Miramar Flyer Raises A Stir

Friday, 21 Jun 2013, 9:28:00 AM

Parimal M. Rohit

The many hotels located in downtown Santa Monica are used to competing

with each other every Friday afternoon. Tourists may come into town to spend

the weekend at Santa Monica Beach. Local and regional residents may patronize a

hotel bar, lounge, or restaurant.

However, last Friday, the Fairmont Miramar and Huntley Hotels, two

venues located directly across the street from one another, were engaged in a

different kind of standoff, with one venue accusing the other of engaging in

shenanigans of the racial type.

Though the controversy became public on June 10, the inciting

incident occurred one day earlier. A flyer was distributed to various locations

across Santa Monica.

On the flyer was an image of the Huntley Hotel’s owner, Sohrab

Sassounian.

Above the image read: “Who is Sohrab Sassounian and why is he spending

millions to smear the Miramar?”

The other side of the flyer read: “Next time you see

misinformation about the Miramar, consider who is bankrolling it,” and, “Judge

the Miramar Plan on its merits.”

A PDF of the flyer was also posted on the website

huntleyfacts.com, where viewers of the flyers were asked to visit to learn “more

facts about the Huntley, their smear campaign and their attempts to take over

the City of Santa Monica.”

Ocean Avenue, LLC, owner of the Miramar Hotel, conspicuously

claimed credit by stating it approved and funded the circular at the bottom of

the flyer.

Visiting the website, the Huntley Hotel was further

accused of taking advantage of a Prop. 13 loophole to pay “less than $163,000

in property taxes last year.” Following the accusation was a link to the Los

Angeles County property tax website with the Huntley Hotel’s assessor ID

number.

Interestingly enough, a Los Angeles Times report

revealed the owners of the Miramar, including Michael Dell, took advantage of a

similar Prop. 13 loophole to keep its tax assessment low.

Taking the tax jab one step further, the website claimed:

“The Miramar currently pays more in property taxes every two months than The Huntley

pays in a whole year. When the Miramar Plan redevelopment is completed, the Miramar

will be completely reassessed and will likely pay more property taxes in a week

than the Huntley pays every year.”

The website also accused the Huntley Hotel of “questionable

political practices” by allegedly engaging with Santa Monicans for Responsible

Growth (SMRG), an independent expenditure committee.

 “Overall,

SMRG spent almost $100,000 for two candidates for Santa Monica City Council, with

about 80 percent of SMRG’s contributions coming from sources with provable,

direct relations to The Huntley Hotel,” the website read.

 The

accusation continued to cite news articles to detail the allegation of how the

Huntley Hotel engaged in “questionable political practices.”

Finally, the website accused the Huntley Hotel of

orchestrating “the takeover of local neighborhood and political groups in order

to attack the Miramar Plan,” again citing a news article to validate the claim.

Though Ocean Avenue LLC is listed as the backer of

the flyer, no individual has been identified in the week that has since passed

as its creator.

Just the same, on its face, the circular does not

make any direct racial remarks or connotations.

However, a series of emails were sent to The Mirror and other Santa Monica publications attacking the merits of the

flyer and pondering whether it was indeed a racist attack against the Huntley Hotel’s

owner.

“I can’t believe that Ocean Avenue LLC, Mike Dell’s

Company, has stooped to racist attacks in order get people on their side - this

is harassment and defamation on a personal level,” resident Silke Kohler

stated.

“This mailer is downright xenophobic,” resident Avery

Auer added.

Resident Jim Gerstley wrote: “They’re launching

discriminatory attacks instead of addressing the real concerns of the thousands

people who DO oppose their project: the residents of Santa Monica who don’t

want to live in the shadow of a 21-story building, including me. I hope that every

councilmember will join me in condemning this racist attack.”

Shiva Aghaipour, vice-president of the Huntley

Hotel, issued a statement to the press on June 13, claiming the circular was “a

cynical attempt to deflect attention away from the enormous groundswell of

local opposition to their massive expansion plans” and served as a “personal

attack on a well-respected Santa Monica business owner.”

“This smear campaign against the owner of the

Huntley is not only false but is in fact intimidation designed to squelch

participation in the public process,” Aghiapour continued in her statement.

The Miramar was scheduled to speak with The Mirror after time of press (see smmirror.com for updates).

With the Miramar still exploring its planned expansion

and renovation, last week’s incident involving two of Santa Monica’s most

popular hotels on either side of Second Street just above Wilshire Boulevard

may not be the last time local hear from both parties.

Currently, the Miramar sits on 4.5 acres, is home

to 296 guest rooms, and is just above 262,000 square feet in space. The tallest

structure currently on-site is 10 stories tall. There are only 167 parking

spaces on site.

The new Miramar, if current plans are approved by

the City Council, may expand to 556,000 square feet and include four buildings,

265 hotel rooms, 120 condominiums, just under 500 subterranean parking spaces,

retail space along Wilshire Boulevard, and one-acre of open space.

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