Is pot distracting state from policing liquor licenses?

The building at 247 Park Avenue North must feel like a second home to Renton police officers.

City records show that police have responded to that address nearly 200 times since 2011. Police reports show responses to fights, drug use, thefts and even a couple of shootings.

But somehow the “Golden Dynasty,” as the bar at that Park Avenue address is now known, has kept its liquor license -– even though a Washington Liquor Control Board agent said “it was the most dangerous bar in King County” in a 2012 report to his superiors.

“It’s very frustrating to us because I would prefer that we don’t wait until somebody gets killed or a neighbor gets injured before they take action,” Renton Mayor Denis Law said of the lack of action by the state liquor board.

The lack of action on the problem bar may be an example of the agency's mounting workload. Agents for the Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) have the job of enforcing the sale of liquor in grocery stores and oversight of the up-and-coming recreational marijuana industry. That means fewer resources dedicated to bars and restaurants like the one in Renton.

“We take the liquor side very seriously, we try to minimize that draw, but there’s certainly been an impact to our resources over the last year,” said Justin Nordhorn, LCB’s Chief of Enforcement.

Public records reviewed by the KING 5 Investigators show that discipline of bars, taverns and restaurants that run afoul of liquor laws has fallen off sharply. For the first time in at least five years, LCB did not permanently cancel a single liquor license at a Washington business in 2013. Liquor license suspensions -– the temporary loss of a license – also fell last year. The 90 suspensions handed down in 2013 were less than half the number (206) levied against liquor establishments in 2010.

LCB officials point out that not all of the problems at the Golden Dynasty in Renton occurred under the same owner. The bar was previously called “Trophies” and the license was held under the name of a different operator.

In 2012, LCB did cancel Trophies' liquor license – one of only four cancelations statewide that year. But the peace didn’t last long in the residential neighborhood surrounding that address.
LCB granted a liquor license to the building’s longtime landlord soon after Trophies closed.
Yung-Chiang “Paul” Huang convinced the City of Renton he was going to open a restaurant and grill and provide a full service menu of Chinese food.

Even though Huang lost a liquor license in 1999 because of violations at a bar he ran at the time, LCB gave him a liquor license for the Golden Dynasty. When Huang opened in 2012, there was barely a working kitchen and almost no tables at which to sit. There was just a bar with bottles and bottles of booze.

Soon the police calls started coming in again. There were no shootings, like before, but there were so many calls that in February 2013 Renton submitted a formal request to LCB to pull Golden Dynasty’s liquor license.

Still, it hasn’t happened.

“To me they should have long ago refused to provide them with a license,” said Mayor Law.

The LCB’s Nordhorn said state law provides specific due process rights to license holders and cancelling a license can take months or even years.

“Really, what the city needs to do is provide a case like they would for prosecution,” said Nordhorn.

It’s a system that LCB seems content with, even though it says it understands the frustrations cities feel about the slow process.

“I think the liquor board needs to come out here and spend about ten days out here when it’s bad at night,” said Margaret Foster, who has lived near the bar’s location for more than 30 years.

The liquor board recently filed four alcohol violation notices against Golden Dynasty for incidents that occurred over the past several months, and a for-sale sign recently sprouted in front of the business. But Foster worries about what’s next.

“It gets closed for a little while then somebody else opens it up and then we have the fear again,” said Foster.