"I think they're using the press here as almost the equivalent of their legal representative to get their way," said Mark S. Carlquist, the attorney representing landlord Cyrus Parvini. "This is a matter of contract. It's just that simple."
Michelle Piao, owner of The Office Bar in Sylvan Plaza, located at 820 E. El Camino Real, said that Parvini is not respecting the terms of her lease, which expires in October 2014. Her most serious accusation is that Parvini attempted to trick her husband into signing a lease termination agreement by telling him that his wife had already signed the document, when she had not. Parvini and his lawyer vehemently denied this.
"I'm a very honest person," Parvini said. "I don't lie and I don't cheat anybody."
Parvini did not deny taking other actions, but said that the owner of The Office is misrepresenting them.
For example, Parvini does not dispute that he told Piao she could no longer hold barbeques on weekends in front of the bar, or that he took away the chairs she had out front for her patrons. According to Piao they are intended to drive away her patrons and encourage her to accept an unfair and premature lease termination agreement.
The way Parvini sees it, he is just disallowing a practice that shouldn't have been allowed in the first place — one which encourages people, who have often had too much to drink, to hang around outside the bar.
Piao also said Parvini has been trying to make life hard for the acupuncture and massage business located next door to the bar. Piao, who has invested in the neighboring business, said Parvini has repeatedly sent city inspectors to the business in an effort to catch the shop violating health codes.
"He said our business and her business are not good for children, so that's why they want us to leave," said acupuncturist James Zhang.
Piao claims the landlord is doing this because he wants to expand Little Prodigy Preschool into several empty units in the shopping center. She said he wants the acupuncture and massage shop out to make way for the preschool, and he wants the bar gone, because it serves alcohol.
On the contrary, Carlquist and Parvini said, they have offered to relocate the acupuncturist within the complex and there is nothing they can find in city code that would prohibit them from locating a preschool next to a bar, although it has yet to be determined if the city would allow this.
If Parvini has been stricter on his tenants than they are used to, it is simply because he is enforcing the rules of the lease, said Carlquist, who described the previous landlord as "absentee." Parvini purchased the shopping center last year.
"Under the prior ownership, if we paid our rent we never heard anything," Carlquist said, paraphrasing what he perceives to be at the root of Piao's complaint. Now that Parvini is trying to clean up the the complex, the bar's ownership is pushing back. "You've got a change of the guard, and this guard is trying to change things."
Though it does not appear that The Office's lease agreement — provided to the Voice by Piao — explicitly prohibits grilling outside the bar, Carlquist has argued that the lease does require all bar-related activities to be conducted inside.
The issue with the bar, according to Carlquist, is not a potential conflict with the preschool but that the bar is a source of public drunkenness, public urination and other bad behavior.
On a recent Friday afternoon, several of the bar's patrons say the accusations are trumped up. The weekend barbeques have been a longstanding tradition at The Office, according to bartender, Jena Gillin, who said she feels the bar is being unfairly targeted.
Ralph Haughton, a regular at The Office, said he can always count on seeing a friendly face when he drops by for a drink. He said he thinks of many of the bar's regulars as his "family." When he found out that the regular weekend barbeques would no longer be allowed, he said it felt like a personal attack. "I feel like we're the redheaded stepchildren in here."
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