OCEAN AVENUE — The ownership of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel unleashed a public assault Thursday on the owner of a neighboring establishment who the company says has been waging an undercover war on plans to redevelop the Miramar.
Ocean Avenue, LLC. sent out a flyer to homes throughout the city with a picture of Huntley Hotel owner Sohrab Sassounian on the front and a single question.
“Who is Sohrab Sassounian, and why is he spending millions to smear the Miramar?” the flyer reads.
It goes on to identify Sassounian as the owner of the competing hotel, which sits immediately next to the Fairmont Miramar, and accuse him of trying to shoot down redevelopment plans for the site, which is working its way through a public process.
That money went to hire law firm Latham & Watkins and make “questionable political contributions to try to buy the Santa Monica City Council” in the most recent election, the owners alleged.
The flyer comes accompanied by a website, www.huntleyfacts.com, which details several of the allegations listed on the flyer, including an alleged orchestration of the takeover of a local neighborhood group and creation of Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth (SMRG), a group that formed around the November 2012 election.
That group received funding directly from the Huntley during that campaign and also from two businesses — a Nevada-based computer firm and a pilates studio — that the Miramar leadership believes to be connected to the Huntley, according to the website.
Roughly 80 percent of SMRG’s contributions came from sources with “provable, direct relations” to the Huntley, and the group was in part organized by Sue Burnside, a political consultant hired by the Huntley, according to the site.
The campaign is a response to a year of being “ruthlessly smeared” by the Huntley Hotel despite the company’s efforts to resolve issues raised by Huntley representatives, said Alan Epstein, an executive at MSD Capital, the owner of the Fairmont Miramar.
“At the direction of the City Council, we have made meaningful changes to our plan, and in doing so have addressed the Huntley’s concerns, but they have nonetheless chosen to spend millions of dollars in an effort to undermine the project before the city’s environmental and economic analyses have even begun,” Epstein said. “We ask simply that next time any Santa Monica resident sees an attack on the Miramar plan, they consider who is bankrolling it.”
Huntley officials are concerned that the new, taller version of the Fairmont Miramar could potentially block valuable ocean views.
Huntley representatives called the attack “a cynical attempt to deflect attention away from the enormous groundswell of local opposition to their massive expansion plans,” and that the personal attack on Sassounian was inappropriate.
“It’s truly unfortunate that the Miramar would rather spend their time and money on attack pieces instead of working with residents to design a project that will fit the community and be a benefit to the entire city,” said Shiva Aghaipour, the vice president of the Huntley, in a statement released Thursday.
“We hope that moving forward the Miramar will stop its attempts to avoid the real issues and will begin to work with the community on a reasonable development plan,” Aghaipour continued.
Community members took to the Internet in response to the Fairmont Miramar’s campaign, calling it “outrageous” and “defamatory.”
Ivan Perkins, co-founder of SMRG, said that there were many inaccurate statements about the founding of his organization, which he formed with help from Susan Scarafia, a former Santa Monica resident with ties to the slow growth community.
“Under ‘Huntley Facts’ they’re providing a lot of unsupported statements that are untrue,” Perkins said. “I find that ironic.”
Although SMRG and the Huntley did work together and the group received meeting space from the hotel, Perkins characterized it as a partnership, not a co-opting of the community group.
“In politics, there are alliances of convenience. That doesn’t turn one party in an alliance into a vehicle of the other,” Perkins said.
The current offensive against the Huntley does not come completely out of the blue, although previous attacks did not come directly from the competing hotel.
The Miramar has been the target of several flyers put out by a group called Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion. The first dropped almost a year ago and showed a meteor capped with a large building rocketing toward Earth with the title “Miramarmageddon.”
Another landed in 2013 just after the Los Angeles Times reported that Michael Dell, whose company owns the hotel, managed to avoid paying millions in property taxes using a loophole in Proposition 13, a 1978 measure that caps the rate at which property taxes can increase.
The recent Miramar campaign also points out that the Huntley pays less in property taxes than some Santa Monica homeowners. That’s in large part because the hotel has not changed ownership in over 30 years, meaning the value of the property did not need to be reassessed for property tax purposes.