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Hermosa Beach must set aside its designation of the now shuttered CrossFit Horsepower gym as a public nuisance ruled a Superior Court judge on Sept. 24, 2020. (photo by Michael Hixon)

Hermosa Beach’s decision to declare a gym a public nuisance in August 2018 due to excessive noise complaints from neighbors was set aside by a court ruling released on Sept. 24.

CrossFit Horsepower, which has since shuttered, was a Cypress Avenue business which has been at odds with the City of Hermosa Beach since 2014. In the period between then and 2018, the City said it logged 175 noise complaints against the business. Neighbors complained of vibrations from dropped weights and loud music But, argued CrossFit, those complaints were made by just a few individuals and amplified by a city councilmember.

In the Los Angeles Superior Court decision, Judge Mary Strobel ruled Councilmember Stacey Armato, who along with two other councilmembers voted to declare CrossFit a public nuisance, was biased against the gym due to her communication and interaction with the complaining neighbors.

“Armato should have recused herself,” from the vote the decision reads. “Because she did not, Petitioner did not receive a fair hearing and the Council’s decision must be set aside.”

In a press release, City Attorney Mike Jenkins said the city was disappointed the court found Armato was not an impartial decisionmaker.

Armato, in a statement, said it is one of the most important parts of her job as a councilmember to be responsive to residents and to follow-up on their behalf to solve their problems. That, she wrote, was the case with the noise and vibration complaints from neighbors of CrossFit Horsepower.

“Sure, I was empathetic to the plight of the neighbors, but empathy is not bias,” Armato said in response to the Sept. 24 decision. “I went into that hearing with an open mind, and I did my job fairly and with restraint. I listened to all the evidence and all the arguments and, in the end, the Council unanimously imposed a thoughtful remedy.”

Jed Sanford and Dan Wells, co-owners of CrossFit Horsepower, said in an email Tuesday, they are pleased with Superior Court judge's ruling. 

In August 2018, the City Council deemed CrossFit Horsepower a public nuisance with a resolution and gave the gym 90 days to abate the vibration and noise issues or they would be required to cut their operating hours and eliminate free weights. The council voted 3-0, with Councilmembers Justin Massey and Mary Campbell recusing themselves since they lived too close the business.

In Nov, 2018, Sanford and Wells filed the lawsuit claiming the city’s decision, requiring a number of permanent abatement measures, and Armato’s actions could lead to the closure of the business.

The Cypress Avenue gym, which opened in 2014, closed its doors in May 2019, saying that enforcement visits and soundproofing requirements enforced by the city made it impossible to stay in business. The city countered, with City Manager Suja Lowenthal saying the gym owners had not been “willing to work collaboratively with the city to assure that its operations did not disturb its residential neighbors.”

According to the court ruling, Armato was first contacted on May 6, 2016, shortly after she was elected to City Council, by resident Larry Nakamura. On May 16, over coffee, they discussed his complaints about the gym.

Up until the August 2018 meeting, as documented in the ruling, Armato had numerous communications with CrossFit neighbors and arranged meeting with city staff including code enforcement.

In communications with residents, Armato said activities at the gym were a “continued, unacceptable nuisance” and gym users “continued to be terrible neighbors.” But the judge wrote that “while the statements were “ill-advised given her potential role as a decisionmaker in an abatement proceeding, “these pre-hearing statements do not, in themselves disqualify Armato from voting on the abatement case.”

“The alleged nuisance at the gym was a matter of concern for members of the local community,” wrote the judge.

But the judge wrote that Armato “performed functions of an advocate,” including investigation and evidence gathering, for the complaining residents while not offering similar assistance to the gym.

“Armato’s communications with complaining residents show that she became an active participant in building a nuisance case against the Gym,” wrote the judge.

For her part, Armato said she had read the court's opinion carefully and that she did right by her constituents.

“And I was fair to CrossFit Horsepower,” said Armato in the statement.

Hermosa Beach has not decided whether it will appeal the Sept. 24 court ruling, said Jenkins in a Tuesday email.

Sanford and Wells still have another lawsuit against the city which they filed on Oct. 10, 2019. That suit, filed in the United States District Court Central District of California, is a civil rights violation suit against Hermosa Beach, Armato and “Quality of Life” prosecutor Joy Abaquin.

According to the October complaint, Sanford and Wells seek monetary damages to be determined according at a jury trial for the “City’s targeted destruction of its lawful and permitted gym business.”

“We now look forward to our day in Federal court when we are able to put the facts of our case before a jury,” wrote Sanford in an email.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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