Vote that Forced CrossFit Horsepower to Close was Biased, Rules Los Angeles Judge

October 4, 2020 by
Photo courtesy of CrossFit Horsepower.

On September 24, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge tentatively ruled that council member Stacey Armato was biased in her 2018 city council vote to label CrossFit Horsepower a public nuisance, a ruling that ultimately led to the gym’s closure. The Superior Court Judge, Mary H. Strobel, found evidence suggesting Armato told opponents she intended to vote against CrossFit Horsepower long before the vote took place, meaning she was not an impartial decision-maker when she voted.

  • “(Armato) performed functions of an advocate only for the complaining residents,” Judge Strobel wrote in her ruling.
  • “Armato’s communications with complaining residents show that she became an active participant in building a nuisance case against the Gym.”

Why it matters: The judge’s ruling also sets aside the city council initial decision to label the gym a public nuisance because Councilwoman Armato should have recused herself from the vote, which would have resulted in the resolution failing. The decision effectively reverses the city council’s original ruling even though the gym already closed its doors last year.

  • Judge Strobel: “Armato should have recused herself. Because she did not, Petitioner did not receive a fair hearing and the Council’s decision must be set aside.”
  • In a statement, the City of Hermosa Beach was “disappointed” with the ruling and stood behind Councilwoman Armato’s vote.

Remind me: It all started with a noise complaint in 2014. A handful of folks in the Hermosa Beach, CA neighborhood didn’t like the rumble of plates dropping to the floor or the music coming from CrossFit Horsepower, nor were they into athletes running on the surrounding streets.

  • This spurred a public hearing and a vote to decide whether the affiliate should be considered a public nuisance.
  • The June 2018 vote wasn’t the result affiliate owners Jed Sanford and Dan Wells were hoping for. In a 3-0 decision, city council deemed their business a public nuisance, saying that neighbors and residents had been “greatly and adversely affected” by music, use of sidewalks for exercise and dropping of weights.

CrossFit Horsepower was given 90 days to meet the following terms:

  • Music was not to be heard playing outside the gym.
  • Running on the surrounding streets was prohibited.
  • They were not to operate on Sundays.
  • Windows and doors were to be kept closed during business hours.
  • Weights were only allowed to be dropped in one area of the gym.

Fighting back: In November, 2018, CrossFit Horsepower filed a lawsuit against the city of Hermosa beach, requesting the city to reconsider council’s decision, and to compensate them for the lost value of business, as well as attorney’s fees and litigation costs.

May 2019: Sanford and Wells announced they were shutting their doors.

  • “We are extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and work with so many of our Hermosa Beach neighbors in their journey to improve their lives. We thank all of them for their years of dedication and support and are sorry we were forced to close our doors,” the posted on their Facebook page.

Now what: Sanford and Wells have filed a lawsuit in federal court against, not just the city, but also against two individuals — Armato and the city’s prosecutor Joy Abaquin. They allege:

  • Civil rights violations.
  • Deprivation of procedural due process.
  • Permanent taking without just compensation.
  • Violation of equal protection.
  • Violations of state; unjust taking of property.

Sandford told us: “(We) are pleased with the victory in Superior Court. We now look forward to our day in federal court when we are able to put the facts of our case before a jury.”

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