Wave Wire Services
SANTA MONICA — The city of Culver City is suing a gymnastics school and its owner-operator for allegedly offering indoor sessions in violation of health orders aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus, which the defendant denies.
The lawsuit was brought Sept. 1 in Santa Monica Superior Court against the Los Angeles School of Gymnastics and owner Tanya Berenson. The city is asking that the gym in the 8400 block of Higuera Street be declared a public nuisance and in violation of an emergency public order. The city also wants an injunction against further indoor operations until the city’s health order is vacated or amended.
Berenson told City News Service that she has not violated any health orders and has conducted all sessions and classes outdoors according to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s health orders issued in July.
She said none of her 600 students has contracted the coronavirus at the gym and that the business is a pillar in the Culver City gymnastics community that helped send Valerie Zimring-Schneiderman, a rhythmic gymnast, to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
Berenson said the legal efforts against the school and its children’s activities center represent a “really sad day” in Culver City.
The city in March issued emergency orders to protect the public against the spread of the coronavirus. Over the ensuing months, various business sectors and activities were permitted to reopen within the city and Los Angeles County, subject to compliance with county protocols.
However, on July 13, due to increases in reported COVID-19 cases, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an order that various categories of business must cease all indoor operations immediately, including gyms and fitness establishments, the lawsuit notes. About a week later, the city began allowing gyms and fitness facilities to operate outdoors on private property, subject to obtaining a temporary use permit from the city.
But starting on July 21, the city received numerous complaints from parents, neighbors and employees that Los Angeles School of Gymnastics and Berenson continued to operate indoors in alleged violation of the state, county and city orders prohibiting such activities, the suit alleges.
The city has tried to “educate and obtain voluntary compliance” with the city’s public order, but the business has “failed, refused or neglected to comply,” according to the suit.
Culver City Fire Department personnel went to the gym on July 22 and asked to speak with Berenson, but were told she was not present, the suit says.
The fire department left updated business operation guidelines with the gym staff and were told during a later visit that the materials were given to Berenson and that she would follow them, according to the suit.
In late July, Berenson, by both email and telephone, advised county health workers that the gym would move all classes, camps and coaching outside, and she also spoke with the city and assured the staff of her intentions, according to the suit.
But on July 29, after additional complaints to the city, fire inspectors returned to the gym and saw 10 children inside engaged in an activity and another eight children being checked in for admission into the indoor facility, the suit alleges.
The city received more complaints about alleged indoor operations at the gym in early August, so the staff served a cease-and-desist letter, according to the suit, which says the city fire marshal determined during a visit to the gym that Berenson “was attempting to hide the fact that classes were taking place indoors.”
During a subsequent stop at the gym, the city fire inspector found that indoor classes were in progress and a gym staff member said it was because “a rattlesnake had been observed outside,” the suit says.
The city maintains that up to and including the filing of legal action against the gym, the business has continued indoor sessions despite the city, county and state health orders.