A photo of email correspondence with Los Alamos County Community Development posted by Unquarked owner Prashant Jain Friday on social media. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
When Prashant Jain, owner of Unquarked, announced in April that the popular bar and lounge was moving to the former Blue Window Bistro location in the Mari Mac Shopping Center, he fully expected the business to reopen in mid-May at the new location. Now, more than six months later, Unquarked has not reopened and posts on the Unquarked Facebook page have prompted several members of the community to ask the Los Alamos Reporter to look into what exactly is going on between Los Alamos County officials and Unquarked.
Although Jain has reported on social media about meetings with Council Chair Sara Scott, County Manager Harry Burgess and County Community Development Department (CDD) Manager Paul Andrus, his latest post indicates that the new location has been “red tagged”.
In September Jain posted that they were working toward opening soon.
“Our repeated delays from changing requirements have left us disheartened, but not so much as the apparent double standard in applying those requirements. We had struggled to understand why this was going on until we found this email correspondence between our former landlord’s manager and the chief building officer,” he said.
“Patrons of UnQuarked will know that we actually did zero construction when we took over from the previous owner in 2017. So to come across this (email from Jain’s former landlord Terry Salazar to Arellano), as well as the reply in which Mr. Arellano assured Mr. Salazar that he would keep his name quiet was a shock especially when coupled with the fact that Mr. Salazar then replied minutes later (in the same thread) with an invitation to the soft opening of another very similar business that was treated differently by the CDD,” Jain said.
He wrote that he didn’t know his former landlord, Salazar, would have been informed that Unquarked was receiving the keys to the new location when “only two or three people knew, to our knowledge.”
“Given recent concerns raised by others about the relationship between these same people with the same sort of tactics, we thought it our duty to speak up. We have not yet decided on a course of action regarding the double standard or this concerning email correspondence,” Jain said.
Then Friday evening, Unquarked posted as follows on Facebook:
“How can we receive a stop work order on work that hasn’t been attempted?
Last Tuesday, Michael Arellano arrived to red tag Unquarked based on a false claim that we built an attached counter – no notification and no *required* inspection to see if this was correct before drawing up the red tag. But we luckily happened to be present. We proved the claim wrong, which resulted in his claiming our freestanding counter was “different” and “larger” than other freestanding counters he never required a permit for (freestanding counters do not require permits). So we showed that it was directly based on a counter he never required a permit for, and was the same size as yet another he required no permit for. He then claimed we illegally removed an interior window that was removed by the previous tenant, and we pointed out that we have dated photos of it before we leased the space.
This started a daily onslaught of new requirements with arbitrary 24-48hr deadlines under threat of red tag if we didn’t meet them. All of Mr. Arellano’s requests were met, despite our being able to show that the same requirements weren’t given to other businesses and despite there being no basis for his random deadlines.
When Mr. Arellano then reversed a passed inspection of work done exactly to the CDD-approved design (see photo 2), this week, we asked for a meeting with the head of the County Council and County Manager.
We ultimately met with Sara Scott and Paul Andrus (Head of CDD) on Wednesday to walk them through the space, and to discuss our concerns about Mr. Arellano’s conduct and well documented double standards. Mr. Andrus asked for documents relevant to the double standard, which he was provided, later that night.
The following day, at 4:45 p.m. just before everyone left for the day, we were told by Mr. Andrus that Mr. Arellano would be red tagging us. No reason was given, and we were told to find out the reasons via phone call. Concerned about the unwillingness to put a reason on record, we asked for answers. None were given.
Today, we were given new requirements for work we have not done and work we have no intention of doing (the existing 99 electrical/mechanical meets our needs). The CDD and Mr. Arellano are aware of this.
Moreover, we were required to file documents the CDD’s own website states they do not require, but should be filed separately with the state (CID) when we are ready to do such work.
The timing of this (right after raising our concerns over conduct), the refusal to give us a reason, and ultimately, the reason provided being work that hasn’t been attempted and paperwork the CDD doesn’t require led us to believe this is retaliation.
The last time we met with Mr. Burgess and Mr. Andrus over similar concerns, it was followed by a meeting with Mr. Arellano in which he offered to have Mr. Steve Waller write an affidavit regarding our installation of a hood that’s been present since 2006. Our dated photos protected us from retaliation, then.
But we don’t even know where to begin with the retaliation, this time. How can we receive a stop work order on work that hasn’t been attempted? How can the CDD require documentation of changes we are making to electrical/mechanical work when they are aware we are making none? And how — when we have explicit communication that plumbing work (restricted to connecting the currently unconnected appliances) would be filed in an upcoming permit for that work — punish us for not providing it on earlier county permits for other work? No electrical, plumbing, or mechanical work has been done, and all relevant parties have been shown this. And yet, we received a red tag to stop such work, and no one will answer our questions.
Further, how can the Stop Work Order claim an inspection took place, today, when we are the only people authorized/able to enter the space and we weren’t contacted to let anyone in? We have requested its removal.
We aren’t certain if it is worth it to continue attempting to open. We have prepared a letter contesting the tag. And we have asked for the requirements for a special council meeting. We hope to have the public attend to see and hear our evidence of double standards, changing requirements, and targeting.”
Jain told the Los Alamos Reporter on Saturday that the reg tag placed by Arellano alleges work being done that hasn’t been undertaken and states that such work was observed in an inspection on Nov. 22.
“No such inspection occurred. Nor did one prior to Mr. Arellano’s last attempt to issue an already-drawn-up tag on Nov. 12. We have asked the CDD to provide records of both conducting an inspection on the declared date and the work the red tag alleges. If they are unable to provide both, we’ve asked that the document be retracted as invalid and based on fabricated information from Arellano,” Jain said.
“We have also asked for records of the required inspection prior to Mr. Arellano’s failed attempt to red tag the business on Nov. 12. I can state with certainty that that inspection, likewise did not occur prior to his drawing up a red tag and visiting the space with an officer to post it,” he said. “This presents a worrying pattern of misconduct regarding the issuance of red tags without the required inspection. I feel it shows they aren’t as interested in faces as they are in harassment.”
Jain told the Reporter that as mentioned in his Facebook post, “the timing is quite suspect”.
“The night before Mr. Andrus informed us we would be red-tagged, he asked for and was provided with quite damaging evidence of a double standard in the CDD. Raising the alarm quietly to the appropriate person, the head of the CDD, appears to have resulted in retaliation, so we decided to no longer handle things quietly. We let the community know what is going on,” he said.
The Los Alamos Reporter reached out to Council Chair Sara Scott Friday evening and expects to discuss the Unquarked situation with her. The Reporter will also attempt to get some answers Monday from County staff.