DOWNTOWN — A union organizer is helping opponents of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel redevelopment wield the race card in a battle to put the project on ice, according to e-mails received by the Daily Press.
Rohnda Ammouri, a former political coordinator at the Service Employees International Union longterm care branch, sent out an e-mail Thursday evening to those who oppose the Miramar’s redevelopment plans asking for people to submit a short statement responding to a flyer circulated last week by Ocean Avenue LLC., the owners of the luxury hotel.
In that flyer, Ocean Avenue LLC. calls out Sohrab Sassounian, the owner of the Huntley Hotel, a 17-story hotel immediately next to the Miramar that has long opposed the proposed redevelopment.
An e-mail sent from the same account on Friday directed one individual, Suzy Rabuchino, to send a specific statement to four local journalists, and asked her to also post it on webpages and social network sites.
The statement calls the Ocean Avenue LLC. flyer “openly racist,” and accuses the company of making “unjust attacks in order to get the green light on their renovation project … .”
It does not say exactly how it’s racist, and the flyer never mentions race, just Sassounian’s name, a grainy photo and allegations that he has spent millions opposing the Miramar while paying less property tax than some Santa Monica residents.
Ammouri denied having drafted a template statement Monday afternoon, saying that they had heard from Santa Monica residents upset about the flyer and “helped them to draft what they told us they wanted to say.”
“To be clear, this statement came from Suzy — it is not a general statement we asked others to distribute,” Ammouri said.
Rabuchino has publicly opposed the project in the past, showing up to at least one Planning Commission hearing on the topic, according to minutes from the meeting.
She said that anything in the statement was “purely her own feelings.”
“They were saying things about him, specifically,” Rabuchino said. “I know that he’s not Caucasian, and he’s trying very hard to get this off the ground.”
Stephen McMahon, another Miramar opponent put forward by Ammouri, said he too believed that the flyer had racist overtones.
“I know exactly what sort of propaganda he is trying to pull here,” McMahon said, referring directly to billionaire computer giant Michael Dell, the owner of the Miramar. “Good, evil, these are the other, and I’m white like you.”
Alan Epstein, an executive with MSD Capital, which heads up the Miramar project, denied any allegations of racism in the flyer put out by Ocean Avenue LLC.
“These charges of racism are ridiculous and a clear effort by the Huntley to avoid answering the questions raised by the Miramar,” Epstein said. “We are no longer willing to let the Huntley’s lies go unchallenged, its rabble rousing in the community to remain a secret and its mean-spirited personal attacks on Michael Dell to go unanswered.”
Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion, a group that uses the e-mail address used to communicate with Rabuchino, released a flyer last month accusing Dell, who bought the hotel in 2006, of dodging property taxes using a loophole in Proposition 13, a 1978 measure that capped rapidly rising property taxes.
Although it’s unclear if Ammouri is the only brain behind Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion, she has links to Sue Burnside, a political consultant hired by the Huntley Hotel.
According to her profile on social media site LinkedIn, Ammouri worked for Burnside’s company before taking her position with the SEIU.
Burnside has been accused of creating inauthentic community groups and even orchestrating the overthrow of a neighborhood group in order to create a community response against the Miramar.