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At the time, Rustic Treasures had hit rock bottom, the Parlinses admit. Four months earlier, the couple had been evicted from a location at 3700 Grand Ave. The owner of that property is Andy Parrish, a real estate investor who gave $250 to Sarnoff's 2006 political campaign.
Parrish says he notified Sarnoff he would go after the grant money if it was awarded to the Parlinses. "It was my fault they didn't get the grant," he says. "They promised they would leave without forcing me to get a lawyer and evict them. That didn't happen. So there was a lot of animosity."
The property owner has since forgiven the Parlinses' debt because of Bonna. "She works very hard," Parrish says. "But her husband wants to blame everyone for their problems."
During the hearing, Spence-Jones asked the city's interim community development director, Hector Mirable, if she could give Rustic Treasures the money from her district's community development funds. "I know they're doing wonderful work in the West Grove," she said.
That set off Sarnoff. He warned Spence-Jones that Parrish had won a judgment against Rustic Treasures, and that the grant money "would be subject to a right of seizure by the court" to pay back rent. "The landlord ... is well-known to this commission," Sarnoff said. "[He] gave her quite a bit of free rent, and then she overstayed her welcome. She had to be evicted."
Bonna Parlins says Sarnoff humiliated her and that Rustic Treasures did not owe Parrish any money. "Instead of sending out an aide to talk to me, he put out our dirty laundry in public," she says. "He was being very arrogant."
Sarnoff claims Spence-Jones had no business meddling in his district's affairs. "The West Grove is my issue and my problem," he says. As far as Rustic Treasures, Sarnoff explains, he didn't think it was appropriate to help a failing venture. "I'm very different from the way Spence-Jones operates."
Walter Parlins says he wasn't looking for a handout. "If there are grants out there to help businesses like ours, then why wouldn't we take advantage of them?" he contends. "It is the American way."
Rustic Treasures has struggled because there is no foot traffic on Grand Avenue, Parlins says. "We've got crack dealers and drug addicts out here. People don't want to come inside your business with that stuff going on out here."
Bonna Parlins says Sarnoff doesn't appreciate the work she and her husband have put into their business. "I don't really want a beef with Sarnoff," she explains. "I only want him to respect people like us who are trying their hardest and who take pride in their shop."
Responds Sarnoff: "The West Grove is comfortable with my representation." And he accuses his detractors of unfairly playing the race card. "If you use [the claim of racism] like a disposable baggie, it becomes like the boy who cried wolf," he says. "It dilutes the purpose."