November 18, 2018

Leo Baeck Temple Files Lawsuit Against L.A. Over Skirball Fire [UPDATED]

UPDATE: Leo Baeck Temple’s attorney, Josh Haffner, told the Journal in a phone interview that the Los Angeles city and county faces allegations “associated with negligence.”

“They were aware of a dangerous condition – in this case the fire hazard – and they failed to do anything to remedy it,” Haffner said. “They let it exist until it actually caused this massive wildfire and a lot of damage.”

Haffner added that Leo Baeck suffered “extensive” damage, although the temple is currently functioning.

“Leo Baeck Temple has always supported and done a great deal to combat homelessness and eradicate it,” Haffner said. “This case is about a government allowing a dangerous condition and neglect of a dangerous condition, and it’s fully consistent with that deep commitment the temple has to assisting the cause of homelessness by shining a further light on it and the need to do something about the homeless and their plight.”

“This is a danger not just for the community, but for the homeless themselves.”


Bel Air synagogue Leo Baeck Temple filed a lawsuit against the city and county of Los Angeles on August 23, alleging that the city and county could have helped prevent the fire had they not ignored the complaints of residents.

According to The Los Angeles Times, the court documents state that residents frequently complained about a homeless encampment located in a canyon around Sepulveda Boulevard and the 405 Freeway. The encampment was located in an area that was already “prone to wildfires because of the trees, bushes and other vegetation and foliage,” so the synagogue argues that the city and county should have surveyed the area and removed the encampment, or at least provided the public with a warning about it.

The Skirball Fire was ignited by a cooking fire at the encampment, destroying six homes and damaging several others in its wake; Leo Baeck stated in the lawsuit that the temple suffered damage from the fire as well.

Nickie Miner, vice president of the Bel Air-Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council, told The Los Angeles Times at the time of the fire, “We knew it was only going to be a matter of time before something horrible happened.” Miner called for regulatory reform that featured the elimination of homeless encampments along the hillsides.