Two art spaces in the industrial area of Cypress Avenue in Hermosa Beach have been holding events without proper permits for more than a year. They say that's because of a confusing city zoning and permit process. But a recent spate of code enforcements has one of the owners of the studios wondering if the art spots were targeted by a nearby fitness business.
ShockBoxx and Resin art studios are working to transform the Cypress area, the home of metal workers and surfboard shapers, into a magnet for the arts.
But, according to ShockBoxx co-founder Mike Collins, the zoning and permit process on the street is the “Wild West.”
Both galleries, which do not border residences, have held numerous public events without incident. No noise complaints. No nuisance complaints.
But something changed in November, 2018.
ShockBoxx and hometown artist Bob Dob hosted “You Should Have Been Here Yesterday." For co-founder Collins, it was exciting, since it was one of their biggest shows in their nearly two-year history.
But halfway through the evening, Hermosa Beach's code enforcement showed up. Collins received a citation for not having a business license, not having a event permit and not having a sign permit.
“We didn’t have those things and we corrected them immediately and got into the process of trying to figure out how we could course correct,” Collins said. At the time, he said, it all seemed minor.
"We figured out what event permit we needed to be using which was confusing,” he said.
But then Collins said on Dec. 21, it happened again. ShockBoxx was rented out for a “Gratitude dinner,” a private event. Code enforcement showed up even though Collins said he had been following the rules.
“There were literally 26 people in the back meditating and praying about gratitude while code enforcement was investigating the table and found out that people were allowed to bring their own wine and I got a citation for it,” Collins said.
Then on Feb. 9, code enforcement showed up at South Bay Artist Collective's third annual “Water & Wood” show. The group was cited for not having a special event permit. The final show last weekend had to be canceled.
Co-founder Rafael McMaster said he was unaware he needed a permit and soon remedied the situation.
“I think we're doing super rad stuff, but that doesn't mean we get exempt from that ... we've been working in ignorance shall we say, now we know better how to play by the rules,” McMaster said.
While Collins and McMaster both admit they were in the wrong and are working to be in full compliance with the city, Collins wondered why code enforcement suddenly appeared on the gallery that November night.
Links to CrossFit Horsepower lawsuit
According to Collins, the increased enforcement may be connected to a Nov. 7 lawsuit filed by CrossFit Horsepower, located a few hundred feet across the street from both galleries.
After receiving more than 175 noise complaints from 2014 to 2018, Hermosa Beach City Council deemed the gym a "public nuisance." CrossFit filed suit against the city claiming the designation caused "direct and incidental” injuries and damages to their business, which could lead to “complete destruction of plaintiff's gym business.”
Councilmembers Mary Campbell and Justin Massey recused themselves from that decision because they both live close to CrossFit.
The gym owners claim ShockBoxx received preferential treatment because Campbell, elected in November 2018, was Collins' wife. The complaint claimed the gallery had no business license, hosted events with amplified music where crowds of more than 25 spill into the streets. They also claim CrossFit was cited for members running on public streets, which should have also been applied to ShockBoxx's outdoor crowds.
In January, another complaint against ShockBoxx was called in, but there was no one home.
“We knew that whoever was complaining was looking at our social media and emailing or phoning in complaints,” Collins said. “In order to prove that to code enforcement, we made a fake flier for a fake art show. We weren’t even there, the doors were locked the lights were off and I was out of town.”
Collins said that proves, “If they’re trying to prove a case that ShockBoxx has been getting special treatment they just proved that we’re not getting special treatment. In fact ... if you add Resin to that, we’ve probably had as much heat come our way now in an even more unfair manor. Nobody is saying they (ShockBoxx) are disturbing our quality of life.”
Collins filed a public records request with the city for any complaints against ShockBoxx. There were none. He did the same for neighboring businesses. There were no complaints.
“Nobody has ever called and said, 'Hey, this thing's too big, too loud, out of hand. Shut it down, I can’t sleep,” Collins said. “Our neighbors are there, they’re coming to the events.”
In a joint statement from CrossFit Horsepower owners Jed Sanford and Dan Wells said “As fellow business owners, we understand the heart, soul and financial commitment it takes to open a business. We are keenly aware of the current challenges in conducting business in Hermosa Beach, and have been strongly advocating for the equitable application of codes and treatment for all business on Cypress.”
“The same elected leaders who manufactured the City’s first and only public nuisance hearing over our properly zoned and permitted gym, are the same folks who have put many so businesses on Cypress in a precarious position by allowing and encouraging unpermitted uses without basic zoning, permitting, and city and state licensing for years,” the statement reads. “We can only surmise that the sudden decision to now enforce violations they were already aware of is for the purpose of protecting them from litigation and /or creating the appearance of equal protection. If you’re in doubt, just ask the City if the zoning code permits, Buddhist centers, creative office spaces, art galleries, retail goods shops, home offices, or design studios on Cypress in the M-1 Light Manufacturing Zone.”
The statement added CrossFit has donated their parking lot free of charge for “many of their for-profit art shows.” Collins agreed CrossFit had been generous and he had supported the addition of the gym to the area when they first opened.
“We’re confident that if (ShockBoxx) can receive an “emerging business leader” award from Mayor (Jeff) Duclos during a time where they were operating an unpermitted business in the zone, had no building permits, no business license, no Alcoholic Beverage licenses, and no special event permits for over 50 events, they will certainly be fine in the long-run,” the CrossFit statement said. “We wish them and all businesses success in their endeavors.”
Taming the 'Wild West'
Collins has a meeting with the city on March 4 to try to make sense of the permitting process and to see if the city will relax some of the regulations.
City Manager Suja Lowenthal, who said staff received public complaints about both businesses, emphasized the city supports local businesses and wants to work with them.
"In the Cypress District, we need to have a conversation to determine what the business community and our residents want this part of town to be and then align the zoning with that vision,” said Lowenthal in an emailed statement.
Lowenthal said businesses need to be educated on what permits and licenses are needed. And she said ShockBoxx had "moved forward with the proper permits and licenses" since the November citation. Resin Gallery, she said, received a warning after the first public complaint and then issued a citation after a second public complaint.
The city did not disclose whether CrossFit made the complaints, nor do they disclose who makes any complaints.
Collins noted some the permits are restrictive, so much so, that it could have a negative impact on the gallery. The gallery is not allowed to have more than 50 people, among other restrictions, with the new permit.
“The reality of what we’re doing is we're spending our own money, we're not making any down there, it's a little bit cost prohibitive and it constrains us in a way even though we went and got additional parking spaces from our neighbors to use for our art shows,” Collins said.
McMaster agreed the cost of permits, the special permit he needed is $600 to $700 for six months, can impact their work since the Collective in a nonprofit supported by many volunteers and donors.
“They're (city) just doing their job and we'll do everything to comply ... we understand the city can't have favorites, so we want to do everything that we can to be in compliance,” McMaster said.
McMaster said the silver lining about “Water & Wood” closing is the “opportunity for us to continue the dialogue we're having with the community of Hermosa and South Bay around the need to support the arts.”
“The reality that elementary schools don't have art outside of Young at Art and that the high school operating budget per student for the visual arts is $1 month... these are the types of things we want to put to the forefront, so we as a community can figure out how to make things better for the future generations.”
Collins added, “People are paying attention to what’s being made down there. This isn’t just about art ... it's about people being able to come out of the shadows and show the community their craft.”