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Los Gatos Meadows closing after almost 50 years

For almost 50 years, Los Gatos Meadows has been a refuge for folks in their post-retirement years. That legacy appears to be coming to an end. On March 6, the Meadows’ owner filed a plan to close the senior facility, which also houses an assisted living community and a full-care nursing home. More than 150 elders, many of whom planned to live out their days at the Meadows, now need to find a new home.
Covia, the Walnut Creek-based nonprofit that owns the Meadows, posted a message on its website in February informing residents that their homes would be shuttered in September. Mary McMullin, Covia’s senior vice president, told this newspaper that the Meadows is being closed due to concerns about fire safety.
“Obviously, this is a very difficult decision,” McMullin said, “but we felt that it was necessary for the safety of our community members, out of an abundance of caution.”
McMullin said Covia contracted last year with an independent firm to conduct a risk assessment, and its findings led to a determination that it would be impossible to make necessary improvements with residents still in place.
McMullin declined to make the findings of the facilities assessment available.
In a press release, Covia CEO Kevin Gerber said the assessment found several problems that pose “a high risk of injury to residents.” Chris Ichien, Los Gatos Meadows’ executive director, cited “increased likelihood of a fire disaster” as the chief concern. McMullin said the facility’s fire access road, which had previously been used as an employee parking lot, was inadequate. The company elsewhere noted “elevated risk of fire starting within the structures.”
McMullin said one motivating factor for the risk assessment was the 2017 Tubbs Fire, which forced the evacuation of several Santa Rosa senior care facilities and destroyed one nursing home.
Luisa Rapport of the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s fire prevention division said the department is unaware of any fire risk. She said Los Gatos Meadows was inspected in November 2018, and no problems were found.
“In recent years, according to the fire marshals’ notes, they haven’t found anything other than routine issues,” she said. “Doors blocked by chairs, boxes piled up in areas of egress—nothing you wouldn’t see in a school or facility.”
Rapport said the fire access road issue is not a problem.
“It’s what we consider a legal nonconforming use,” she said. “To date we have not had any of our responses hindered.”
She said such access roads are typical locally. “In the Los Gatos area, it’s not uncommon,” she said. “That’s the nature of a hillside community.”
McMullin said Covia intends to rebuild a new facility that provides services and care identical to the Meadow’s offerings. She said the new facility will not be in the same price range. According to residents and neighbors who attended informational meetings with the company last month, the new facility will offer condominiums for sale rather than apartments for rent.
Relocation help
Santa Clara County Supervisor Mike Wasserman, a former mayor of Los Gatos whose mother lives at the Meadows, said he hopes Covia will adequately compensate the current residents, one-third of whom require assistance for day-to-day life, so they can be relocated safely.
“I’m disappointed in what’s happening to my mom and all the other residents of the Meadows,” Wasserman said. He said that because the facility lies within Los Gatos Town limits, and not in the unincorporated part of Los Gatos, it would be inappropriate for him to comment further at this time.
A nonagenarian who did not want to be named, and who has lived at the Meadows longer than any other resident, said she too is disappointed, but resigned to the situation.
“Obviously, I’m not very happy,” she said. “I’m very old, and it is very difficult at my time of life to be forced to move.”
When asked if she feels that Meadows and Covia are treating her and her neighbors fairly, she said, “They’re trying.”
McMullin said Covia, a nonprofit rooted in Episcopal commitments to respect and social justice, is determined to work directly with residents and their families to ensure that the relocation is as easy as possible.
“Some of our community members will be invited to move to another Covia community, and we will work to help others find a residence that offers similar services and care,” she said.
The company has also pledged to assist evicted tenants financially.
For those with a “life care agreement,” who planned to finish their lives at the Meadows and signed a lifetime contract, Covia has offered to cover the entrance fee to a comparable facility and make up any differences in monthly costs. For residents on a month-to-month arrangement, the company is offering to reimburse the $4,000 community fee that they paid when they moved in, and $2,500 toward relocation costs.
Laura Darling, whose job title at Covia is director of communications and spiritual care, said via email that Covia has been working to help individual residents find homes in its other communities “as we learn about their needs and desires.” She reported that there are 21 apartments available, mostly studios, in three Covia communities: St. Paul’s Towers in Oakland, Canterbury Woods in Pacific Grove and Webster House in Palo Alto.
Covia’s two other properties, San Francisco Towers and Spring Lake Village in Santa Rosa, each have wait lists of more than 100 people.
Darling did not refer to any assisted living, memory care or nursing facilities being available.
Joe Rodrigues, the state ombudsman for long-term care in the Department of Aging, said he is glad that the Meadows has given its residents seven months to relocate. State law requires them to give only 120 days’ notice. Rodrigues said some facilities rush their residents out, causing what is known as “transfer trauma.” He said those kinds of moves can be so stressful they can result in death for the most fragile elders.
‘Like a family’
Jenifer Wines, who worked at Los Gatos Meadows for two years when she was in high school in the late 1970s, said she recalls the place “feeling like a family.”
“Everyone there basically took me under their wing,” she said. “There was one woman who usually took her dinner in her room. When I had the meal-cart job, I always saved her for last because I knew that we would talk for, like, 20 minutes.”
Wines said the dining hall was a fun place, and that residents often would have their family members come join them for dinner. She was saddened to learn that the family now at the Meadows is being dispersed.
“I think that in the United States, we don’t value age the way other countries do,” she said. “And it’s heartbreaking that a place that seems to have done, over the decades, a really good job of maintaining dignity and valuing a person’s life experiences is ending, in a way.”
If Covia’s plan is accepted by the Department of Social Services, it could be three years or more before the company is able to demolish Los Gatos Meadows and build its new planned continuum-care condominiums. For most of that time, the Meadows will be an empty building on the Wood Street hill, its blind windows looking out over downtown Los Gatos.

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