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.