491 Claims Filed After Health Club Shuts Down

Times Staff Writer

Nearly 500 disgruntled members of a Santa Monica health club have asked the city attorney's office to help them recover fees lost when the club closed without warning earlier this month.

Members of the Beverly Hills Workout have submitted 491 claims, according to Jeffrey Holtzman, consumer affairs attorney for the city. The claims range from $70 to $150.

The Workout, at 1453 14th St., failed to open for business Dec. 9. Members said that the club had solicited new members up until two days before the closing. The club offered aerobics classes and weightlifting.

The city attorney's office is seeking refunds for club members.

"We can certainly say that if we don't get voluntary restitution (of membership fees) from the owners--and we have heard nothing from them yet in that regard--then it may be necessary to pursue the matter through the courts," Holtzman said.

Holzman refused to say whether the city has contacted Workout owners Laura Lamar and Anthony Ponter. Neither Lamar nor Ponter could be reached for comment by The Times.

Advertisements for the club claimed that memberships were valid at Workout clubs in Brentwood and Woodland Hills, but those clubs have also gone out of business. The clubs were owned by different people, according to Holtzman.

Members reacted angrily to the Santa Monica closure. One woman who bought four memberships for her family wielded a hammer and threatened to break the club's windows, according to a neighbor.

Holtzman said many of those filing claims said they had also lost money at other fitness clubs. He said they are impatient to recover their dues but he advised them not to call the city attorney's office after they have filed claims. Members will be told when there is information about refunds, he said.

Holtzman said there is no guarantee membership fees will be returned, although the city had success in a similiar case. In 1984 a popular 4th Street fitness club, known variously as Shirle's and Audra's, closed down. The city filed a civil suit against the club early this year, according to Holtzman, and later reached an out-of-court settlement with the owner. The owner put $10,500 in a fund, from which 225 club members have received refunds ranging from 50% to 100% of their initial memberships. The club also agreed to pay another $14,000 in penalties and costs.

The county Department of Consumer Affairs has received about 40 complaints from former members of the Workout clubs in Santa Monica, Brentwood and Woodland Hills. Chief investigator Tim Bissell said the department is looking into the closures.

Former members of the Brentwood and Woodland Hills clubs may file claims with the county, while Santa Monica club members can file claims with the city attorney there, Bissell said.

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