Friday, August 22, 2008

And Just When Did Caruso Stop Beating His Wife?

I now think I have the answer to why News-Press editorial page editor Travis Armstrong, a law school graduate, never chose to sit for the California Bar Examination. Had he passed the exam and become a lawyer, he would have been incapable of asking a question that could survive an objection.

Yesterday I received a copy of the following e-mail exchange between Armstrong and Matt Middlebrook. Middlebrook is the point person for Rick Caruso's proposed project to rebuild the Miramar Hotel.

From: Travis Armstrong []
Sent: Thursday, August 21, 2008 9:23 AM
To: Matt Middlebrook
Subject: Questions

Mr. Middlebrook:

Some questions:

1) Why for months didn't your company patch up the big holes in the
fence around the Miramar?

2) Why didn't your company remove trash such as old mattresses from the site?

3) Why hasn't Rick Caruso been the kind of caretaker of this property that Mr. Warner and Mr. Schrager were while they owned it?

4) Please respond, specifically this time, to the charge that your
company put up lights to shine on the property of project critics. We
have pictures that seem to belie the security statements you made last time.

5) Is it policy of your company to personally attack or intimidate
critics as many believe you have done here on the South Coast? Or is
that just your practice?

6) How much money has your company offered local groups?

7) Besides the private parties and free lunches, what else has your
company or Mr. Caruso offered, hinted at or given to project supporters?

Travis Armstrong

Talk about some "when-did-you-stop-beating-your-wife?" type questions!

And what about question five? "Is it policy of your company to personally attack or intimidate critics as many believe you have done here on the South Coast? Or is that just your practice?"

A lot of people around here would say that is exactly what News-Press owner Wendy McCaw uses her newspaper for time and time again. Just ask, Jerry Roberts, Marty Blum or Helene Schneider.

In any event, within a few hours, Middlebrook replied:

From: "Matt Middlebrook"
Date: August 21, 2008 12:08:21 PM PDT
To: "Travis Armstrong"
Subject: RE: Questions

Travis --

While always happy answer your questions, I think the questions you have posed, which are included below, are insulting to local residents who may choose to support the project, and I have copied them on this email and they can choose to respond directly if they wish ( The implications you make about Montecito residents are not only basesless, but offensive. Responses below:

1) We do patch holes in the fence periodically, and have just mended
fences throughout the property.

2) We have had a crew provide regular clean up on the site, and the
mattresses you referenced have been removed. We also regularly respond to calls about graffiti and have it regularly painted over, and do weed abatement throughout the site.

3) I can't speak to what kind of caretakers either of the previous property owners have been. The fact is, the hotel has been closed for nearly ten years. It is a vacant hotel. The majority of the landscaping was removed from the site before we purchased it and a number of buildings were demolished by the previous owners, and some were placed on trailers where they remain.

4) We put the lights up for security purposes, we have disconnected them in response to concerns raised.

5) This question is insulting and absurd. We are very proud of the relationship we have with communities where our projects are located.

6) Again, absurd question. We have offered nothing in return for someone's support of the project.

7) Other than a really cool blue and white button that says "Miramar Now" and the exciting opportunity to sit in poorly ventilated 12-hour Planning Commission meetings, we have not offered them anything for their support. This question is extraordinarily offensive to people who have given their time and energy to express their views about the project as they see fit. To imply that they have somehow been bought off is unfair to them.

Matt Middlebrook
Vice President, Government Relations
Caruso Affiliated

That exchange took place on the same day that Caruso Affliated ran a nearly full-page ad on page B4 of the News-Press under the title "The Truth About The Miramar." The ad bullet points seven claims that opponents of the project are making and Caruso's responses to those claims. (And thanks to "Jennifer," one of my readers, who brought the ad to my attention.)

I know that advertising in a newspaper should have no impact on how someone is treated in the opinion pages or in news articles but you've got to admit, that is quite a racket when you can pummel someone day in and day out in editorials and op-ed page columns and then make them pay you to get their side of the story told.

Instead of Armstrong sending out an e-mail with a bunch of loaded questions, the News-Press ought to put a reporter on this story to investigate the issues that Armstrong raises in his e-mail and interview the people who are making these claims. After he or she has written an unbiased news account of what the situation is (because we know Wendy abhors bias) then Armstrong can write his editorial or op ed column based on what the true facts are.

* * *

Too delicious to pass up. The following e-mail was circulated to the staff of an office in Goleta earlier this week:

Dear Colleagues-

On a regular basis, we cater meetings in the office. Prior to serving the food, we often place it in the Courtesy Kitchen. It has come to my attention that a person, or people, are helping themselves to the food before we serve it.

For instance, we had a Chinese chicken salad prepared for a meeting and someone picked off all of the chicken. Another time, we had several pieces of cake cut for dessert and someone helped themselves to some of the pieces. However, taking the cake wasn't as big a deal because the pieces that were taken weren't going to be served anyways. They had fallen on the floor!

Personally, I always check my food for scuff marks before sneaking it off the serving plate.