Café Arizona to keep its liquor license - for now

"The city suffered a blow this week in its bid to see Café Arizona's liquor license revoked.An administrative law judge ruled that the higher than average number of criminal complaints attributed to Café Arizona doesn't justify denying the minicasino a liquor license.Federal Way Department of Public Safety officers have said the former dance club generated three times the number of criminal complaints as any other licensed liquor establishment in the city from September, 1998, through August, 1999. In 1998, 69 of 106 criminal incidents, or 65.1 percent, reported by Federal Way liquor establishments were generated from Cafe Arizona, according to information submitted to the judge by the city. In 1999, 90 of 145 incidents, or 62.5 percent, were from Café Arizona. The club converted to a minicasino in October.In her Nov. 29 findings of fact and initial order, Judge Alice Haenle concluded the amount of law enforcement attention focused on Café Arizona cannot be considered solely the responsibility of the cafe. Denial of (renewal) on this basis would send the message that the licensee should not contact the FWDPS with legitimate problems, lest the number of contacts be counted against the licensee, Haenle said in her 44-page finding.Haenle also questioned the city's conclusion that the high number of DUI arrests associated with the club meant the business overserved patrons. Bartenders base their conclusion of whether someone is under the influence on the person's appearance, unlike officers, who test the person's blood alcohol content. Also, Haenle said, the people involved in those DUI incidents could have consumed additional liquor after leaving the club.Haenle's findings and order are not final until the Washington State Liquor Control Board issues its decision. There's no way to predict whether the board will agree, disagree or modify Haenle's conclusions, said Neil Gorrell, the assistant attorney general representing the Washington State Liquor Control Board Education and Enforcement Division.They can do just about anything with it, Gorrell said. The club and city have until Dec. 19 to file exceptions to Haenle's conclusions. Either side could appeal the Liquor Control Board's final decision to Superior Court in either King or Thurston county, Gorrell said.Attorney Ken Kagan, who represented Café Arizona, said Haenle established early on in the hearing that the burden of proof rested with the city, not the cafe. City attorneys said the cafe should prove why it deserved a renewal of its liquor license. Haenle set them straight, Kagan said.In many significant regards, she found they couldn't prove their point, Kagan said. ...When they came to court, they didn't have the goods.City Attorney Bob Sterbank said the Federal Way City Council will decide if the city will file exceptions with the Liquor Control Board.Obviously we're disappointed in the judge's conclusion because she only got it partially right, Sterbank said. She found there is an exceedingly high number of DUIs that originate from the cafe, a lot of drunk people that come from there, they're disorderly, there are fights from there. Unfortunately, she concluded it can have the license.Late last year, the three-member state Liquor Control Board decided not to renew the club's liquor license for another year. Federal Way police had supplied the board an extensive list of crimes officers say were committed by the club's customers at or near the club, Gorrell said.The club appealed the decision and is operating with a temporary liquor license. Haenle heard testimony from both sides and members of the public in August.Only one or two liquor license renewals a year reach the administrative hearing stage, Gorrell said. And it's unusual for a business to face losing its liquor license altogether. Most businesses that serve liquor and are penalized by the board face a temporary suspension of that right or pay a fine.According to liquor control board records, Cafe Arizona has received a few written and verbal warnings over the years for various offenses but doesn't appear to have an ongoing problem, Gorrell said. During the hearing process, the liquor control board remains neutral, providing information to both sides. "

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