A Van Nuys Municipal Court commissioner ruled on Friday that the Salvation Army can continue to preach and solicit contributions outside a Sherman Oaks office building--as long as it turns down the volume.
Commissioner Manly D. Calof said the religious charitable organization can continue to exhort passers-by at the corner of Ventura and Sepulveda boulevards to repent, rejoice and contribute to their cause. But it must not be so loud that it can be heard inside the nearby Trans World Bank Building, Calof cautioned.
Calof's ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by the building's owners, United Properties Co., seeking a preliminary injunction barring the army's representatives from the privately owned open space.
Since July, attorneys and accountants laboring through their lunch hours inside the 13-story building have been distracted daily by fluegelhorn music, tambourines, hymn singing and amplified readings of Leviticus from the pavement below, the building's owners claimed.
Stuart Brand, an attorney on the third floor of the building, said he is bothered each day by the group's "singing, preaching, ranting and raving from 12 to 1."
Salvation Army officials said they are not sure exactly what Calof's order means, but that they'll stop using amplifiers while they study it and decide whether to contest the issue in court and seek a trial on the matter.
"Am I allowed to use a megaphone?" Capt. John Purdell, head of the group's San Fernando Valley operations, wondered aloud after the hearing.
Salvation Army officials say amplification of some sort is necessary to be heard above the traffic. And moving to another spot is out of the question because the intersection is the busiest corner in the San Fernando Valley, perfect for exhorting the populace, Purdell said.
Besides, they have pledged to God to read the Bible from start to finish at that spot, he said. The group entered a Bible into evidence.
The organization has used the site sporadically for six years without objections from the owners, said Alan L. Rosen, an attorney representing the building's owners. Rosen said he is satisfied with the ruling.
"In the past, the army would come for a day and then leave, three or four times a year," he said. But in July, the organization stepped up its schedule to one-hour lunch-time sessions seven days a week.
The army balked at informal requests from the building's owners to move. When building maintenance workers erected makeshift barricades of sawhorses and nylon ribbon, Purdell ceremoniously cut the ribbons and resumed preaching. The building owners then filed suit.
Calof did not address allegations in the lawsuit that the army was "accosting" some tenants and their clients in an attempt to get contributions.
"We never asked people for money. Talk to anybody who's seen us," Purdell said. "I personally abhor buttonholing, accosting and intimidating. If any comment was made, perhaps it was by an overly enthusiastic worker."
Purdell also denied another allegation that Salvation Army workers dance during the daily proselytizing sessions.
"Maybe it's referring to the fact that when I sing an up-tempo gospel song, I have difficulty keeping my feet still," he said.
Money collected by the organization goes toward operating shelters for homeless men in Van Nuys and Canoga Park, feeding the homeless and providing hotel rooms for homeless children and their parents, Purdell said.