rosenson, however, maintains the punishment doesn't fit the crime.
Although he admitted that the Breakers would’ve eventually been hit with some form of punishment stemming from the allegations and lawsuits, the loss of the license, he said, is unprecedented.
“Never in the history of licensing has a facility lost their license for what’s happened,” said Rosenson.
Instead, he contends that he was denied due process and forced into a settlement with the state due to the fact that his status as a full-time student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland conflicted with his mandated appearances before the State. Rosenson is pursing a doctorate in management.
“I was literally forced to sign a document I didn’t believe in,” Rosenson said. “I didn’t have due process.”
The process of leasing the building has been the focus of much scrutiny as the historic Breakers building is not zoned to serve as a sober living facility according to the city’s Department of Development Services. In an email to the Post earlier this month, Amy Bodek, the director of the department, confirmed that the building could not legally serve as the home of a sober living facility, and there is no existing mechanism to change that.
Vice-Mayor and Second District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal expressed disappointment earlier this week when news broke of the Breakers’ residents receiving the 60-day notice to vacate, but added that the dispute fell outside the city’s purview.
"Our seniors deserve better than this,” Lowenthal told the Post. “Unfortunately, the City has very little jurisdiction in this matter because it’s a private dispute between tenants and a new landlord. However, I’ve asked Solid Landings to meet with city staff and my office to learn more about their future plans for the building. We’ll see where we are after that meeting. They still have the opportunity to do right by the residents.”
Rosenson said that he’s been given both verbal and written promises from Solid Landings that nobody would be kicked out and the rent wouldn’t be raised. In fact, he said that if residents required the care of a personal physician, the fees to stay at the facility would be reduced since the Breakers would no longer offer some of those services. He said those parameters were laid out for them at a meeting held two months ago, but he claimed a large majority of residents simply forgot.
“I’m not an expert in zoning, but I’m told they’ll be providing the same services they’re being provided now,” Rosenson said.
For those who choose not to stay, or are forced to leave because state laws that would prohibit Solid Landings from providing certain medical assistance, help will be provided in finding a new home. Rosenson said the Breakers will be working one-on-one with those residents to make sure the transfer is well done, stating that they’ve already scheduled 5 meetings per day with residents starting next week.
After Tuesday's meeting let out, several seniors were gathered outside with family members, many holding brochures from other assisted living centers in the city that came to distribute information outside the Breakers. Tamara Hernandez’s 76-year-old mother has been at the Breakers for four years, and despite being independent, she said she would be moving soon.
“A lot of people here are going to have a lot of trouble placing their family members because they need assisted living,” Hernandez said. “Sixty days is not enough notice and I don’t know what they’re going to do. I think they need more time."