BY CORTNI NUCKLOS
Many in the community have asked for details about Sirphey’s experience with the June 3 concert and about the concerns Sirphey and other local operations have raised. I have tried to be as specific as possible, providing dates, times, and quotes for accuracy.
Sirphey has proudly taken part in the Ashley Pond Summer Concerts since 2017, making us one of the longest-participating vendors. This year, we reserved a food-vendor-with-electricity spot for every single concert with the Community Development Department on May 16. We paid up front for every single concert and our check was cashed by the County. Our application was received and check cashed before 12 of the 17 other vendors at the June 3 concert.
This notion that we had reserved dates does not arise from any assumptions on our part but from the actual paperwork created by the County. It provides vendors with an option to write in exactly which dates they are reserving, and we took them up on that by reserving “ALL” in our May 16 paperwork.
But the County did not honor that agreement.
At 2:19 p.m. in the afternoon of June 1, hours after County officials claim they send final concert maps to Los Alamos Fire Department, Sirphey received an email pressuring vendors to give up reserved spots so that the County could bring in other vendors. We refused. To quote my colleague at 3:28 p.m., “at this time, I do not feel comfortable giving up any of the reserved dates we applied, were granted, and paid for, or being moved to a non-electric spot as we provide food.”
What followed our initial refusal to give up a spot was one and a half days of continued pressure from the County, including a bizarre statement suggesting our 3:28 p.m. response to a 2:19 p.m. email was not good enough because they need confirmation by 11:00 a.m. But at the pre-season vendor meeting hosted by Community Services, a vendor asked if the onus would be on vendors to provide notice, and the County assured us of the opposite.
“For you guys that are doing the whole series, it’ll be just like before. You go do your paperwork for the whole time, and then you’ll hear from us every week when we send out….” ( *Comments are at 20:19 in this video: https://youtu.be/q6losku0b6Y?t=1215. And the County failed to reach out in accordance with this new protocol for three weeks in a row, including for the June 3 concert.
Returning to the lead-up to June 3rd, my colleague continually refused to give up our reservation, insisting that we hope the County shall not “go against the paperwork and payment on file to favor businesses against each other” and ultimately expressing concern at the County double dipping, charging for the same spot more than once. One hour later, the official map went out, placing Sirphey with no access to electricity. The reality and message of that were clear: the restaurant could be present so long as it didn’t serve food. So long as it didn’t operate as a restaurant.
Because we believed the County would honor its agreements and cashed checks, we prepared between 150 and 200 portions of food for the concert. We were lucky that members of the community helped us donate that.
We’ve had some rough experiences as business operators, but we’ve never felt quite so beaten down as while we stood at that concert, the prepared food locked away in a cooler while we served cold drinks to the crowd. We showed up. We were making the best of it. And then, what I understand to be a family member of one of the County officials involved chose that moment to harass and name-call us in the middle of service. In moments like that, it’s quite hard not to feel actions are personal. We didn’t name names. I’m not naming names now. And we certainly haven’t name-called.
This situation didn’t result from some misunderstanding, as some have suggested. There is no misunderstanding the paperwork on file with the CDD, which shows we reserved and paid “ALL” dates before 71% of vendors at that concert. And there is no misunderstanding when we are pressured to give up our spot and say no. And we said no over and over and over.
The true shock came after receiving the results of Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) requests, this week. I submitted two requests in hopes of learning more about what happened. The first was for all concert vendor applications, and the latter was for communication among officials involved in creating the map.
The results revealed that 1) small, local operations are being charged more and treated differently than the bigger, outside operations; 2) the County ignored more than just Sirphey’s communication on the map; 3) not all vendors, including food vendors, even had permits for the June 3 concert; and 4) excuses given by the County were not correct. I’ll address them point by point.
1. The application paperwork created by the County for food vendors states: “Sales, Food or High Risk: One 10×10 space or trailer, per space” and carries a fee of $600. Bob’s Bodacious BBQ and Papa Murphy’s did everything correctly, filing their paperwork weeks early and paying $1200 for two spots. But every single large, out-of-town operation spanning multiple spaces was only charged $600 per the records given to me. So, while a local operation pays the full rate (which doubled, this year), Chicken Scratch out of Espanola is paying 1/3 that rate, and JPZ out of Albuquerque is paying 1/5 that rate, etc. That isn’t fair, and it’s a clear violation of the County’s own explicit protocol.
2. The map of the June 3 concert places Yoga with Jacci in the #9 spot. But there are a couple problems with that: she didn’t even apply for the June 3 concert, and when contacted, obviously stated that she wouldn’t be taking part. “I will not be at this week’s concert I will be at next Friday and Friday after that” was sent in reply to the County’s 2:19 p.m. email on June 1. And yet, she was placed on the map, showing that the County ignored more than just the communication from Sirphey. We wanted our reserved spot and couldn’t have it. She didn’t want a spot she didn’t reserve, but still got it.
3. Yoga with Jacci wasn’t the only vendor on the June 3 map without a permit. The records I was given show incomplete applications on file for three of the vendors, whereas the most prominent vendor on the map, JPZ Concessions, had no permit application at all on file for June 3. Per their May 18 application, they only applied for “5/20, 6/10, 6/24, 7/8.” Though the map officially shows 3 spots given to this entity, the reality was 5 spots. The County pushed out a food vendor that *did* apply for June 3 in order to give 5 spots with electricity to a vendor that *didn’t* even apply for it.
4. County officials suggested nothing could be done after the map went to LAFD on Wednesday, but Thursday communications show proposed changes to the map to accommodate JPZ, the vendor without a permit. And communication from LAFD at 8:09 a.m. on the day of the concert informs County officials that if they move us, “they do not have to send out a new map.” They still didn’t fix things.
I should mention that I did follow up on my IPRA requests and raised some of these concerns. The relevant departments have not gotten back to me, but I have seen that they put out a press release in the meantime.
And in internal communication, the Community Services Department head insisted that my colleague “needs to learn” their protocols. The phrasing struck me, making me feel that a County department wanted to teach us a lesson with their actions surrounding that concert. We unwittingly took his advice, nonetheless, and it’s become clearer and clearer that Sirphey didn’t violate County protocols, but the County certainly did.