by Rodney Lotter
– The Capitol Hill Times -
Walking by Waid’s Haitian Cuisine Bar and Lounge, located on the corner of East Jefferson Street and 12th Avenue, one wouldn’t expect this popular restaurant and dance spot to be the bane of the neighborhood’s existence. Yet, that is the notion some might have come away with after attending Thursday’s East Precinct Advisory Council meeting.
Waid’s, which opened in 2006, is a restaurant and nightclub that hosts a variety of community, dance, music and other special events. While the atmosphere is usually laid back, some neighbors have complained that the clientele are occasionally rowdy. Over the years, that sometimes raucous crowd has engaged in street fights, and earned noise complaints and drunk driving arrests. Employees have received drug dealing allegations and liquor board violations, including some for serving alcohol to minors.
In response to the numerous violations and complaints, Waid’s is currently up for a liquor license renewal trial with the Washington State Liquor Control Board. That was the main topic of discussion at the EastPAC meeting. In attendance was Waid’s owner, Waid Sainvil, and some employees, new East Precinct Captain Pierre Davis, community members, and media.
Waid’s: Public Safety Problem?
Matt York, the East Precinct liaison for the City Attorney’s Office, said that the city’s problems with Waid’s date back as much as five years.
“In 2009, the city made objections to Waid’s for multiple reasons,” York said. “There were objections prior to that, but they were not held up by the Liquor Control Board.”
York went on to explain that Waid’s liquor license was revoked due to the city’s objections, and the nightclub made a settlement with the LCB in the summer of 2012. The settlement stated that if Waid’s had one more public safety violation within two years from the settlement date, their liquor license would be permanently revoked. The city attempted to appeal the agreement but withdrew due to legal reasons and because the case was dragging on for too long, York said.
The attempts to revoke Waid’s liquor license were based on three specific allegations of public safety violations:
– The sale of controlled substances by a Waid’s security guard to an undercover police officer in the establishment’s bathroom.
– The sale of controlled substances to an undercover police officer by a Waid’s bartender, outside of police view (other than the undercover officer).
– The sale of controlled substances by a Waid’s promoter.
York said there were several other public safety violations that the city has decided not to pursue, including patron sales of drugs, which is more difficult for the LCB to connect to the establishment. There is also a Mandatory Alcohol Server Training objection against Waid’s, involving an employee who did not have a required permit to serve alcohol at the establishment. York placed a stack of three binders containing various police reports involving Waid’s on the table in front of him.
“That’s where we are,” York told the community members. “The ship has sailed a while ago, and the attorney general’s office is going forward with that. If Waid’s wins those hearings, they will re-issue their liquor license. If they lose that hearing, they can appeal to the superior court and it will be up to the judge there whether or not they get to stay and continue to operate their business.”
Waid’s: An Issue of Racism and Gentrification?
While the case against Waid’s looks cut-and-dry, according to the LCB, the Seattle Police Department, and the city attorney’s office, many community members have argued that attempts to strip Waid’s liquor license are motivated by racism and gentrification.
During the meeting, Sainvil claimed that the allegations against his business are unfair and unfounded.
“SPD did something that is not fair,” Sainvil said, regarding the sting that resulted in minors being served alcohol. He said that at least one incident was entrapment, since police provided minors with look-alike fake IDs.
Omari Tahir, a community activist and former owner of the now-closed Emerald Star Club in the Central District, claimed – as have Sainvil and others – that the attempted closure of Waid’s is due to city’s vested interest in redeveloping the area and pushing out businesses owned by minorities. Sainvil is an immigrant from Haiti.
“It’s obvious that they are after [Sainvil],” Tahir said. “And they are after Waid’s club because they don’t want black businesses in Seattle. They don’t want black people in Seattle. It’s called gentrification.”
Gentrification has been one of the most concerning issues in Seattle over the last decade or so, especially in Capitol Hill and the Central District. Just in the last few years, Capitol Hill has seen the closure or relocation, of beloved businesses like B&O Espresso, Bauhaus, the Capitol Club and The Comet Tavern, as well as the endless replacement of old apartment buildings with new mixed-use apartments. A study conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank earlier this year ranked Seattle as the second-most gentrified city since 2000, only behind Boston, and with the Pike/Pine corridor and the Central District among the most bulldozed and craned areas of the city. Partially, as a result of these new developments, rent prices have soared, causing many low-income people who have historically been rooted in the area to seek housing elsewhere.
Many of the noise complaints stem from residents who live in Barclay Court, about 350 feet from Waid’s. Residents of Barclay Court have been battling Waid’s since at least 2007. In response to the noise complaints, Sainvil spent more than $80,000 to soundproof the establishment.
Tri Nguyen, whose family owns an apartment building on Barclay Court, said he rejected the claim that Waid’s is under fire because of racism or gentrification.
“As for [Sainvil’s] character, I am sure it is unimpeachable,” Nguyen said at the meeting. “He has done a lot for the community and I know Waid’s is a center for a certain community, and that is cool and I love that. That is not the issue. The issue is that people cannot sleep, and people are afraid, and they have a sense of unease. I read the objections that the city has, and they listed a number of infractions, which people say, ‘Hey, it happens everywhere,’ but, ok, maybe it happens everywhere, but this is happening in a place where there are families and students. If [Waid’s] can run a clean ship, then continue on for one hundred years.”
Despite the objections of some community members, the fate of Waid’s is now in the hands of the city. The LCB’s decision on whether Waid’s stays in the Central District will be decided in the spring.
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