CITYWIDE — Leadership at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel fired off another round against the Huntley Hotel Friday morning with a flyer accusing its competitor of conspiring to deprive Santa Monica of $20 million in revenue by opposing new Downtown developments.
The flyer suggests that money would be particularly helpful in light of a $13 million projected deficit set to hit City Hall in 2017, and would save firefighters, police, affordable housing and Santa Monica’s rich portfolio of social programs.
“The Huntley Hotel is trying to poison the minds of Santa Monica residents against new hotels in Downtown Santa Monica that would close our budget deficit,” the flyer reads.
It goes on to list facts about the Huntley’s size and density, suggesting that the hotel is one of the largest buildings in Santa Monica but actively opposes smaller development. It also alleges that Huntley representatives made disparaging comments about affordable housing, which would be built next to the hotel under the Fairmont Miramar plan.
“Whose interests do you believe the Huntley Hotel is trying to protect: Santa Monicans [sic] or its own?” the flyer concludes.
Huntley officials dismissed the newest flyer as a distraction from the real issues, which it calls the “relentless traffic, destroying the character of the neighborhood and making it even more impossible to park in the city.”
“The Miramar’s flyer and website are part of a false smear campaign aimed at a small, local business and its owner,” said Shiva Aghaipour, vice president of the Huntley Hotel. “It ignores the hundreds of residents who have come out to oppose the project, trying to make people think the Huntley is the only project opponent. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
None of the quotes regarding affordable housing were made by the Huntley or “its agents,” Aghaipour said.
Alan Epstein, an executive with MSD Capital and representative of the Fairmont Miramar project, said it was “disappointing that the Huntley continues to misrepresent its own statements and the actions of its employees and agents.”
Ocean Avenue, LLC., the company that technically owns the Fairmont Miramar, is poised to invest millions into a major renovation of the site that includes a new building hitting 320 feet at its highest point.
The 280-room hotel, capped with up to 120 condominiums, is expected to bring millions in new revenues on its own. The $20 million figure was cited by the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at its 2013 tourism summit, and includes tax revenues from a wide range of projects under consideration for Downtown.
Several of those are hotels, including the redevelopment of the former Holiday Inn site and the hotel proposed for Santa Monica Boulevard and Ocean Avenue designed by Santa Monica-resident and famous architect Frank Gehry.
By the bureau’s estimate, many of those projects would not be built until the end of the decade at the earliest, likely not in time to solve the budget deficits in Friday’s flyer.
Projected revenues should not be the only reason that City Hall approves a development, but development is one option in solving that deficit problem, Epstein said.
“We think it’s appropriate that all options to solve the city’s impending shortfall be kept on the table,” he said.
Future outreach efforts will be more positive, and focused on the merits of the Fairmont Miramar development, he said.
The flyer follows a first effort that hit the streets just two weeks ago leveled directly at Sohrab Sassounian, owner of the Huntley, that ruffled feathers throughout the city.
A grainy photo of Sassounian was accompanied with the phrase, “Who is Sohrab Sassounian?” and proceeded to relate allegations that the hotel owner had spent millions trying to derail the Fairmont Miramar’s planned redevelopment.
It directed readers to a website, Huntleyfacts.com, that went into further detail about the Huntley’s alleged attempts to take over community groups and use shell organizations to influence local elections.
E-mails immediately began circling from Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion, a group organized over a year ago that has released two flyers against the Miramar plans.
The group — led by Rohnda Ammouri, an organizer with the Service Employees International Union and former employee of Sue Burnside, who does campaigns for the Huntley — solicited a response from community members opposed to the flyers, and helped them craft statements that alleged racism against Sassounian.
The sniping back and forth between the two hotels left City Councilmember Ted Winterer “frankly puzzled” since the Fairmont Miramar issue would not return to the City Council until spring of next year.
“Certainly the flyers don’t influence my thinking about the project at all,” Winterer said. “And many of the locals to whom I’ve spoken are turned off by the sheer excess of the publicity barrage, as mudslinging has never been an effective tactic in this town.
“It would be better if both sides of the issue took a deep breath and sought to engage in a civil debate when the time is right,” Winterer said.
Others were outright upset by the flyer, calling it “fear tactics and false claims.”
“They have the audacity to argue that unless the Miramar is torn down and replaced with their proposed massive new hotel, condo and retail project, Santa Monica’s schools, fire and police will suffer large cuts,” said Diana Gordon, co-chair of Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City, which opposes the project.
“This from a developer who has gone out of his way to avoid paying California taxes for the Miramar,” she said, referring to a Los Angeles Times article that revealed that billionaire PC magnate Michael Dell had successfully managed to avoid reassessing the value of the Fairmont Miramar property when he purchased it in 2006. Dell still owns the hotel.
Still, there is some sense that this flyer is more appropriate than the last, at least for Frank Gruber, a former City Council candidate and longtime Santa Monica columnist.
Gruber ripped into the Fairmont Miramar leadership on his blog for using a seven-year-old quote from one of his columns about the Annenberg Community Beach House in the first flyer, saying that he would rather they left his name off “one of the most unpleasant and misbegotten political mailers in Santa Monica history.”
“With this one, at least the points that the Miramar brings up are relevant,” Gruber said. “Not saying I agree with them all, or that Sohrab Sassounian should agree with them all, but it’s at least dealing with issues and not the personalities.”