CITYWIDE – Mud-slinging is on the rise in the campaign’s last week as a local political group attacks the mayor through mailers and a hotel owner trades spars with a City Council candidate.
The race between Former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver and former State Assemblymember Sheila Kuehl for a Los Angeles County Supervisor seat has been acidic for weeks. Groups opposed to and in favor of the Santa Monica Airport have been attacking each other since literature started overflowing mailboxes.
This week, the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC) has been stepping up its attack ads against Mayor Pam O’Connor.
One mailer shows the field of candidates being asked at a forum if they will accept money from developers and O’Connor holding up a “Yes” sign.
While she is the only candidate holding up the “Yes” sign, several other candidates, including former Mayor Michael Feinstein and former Planning Commissioner Frank Gruber, have acknowledged that they would accept certain developer contributions. Recreation and Parks Chair Phil Brock accepted money from developers but later returned it after being questioned by the Daily Press.
Other mailers tie O’Connor to development, tie development to increased water usage, and note that residents may soon by hit with drought surcharges to incentivize water preservation.
“I trust the voters will see beyond the misrepresentations and dumbing down of issues that those attack ads do,” O’Connor told the Daily Press in an e-mail.
O’Connor has not financed any hit-pieces this election season.
“The groups and people that attack just say NO to everything but never present what they envision for Santa Monica,” she said.
Earlier this week Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich’s campaign sent out a mailer illustrating three proposed Ocean Avenue hotel projects as different iterations of the giant monster Godzilla.
Himmelrich has vocally opposed the Ocean Avenue hotel projects.
Ocean Ave, LLC, which owns the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, responded with a scathing attack on Himmelrich and her husband Michael Soloff through a robocall Thursday morning. It followed with a campaign mailer making numerous claims about Soloff’s professional record and contributions he’s made to political parties who have endorsed Himmelrich.
Ocean Ave, LLC wants to rebuild the Miramar, replacing the current 10-story edifice with — according to the most recently released designs — a 21-story tower, 280 hotel rooms, 120 luxury condominiums, and 40 affordable housing units.
Soloff is a partner at the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson and has been featured in Himmelrich’s mailers and robocalls made on her behalf. He’s also contributed to the Santa Monica Democratic Club ($10,000) and Santa Monicans For Renters’ Rights ($10,000), both of which have supported Himmelrich in this election.
The Miramar’s attacks make reference to his law firm’s website which states that Soloff “has played a leading role in the representation of various oil companies in response to a massive marine oil spill” and “in the representation of a nuclear power plant operator in connection with alleged radiation injury claims brought by workers and their families.”
Himmelrich, who is endorsed by the environmental group The Sierra Club, questioned what Soloff’s professional life has to do with her campaign.
“The Sierra Club asked me about it and I’m going to say the same thing I said to them, which is that it was 20 years ago and he should have changed it,” she said of the law firm’s website, “but then, after it was already out there, I thought it would look wrong to change it just because people were talking about it. If you want to really know who he is, look at his Housing Commission application. He has spent 20 percent of his time over the past eight and a half years working on tenant cases.”
Soloff, who was recently appointed the Housing Commission, noted that his law firm has won the California State Bar’s Diversity Award and its Pro Bono Award.
For nearly a decade, he said, he’s defended, pro bono, the rights of Section 8 tenants to have the same protections under rent control against evictions without cause.
Soloff relayed advice he’d received from one of his law professors
“I hope you have learned that there always is something justly to be said for each side of a case,” Soloff said, paraphrasing his professor. “Our job as lawyers is to articulate that. If we do that, we shouldn’t feel bad about what we’re doing because that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s up to the court and the juries to make the decisions. He also said, ‘of course, if you think that routinely the other side is the right side in your cases you should switch jobs.'”
Alan Epstein, a spokesperson for Ocean Ave, LCC, called Himmelrich’s Godzilla mailer “irresponsible and deceitful” noting that it uses scrapped rendering of the Miramar’s plan.
“It is widely known that we have been working for months with Cesar Pelli, one of the top architects in the world, to modify our plan to address feedback we’ve received from the community,” he said. “Her cartoonish attack on a two-year-old master plan is reminiscent of cartoonish attacks we’ve seen from the Huntley Hotel.”
The Huntley, a neighboring hotel, has actively opposed the Miramar expansion and contributed $10,000 to SMRR’s campaign.
“You’d think that they’re worried,” Himmelrich said of the Miramar’s attacks. “And they’re right to be worried because I don’t think they should have condos on top of these hotels … so they’re right to be attacking me if that’s what their interest is. I’m against their original project. I’m against condos on top of any hotel, and I’ve made that perfectly clear throughout the campaign.”
The most recent mailer also claims that Himmelrich was not endorsed by Board of Education member and State Senate candidate Ben Allen, whose name appears on her recent mailers.
Himmelrich says the attack ad’s claim is false.
“The Miramar piece was distorted,” Allen told the Daily Press, “they never called me to confirm, and they went ahead with it anyways. Sue used my name in good faith. The Miramar folks should have called me. Both have agreed not to use my name in future mailings or communications; I’m focused on my campaign and not all of this crazy mudslinging.”
This isn’t the first time that hotel owners have attacked council candidates.
“Eight years ago, another hotel company mounted a pretty vicious attack campaign against me,” Councilmember Kevin McKeown said in an e-mail to the Daily Press. “This seems to be becoming an unfortunate tradition in Santa Monica development politics.”
Edward Thomas Company, which owns the Hotel Casa del Mar and Shutters Hotel, financed a television attack ad on McKeown in 2006 but it backfired.
Resident Tim McAlevey was featured in the ad, complaining about homelessness issues, and was framed as an opponent of McKeown. But he told the media later that he planned to vote for McKeown and the story out-shined the advertisement.
The Daily Press reached out to McAlevey to find out where he stands this year.
“I’m still voting for Kevin if that’s what you wanted to know,” he said.
McAlevey also noted that he’s surprised that a casino hasn’t been place on the Santa Monica Pier yet.