Fairmont Miramar Hotel (File photo)
Fairmont Miramar Hotel (File photo)

It seems that in the zeal to wage a public relations war against the renovation of the Fairmont Miramar Hotel at Ocean Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard, anything goes.

I understand why the key opponents of the renovation, the owners of the 17-floor Huntley House Hotel across Second Street are upset. They claim a proposed 21-story Fairmont tower will block views.

I understand why they don’t want low-income housing next to their “three-star” hotel. A 40-unit affordable project is one of a number of benefits being provided by Ocean Avenue, LLC/MSD Capital (subsidiaries in computer entrepreneur Michael Dell’s financial empire) that own the Fairmont Miramar.

I understand why Sue Burnside of Burnside and Associates, a major Los Angeles-based political consultancy hired by Huntley owners, would form anti-Fairmont “neighborhood groups” such as Santa Monicans Against the Miramar Expansion (SMAME) and Save Santa Monica. Forming neighborhood groups to create the appearance of massive public support is PR 101.

I understand why residents of the 17-floor condominium (often described as one of the ugliest buildings in Santa Monica) on California and Ocean avenues behind the Fairmont Miramar property are involved. They don’t want their views blocked, either. Add those who just hate high rises and voila, a coalition of haters.

Like previous so-called “neighborhood groups” formed by special interests such as Santa Monicans for Sensible Priorities and Santa Monicans for Quality Government, the Huntley PR machine claims a thousand community members.

Members like a friend who went to a SMAME meeting a year ago “out of curiosity,” didn’t like what he heard and never went back. Of course, he’s still listed as a member and routinely receives e-mails and calls from this and similar organizations supported by Huntley interests.

Last year, Burnside and others on Huntley’s PR payroll were behind a coup to take over the Wilshire-Montana Neighborhood Association (Wilmont). Why? The Wilmont board of directors supported the Miramar project. After much political turmoil, Huntley-backed sympathizers took over the Wilmont board and immediately voted to oppose the project.

Then came the attack on Michael Dell and Ocean Avenue, LLC., for using legal loopholes in the state property tax laws to avoid paying millions of dollars in property taxes. The Huntley PR machine went into overdrive about how low and underhanded this was. Unfortunately, it did nothing to further discussion on the Fairmont renovation.

I’m wondering how many Huntley employees, PR guns and anti-Fairmont activists are going to turn in their Apple computers, iPhones or iPads now that Apple, Inc., has been accused of using every loophole and sneaky trick imaginable to avoid paying taxes, not only in the USA, but worldwide.

The latest ill-advised PR stunt by Huntley’s PR consultants was written up in last Tuesday’s Daily Press (“Race card played in Miramar Hotel fight,” June 18, page 1) The article described the response to a flyer distributed the previous week by Ocean Avenue, LLC. Huntley’s PR machine quickly branded it as “racist.”

They accused Miramar owners of being “openly racist” and waging “unjust attacks” because their flyer featured a grainy photo of Sohrab Sassounian, identified him as the Huntley House owner and described him as a “greedy Beverly Hills millionaire.” It also accused Sassounian of enriching himself by using the same tax loopholes for his Huntley property as Dell used on his.

Rohnda Ammouri, a former political coordinator working for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) sent out e-mails to people on Huntley mailing lists and asked them to respond to the Miramar flyer. By the way, it was Ammouri who had previously raised the issue of Dell’s property taxes.

Ammouri’s then sent an e-mail to anti-Fairmont activist Suzy Rabuchino asking her to send a “specific statement” to the local media and post it on social networking websites. Although Rabuchino said her statement was her own feelings, she told the Lookout News that she had lost her own written statement and sent out one prepared by Ammouri. Ammouri later changed her story again by claiming she “helped her to draft what … she wanted to say.”

Ammouri worked for Burnside before she was employed by the SEIU, so it would appear her involvement is more than that of a concerned citizen. Coincidentally, the Fairmont Miramar is one of a handful of local hotels with a current union contract and is represented by Unite HERE!, an SEIU competitor.

Members of various Huntley-backed groups opposed to the Fairmont plan were quick to jump on the bandwagon. Many said that Dell’s people deliberately made Sassounion’s image in the flyer appear as a “dark, Arab guy with creepy eyes” and “was obviously racist.”

Reader comments about the flyer posted on the www.smdp.com website by anti-Fairmont activists range from, “MSD and Michael Dell … is trying to stop real citizens of this city from exercising their constitutional rights to protest or address concerns” to ” Dell is a disgusting human being who makes garbage computers …” I hope not. I just bought a Dell.

The anti-Fairmont effort appears to be in the hands of extremists or incompetents who are so desperate that they’ve resorted to lying, name calling and now, race baiting.

The Fairmont Miramar is going to be redeveloped in any case. But, instead of engaging in debate about the substantive issues concerning that development, Huntley management and its bumbling PR lackeys have stooped to grasping at irrelevant straws.

Anti-Fairmont activists have shot themselves in the foot. Worse yet, the public is now discounting them as “bonkers.”




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

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