By Daniel Larios
October 31, 2014 –The race for Santa Monica City Council is heating up as Planning Commissioner Sue Himmelrich and the Fairmont Miramar Hotel began trading blows this week in mailers and robo calls.
The grudge match began with a mailer released by Himmelrich’s campaign last weekend portraying the Miramar as Godzilla hulking over Santa Monica, with the headline “Beware the Development Nightmare on Ocean Avenue: MIRAMAR ZILLA.”
“Let’s stop the nightmare on Ocean Avenue before it’s too late!” reads the inside of the mailer. “Sue will stand firm against monster hotel development on Ocean Avenue.
“Let one monster hotel in and more will follow,” the mailer continues, breaking down the specific plans for a proposed redevelopment plan for the Miramar. “And now we have more hotel ‘Zillas to worry about!”
The ad then provides information on two proposed projects, including a 22 story hotel and condo project at Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard and the redevelopment of the Wyndham Hotel at 2nd and Colorado.
Ocean Avenue LLC, which owns the Fairmont Miramar Hotel, retaliated Wednesday with a citywide robo call attacking Himmelrich and her husband, Michael Soloff, for bankrolling her campaign and donating to two organizations that have endorsed her.
In addition, a mailer financed by Ocean Avenue LLC was sent to Santa Monica voters Wednesday, according to a source close to the campaign.
“Himmelrich’s recent city-wide mailer was irresponsible and deceitful,” said Alan Epstein, one of the owners of the Miramar. “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.
“Her cartoonish attack on a two-year old master plan is reminiscent of cartoonish attacks we’ve seen from the Huntley Hotel,” he said. “It would not surprise us at all if they were related. Our supporters urged us then, and have urged us now, to respond aggressively.”
Epstein was referring to a similar Godzilla-themed ad used by slow-growth advocates in 2012 when City officials were discussing proposed plans to redevelop the Miramar. (“Miramar Proposal Could be a Little Girl's Dream or a Meteorite About to Crush Santa Monica,” February 8, 2012)
Santa Monica residents who received the Miramar-backed robo calls described them on social media, spurring heated debates.
“It began SOMETHING like this,” wrote a Santa Monica resident on the Residocracy Santa Monica Facebook Group. “This message is from Ocean Avenue LLC. We want you to know that, ‘according to published reports,’ City Council candidate Sue Himmelrich was accused of being involved in backroom deals with SMRR (Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights) and the SM Democratic Club, which have both endorsed her.
“The recording also mentioned that she had come in 4th in the SMRR balloting, but had received the endorsement anyway, and mentioned her husband donating $10,000 to SMRR, saying that he ‘brags’ about defending big oil companies.”
Soloff, who is an attorney with the LA-based law firm Munger Tolles and Olson, has represented oil companies “in response to a massive marine oil spill,” according to his bio posted on the law firm’s website.
According to Himmelrich, the cases being referenced happened 20 years ago and her husband has since “devoted 20% of his time to tenant-side housing work to protect the rights of Section 8 tenants for the last 6 years.”
Opponents of Himmelrich also took exception to the amount of money the candidate and her husband have put into the campaign.
According to the latest campaign finance disclosure statement, Himmelrich recently loaned her campaign an additional $40,000, bringing the total amount she has loaned to $130,000.
Soloff made $10,000 donations to both SMRR and the Santa Monica Democratic Club.
Some political observers say that the attack ad could unintentionally create a backlash and inspire slow-growth advocates to head to the polls en masse for Himmelrich.
The robo calls and the upcoming attack mailers are financed by Ocean Avenue LLC only and are not affiliated with “Responsible Leadership for a Better Santa Monica,” a Super PAC headed by Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day that counts Ocean Avenue LLC as one of its donors.
The Super PAC has not sent out any attack pieces, and those close to its campaign told the Lookout that all its mailers had been sent. The five mailers back Mayor Pam O’Connor and challenger Frank Gruber.
O’Connor has been the target of campaign mailers sent by the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City (SMCLC), which attacked her record on the Council backing major developments.
The latest mailer, sent Thursday, accuses O’Connor of rewarding a developer “with millions for destroying” the homes of elderly trailer park tenants to pave the way for a “mega project.”
Himmelrich’s campaign manager, former mayor Denny Zane, said the Miramar’s attacks came as no surprise.
“We expected to be attacked from the beginning,” said Himmelrich’s campaign manager Denny Zane. “What committee it would have come out of was the question.”