A rather routine hearing Tuesday, March 16, to extend permits for Rick Caruso’s Miramar Hotel property, turned interesting when 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf went on the offensive, challenging Caruso to see if he really had plans to build the 192-room hotel.
Wolf noted several news articles, some as recent as August of last year, quoting Caruso and his representatives following the county supervisors’ December 2008 approval of his project, which will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to complete. They were quoted as saying that they hoped to start demolishing the remains of the old Miramar Hotel in January 2010. “How is this happening that now we have a delay?” Wolf asked, going on to note an article from the Los Angeles Times in recent weeks that detailed how Caruso had plans to expand into the airport retail business.
Even though she voted against the hotel early last year, Wolf on Tuesday told Caruso, “We want your hotel built,” and added that she was “just incredibly disappointed” when she saw his request for an extension. “Do you really have the commitment to build this hotel?” she asked.
Caruso, clearly taken aback by Wolf’s comments and admitting as much, responded by saying that he didn’t think he had broken any promises, and that he had every intention of building the hotel. The delay is a function of an economy that won’t support luxury hotels, he explained, saying it has become more difficult to get a loan, and that he didn’t want to build a hotel knowing it will fail. “Do you think I like sitting and owning a demolished property like that?” asked Caruso, who was asking the board for an extension on a coastal development permit and a five-year extension on various conditional use permits.
“The world went upside down in a way no one predicted,” Caruso said, adding that he didn’t expect to have to wait until 2015.
The supervisors ended up voting unanimously (with 5th District Supervisor Joe Centeno absent) to extend the permits. The coastal development permit was extended only a year, meaning Caruso will have to return again for another extension if he needs more time. Caruso agreed to provide daily security on the grounds, after weeks of complaints from area residents that the site was dangerous and could potentially lead to harm. Additionally, he noted, they do quarterly weed abatement, pest control, and debris removal, and have donated piles of lumber and blue tiles that had been on the property to Habitat for Humanity. A county official said Caruso has kept the site in compliance, despite the condition. “This community is tired of having this dilapidated nuisance in their community,” 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said.