Hermosa taps out in match against CrossFit Horsepower

CrossFit Horsepower owners Dan Wells and Jed Sanford in 2014, when dispute with neighbors and the City of Hermosa began. Photo by Pete Henze

by Daniel Blackburn

Hermosa Beach will be paying a cash settlement to owners of a now shuttered fitness gym following an agreement approved in closed session May 25 by the city council.

Notice of the currently-confidential agreement was filed in federal court on June 15.

The city’s amount to be paid to Jed Sanford and his business partner Dan Wells, who owned CrossFit Horsepower on Cypress Avenue, has not been disclosed, but should be known July 13 when it will appear on a check register as part of a city council meeting packet. City officials are currently negotiating the taxpayers’ share with its insurance carrier.

Sanford and Wells, doing business as Hermosa Fitness LLC, had lawsuits active in state and federal courts, both now moot following the “global” settlement.

The lawsuits named as defendants, the city of Hermosa Beach; council member Stacey Armato; and the city’s Quality of Life prosecutor, Joy Abaquin. The court document noted that the defendants “have reached a settlement in the above-captioned matter and have fully-executed documents memorializing the terms of their agreement.”

Total legal costs to city taxpayers over the past three years are still being compiled. But a one-month billing in April showed that Best, Best & Krieger, City Attorney Michael Jenkins’ firm, claimed more than $33,000 for its work on the Hermosa Fitness LLC matter.

Armato initiated the eventual closure of the gym  after receiving neighborhood noise-related complaints about the facility’s operation. She received unanimous council support in September 2018 to invoke a “public nuisance” assertion which would eventually force the gym’s closure.

In a state court decision  last year, Judge Mary Strobel invalidated the council’s 2018 decision and chastised Armato, saying there was “considerable evidence” that Armato was “biased” in her vote to find the gym a nuisance.

Armato denied the bias assertion, and the entire council promptly agreed to appeal the ruling. That vote was made possible when Mayor Justin Massey reversed his earlier policy of recusal (he has property in the general location of the former gym) and joined the majority in the November vote.

Massey relied on advice from City Attorney Michael Jenkins that he was no longer bound by the 500-foot FPPC mandate because the gym was then closed.

At that time, Sanford threatened Massey with personal involvement in the litigation.

The federal lawsuit alleged, among other things, a violation of civil rights. Armato was named individually in this complaint, and Sanford argued that she “has significant personal financial liability. There is no question she is participating and using her official position to influence a governmental decision that will likely have a substantial effect on her personal finances,” said Sanford at the time.

A statement from Hermosa Beach officials was issued this week by a spokesperson.

The  statement read in part: “While the city believes its conduct of the nuisance abatement proceeding and adoption of the resolution was in all respects proper and lawful, the city recognizes the uncertainty litigation presents, as well as costs associated with litigation. Additionally, Hermosa Fitness believes a settlement is in the best interest of their shareholders and the residents of Hermosa Beach. We are pleased with the outcome and look forward to the future.”

Patrick Bobko, attorney for Sanford and Wells, declined comment. ER

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