The City Council last Tuesday gave the go-ahead for the Fairmont Miramar Hotel renovation process to commence.

The next step is environmental review and negotiations that will culminate in a development agreement to substantially rebuild and enlarge the property. The controversy over the project stems from just how large the “new” Fairmont Miramar should be.

The current hotel and bungalows occupy one city block bounded by Ocean Avenue, Wilshire Boulevard, California Avenue and Second Street. The current facility is 262,284 square feet with 296 guest rooms and other hotel amenities. 

Fairmont Miramar owner Ocean Avenue, LLC. wants to totally rebuild the 4.5-acre site with 550,000 square feet of new space featuring 265 guest rooms, retail shops along Wilshire, 484 underground parking spaces, an open park on the corner of Wilshire and Ocean Avenue (to be used part time for private hotel functions such as weddings and bar mitzvahs, Planning Commissioner Ted Winterer e-mailed) and 120 market rate condominiums.

Almost everything, including the current 10-floor Ocean Tower would be demolished. The landmark Moreton Bay Fig and the historic six-floor Palisades building on Second Street and California Avenue would be preserved. New construction would include 11 and 12 story towers on the main property, plus a 40-unit low-income housing project across Second Street on what is now a surface parking lot.

As with all political issues, one of the most interesting aspects of this project is seeing who is on which side. Knowing who the folks who are for or against a candidate, or in this case an issue, can tell you more than all the advertising and propaganda.  

For example, are the project’s supporters in the business community, the Chamber of Commerce, hotel owners and operators, developers and real estate interests? Are supporters mostly residents? Are supporters social justice advocates? In the education community? Tax and spend types? Pro-development? Slow or no growth? More importantly, who benefits by backing or opposing the issue, why and how?

Supporting the renovation is a group calling itself “Friends of the Miramar.” It looks as if “Friends” has an organization and a sizable membership comprised of a wide range of residents, local interests and community leaders, as evidenced by their full page newspaper ads running in this newspaper that prominently feature a lengthy and varied list of supporters.

The major opposition is being driven by the owners of the 17-story Huntley House hotel, located directly across Second Street. The hotel hired a Los Angeles public relations firm to stir up public opposition to the renovation and lobby for downsizing it.

Heather Herndon of Sugarman Communications Group (whose clients include Union Bank, Playa Vista and Canyon-Johnson Urban Funds, according to Sugarman’s website) helped organize and acts as spokesperson for the “1,000-plus members of the Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion Coalition” (SMAMEC) who oppose the project. One thousand-plus members — please.

I strongly suspect that SMAMEC has nowhere near the 1,000 members Herndon claims in her (now unsigned) letter posted on the santamonicadispatch.com website early last week. She reveals nothing about SMAMEC’s membership, thought to be mostly neighbors worried about blocked views and property values and/or slow-growthers that fear increased traffic and other impacts from expanded hotel operation.  

Herndon uses the term “Miramargeddon” to describe the renovation’s effect on the surrounding neighborhood and claims it pits billionaires against (poor) residents. She posted, “The Miramar is owned by Michael and Susan Dell of Texas. Their fortune is estimated at $15 billion, making them ‘among the richest people in the world.’” 

While the Fairmont Miramar is indeed a subsidiary of the Dell business empire, so what? It’s a stupid distraction and meaningless. It has nothing to do with the validity of the project. I guess you could make the same complaint about “hired gun” out-of-town publicists who come here and try to influence the local rubes purely for a paycheck.

While some people are saying “let ‘em build,” others want the project substantially reduced, but when the dust finally clears around 2018, I predict there will be an impressive, revitalized hotel on the site.

Does that mean that massing and size of major hotel buildings can be adjusted or reduced? Does that mean that structures can be shorter to make them more neighborhood compatible? Does that mean the project can bring more traffic and still be environmentally friendly? The answer to all these questions is, “Yes!” But neighbors, the business community, City Hall and the developers will all have to work together intelligently to make good things happen.

In the meantime, there are other fish to fry. The development agreement for a massive, now mostly residential development at the site of the Village Trailer Park, 2930 Colorado Ave., will be before the Planning Commission for public review on Wednesday, May 23.

The granddaddy of them all — the 750,000-square-foot Hines Bergamot Transit Village Center proposed for the old Paper Mate property at Olympic Boulevard, 26th Street and Stewart Street is scheduled for a public development agreement hearing before the Planning Commission on Wednesday, June 20.

 

Bill can be reached at mr.bilbau@gmail.com