Lawsuit filed against be.group over Twelve Oaks Lodge

The Glendale chapter of the National Charity League has asked a judge to halt the closure of a senior-care facility slated to shut down on Nov. 1 and appoint a receiver to control the property, according to a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed last week.

LAWSUIT: National Charity League files complaint against be.group over Twelve Oaks Lodge

The lawsuit is the latest in a string of attempts by the charity league, local residents and City Council members to block the closure of Twelve Oaks Lodge, which has been operating for more than 80 years in La Crescenta.

In the lawsuit, the league chapter, whose members have volunteered at and donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Twelve Oaks over the decades, claims the operator of the facility, the be.group, has not complied with Twelve Oaks' underlying charitable trust.

The league — which, at one point, ran the woodsy campus — claims be.group has abused its authority over the facility's finances and is attempting to sell it for a non-charitable purpose.

Dan Hutson, a be.group spokesman, said the nonprofit, which operates several other senior facilities in California, was disappointed that the league filed the lawsuit on Tuesday.

“We're still hopeful that we can engage them in a thoughtful dialogue,” Hutson said, adding that
be.group is committed to serving seniors.

However, league representatives have said
be.group has not been open with them from the start. League members were shocked to see residents get notices in August that the facility would be closing and said they have had difficulty getting information from be.group.

According to the lawsuit, a be.group attorney refused to give the league minutes from board meetings related to Twelve Oaks.

The league handed over control of the foundation and the property to
be.group around 2002 after running the facility for three decades. Before that, it was under the control of the now-defunct Verdugo Hills Sunshine Society, a nonprofit whose goal was to provide an affordable home for seniors, the wish of the property's former owner, Effie Fifield.

According to the lawsuit, when the league handed over Twelve Oaks to
be.group, no money exchanged hands and a nine-person board of directors was supposed to make decisions. Four National Charity League representatives were supposed to be on the board.

While they served for a few years, by 2004 they had stopped participating, they say because they were told meetings no longer took place.

When league members asked to be reinstated on the board after
be.group sent closure notices to roughly 50 Twelve Oaks residents, an attorney for be.group told them they weren't allowed, according to the lawsuit.

After be.group took over, the organization's room-and-board income increased from $750,000 in 2001 to $1.7 million in 2011, which the league claims does not symbolize the “nominal charge” residents are supposed to pay according to the trust's provisions, the lawsuit states.

In addition, the lawsuit claims be.group charged the foundation a management fee that increased from $11,000 in 2002 to $130,373 in 2003 and incurred non-charitable marketing expenses.

But Hutson said the lawsuit misrepresented
be.group's financials and the organization is willing to talk with the league and the city to come to an amicable decision about the property. The company had planned to sell Twelve Oaks to a Santa Monica developer, but the deal fell through and
be.group officials said the property is no longer for sale.

“I know residents up there all think this is some attempt of be.group's to cash in on the property. That's not what this is all about,” he said.

Be.group maintains that it wanted to shutter the property because it was not economically feasible to keep running as is, and any improvements would not be possible because of strict zoning regulations.

Hutson added that
be.group has paid moving expenses for all former Twelve Oaks residents, and those who move to other be.group facilities have had their entry fees waived and their rents capped at their Twelve Oaks rate.

Most of the residents have already moved out, many of whom thought they would live the remainder of their lives in the facility, located in the 2800 block of Sycamore Avenue.

The league came out in force for a 100-person protest earlier this month. In September, the organization filed a complaint about the closure to the state Attorney General's charitable trust division.

Earlier this week, City Council members said they would like to look into the possibility of designating the property as historically significant without be.group's consent — a move that would make it difficult to tear down the facility for another development on the site.

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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