SECOND STREET — Lawyers for the Huntley Hotel demanded Tuesday that owners of a rival hotel rescind what they consider defamatory statements about the Huntley’s owner and shut down a slam website within a week.
Rick Zbur, an attorney with Latham & Watkins, which represents the Huntley Hotel, alleged that Ocean Avenue LLC., the company which owns the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, defamed Huntley owner Sohrab Sassounian in two flyers released in June and a website called HuntleyFacts.com.
The flyers accuse Sassounian of opposing the redevelopment of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel out of personal greed and a desire to prevent affordable housing from coming online next to the hotel. (Affordable housing is required by local code for developments that include market-rate housing. The proposed Miramar redevelopment includes condos for purchase.)
The website further explores those claims and accuses Huntley representatives of taking over local neighborhood groups and trying to manipulate local elections by putting money behind anti-development political action campaigns.
Ocean Avenue LLC. must take down the website and take back other statements or the law firm will take “appropriate steps in response to your damaging communications and activities,” Zbur wrote.
Fairmont Miramar leadership stood firm in its short response to the two-page document on Tuesday.
“We stand behind every factual statement in our flyers, and look forward to the opportunity to respond point by point to Mr. Zbur’s letter,” said Alan Epstein, an executive with MSD Capital, the company that is handling the Miramar’s redevelopment.
The Fairmont Miramar owners, who include billionaire Michael Dell, have said in the past that the flyers and website came in reaction to attacks by the Huntley Hotel and its “political operatives.”
The Huntley Hotel has been accused of organizing opposition against the Fairmont Miramar project like Santa Monicans for Responsible Growth, or SMRG, a group that appeared during the November 2012 election.
SMRG opposed the Fairmont Miramar Hotel redevelopment and actively campaigned against it, using space provided by the Huntley Hotel. The group also received $50,000 from a Nevada-based computer science company, the owner of which would not claim the Huntley as a client, but “liked” it on the social media site Facebook.
It recently came to light that another group, Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion, had ties to Rohnda Ammouri, a political organizer.
Ammouri helped coordinate the response to the first flyer released by Ocean Avenue LLC., which showed a grainy photo of Sohrab Sassounian under the words “Who is Sohrab Sassounian and why is he spending millions to smear the Miramar?”
In the letter, Zbur said that the Huntley had only distributed publicly available information about the Fairmont Miramar project and the tax status of Dell.
A Los Angeles Times article delved into property taxes paid by Dell and his companies for the Fairmont Miramar property, which Dell bought in 2006. The hotel was not reassessed under a California law that governs property tax assessments because the hotel did not technically change ownership.
That saved $1 million per year in property taxes, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Zbur characterized Sassounian and the Huntley leadership’s concerns as civic-minded opposition to an oversized development that would disrupt the residential character of Second Street, which transitions from a business district to neighborhood over the course of a block.
The Fairmont Miramar project is expected to go before the City Council for final approval or denial in 2014. The current proposal involves a 21-story tower capped with a spire reaching 320 feet. It will include 280 hotel rooms and up to 120 condominiums. Half of the lot on which the hotel sits would be open space.