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Politics // Just Thoughts
Bob Jones

City Ignores ‘Rafters’ Court Order

This week’s column is a followup to last week’s about Ward’s Rafters in Kaimuki, a private residence on Maunaloa Avenue, a 6,245-square-foot, $800,000plus property listed to the Herbert F. Ward (deceased) and Jacqueline Ward trusts. Their son, Dr. Larry Ward, naturopathic physician, is the only name on the mailbox.

There’s a top-of-the-mailbox sign in city street-sign green: Ward’s Rafters 3810. It’s in a residential-zoned neighborhood of many 5,000-square-foot lots.

A couple of decades ago, the Wards decided to have a jazz venue on their third floor that’s where the attic rafters are that give the place its name. One session a week at first, and then more times.

Honolulu Weekly said in a 2006 story that the Wards “remodeled their attic to accommodate about 50 to 60 guests to get their groove on at Sunday sessions.” It added: “Don’t be stingy. Donations accepted.”

That’s interesting because that was five years after Circuit Court Judge Allene Suemori enjoined the Wards from holding public performances in a residential setting or accepting any money from those who might attend an in-home performance, same as any of us might offer on special occasions for dinner guests. That was also eight years after Jackie Ward had signed the settlement agreement (Feb 27, 1997) with deputy corporation counsel Lawrence Kumabe, promising not to have public music sessions and not to accept money, and paying only $3,200 in return for the city dropping the $155,000 in fines it had assessed her for repeated violations.

The judge in 2001 looked over that agreement and affirmed it after Ward appealed. Ward was enjoined from advertising or handing out fliers.

She did not shut down. I was taken there Jan. 22 by Virginia visitors who are on a Ward’s Rafters email list. There were about 50 people there to hear popular Mainland bluegrass musicians Laurie Lewis and Tom Rozum. You bring your own drinks and food. You’re reminded by an emcee to “donate” at a manned table near the door.

About that door. It’s the only exit from that crowded attic. There were many electrical lines for the twoperson band and heavyduty stage lights. In a shortcircuit flash fire, we’d be trampling each other going for the small door. There were no fire evacuation reminders.

The night I went, nextdoor neighbor William Iaela was videotaping the coming-and-going crowd. “Just documenting,” he said. He says the noise is terrible. Neighbor Bobby Chang sent letters to two former mayors but nothing happened. So he hasn’t sent one to Mayor Peter Carlisle. He figures the city doesn’t care.

Both Iaela and Chang say they’ve been publicly yelled and sworn at for trying to shut down the venue.

Jackie Ward runs her musical “nightclub” every Sunday and some Fridays or Saturdays, 7:30-9:30 p.m. Yes, you can hear it next door at Iaela’s house 20 feet away. And then there’s the on-street parking issue and the noise as people and cars arrive and depart.

What’s most interesting is the document showing an injunction against Ward’s Rafters and the settlement agreement in which Jackie Ward agreed to stop public performances. My wife and I came as general members of the public. Our Virginia friends did, too, and paid “donations” for themselves and for us.

The settlement agreement of 1997 says 1) no public performances, 2) no advertising or promoting of performances, 3) only Ward’s immediate family may attend a performance (the court OK’d some guests of family members) and 4) the gatherings shall not be open to the public (my emphasis).

But here’s a current Yelp.com posting: “Are you in a rut? Are you looking for something different to do on a Friday night in Honolulu? I have just the thing. And it is cheap! Here’s what you do; pack a picnic dinner with a nice bottle of wine and head to Ward’s Rafters in Kaimuki. ‘What is Ward’s Rafters?’ you ask.

It is the very large attic of someone’s house who loves jazz music. They book jazz musicians to play there and open it to the public. It simply becomes a BYOB jazz club.”

You can look at these two YouTube sites to see typical “jazz club” nights at Ward’s Rafters: youtube.com/watch?v=ma toOn65snI youtube.com/watch?v=lS Da1mrkZTE

If that’s not a nightclub rather than a “family gathering,” I’ve apparently lost my sense of definition.

I think Jackie Ward’s motives are good, and the concept of by-donation jazz and bluegrass is good. You don’t have to pay. Most do. I’d hope that money is going to the musicians but I have no way of knowing. Ward’s Rafters has no state tax oversight since it’s not supposed to be collecting money.

So the issues are threefold: the settlement agreement, the court order nobody at the city is enforcing and that one door out in case of a flash fire in a very old wooden house.

Here’s what Jackie Ward, 92, tells me:

“I have no memory of any settlement agreement or any court order. I invite my friends over for music and it’s a private gathering. Sometimes they invite friends. Sometimes other people hear about it. We do have people on an email list. Nobody has notified me of anything about noisy.”

I’ve been unable to reach city Planning and Permitting chief Arthur Challacomb because an office recording said his voice mailbox is full.

Some people say that a small-price gathering to hear top musicians who’d charge big to be heard at the Blaisdell is a blessing. I agree. I loved my bluegrass evening with my own drink and snacks. Some brought whole dinners because Ward’s Rafters provides a few tables and even an awninged indoor coffee bar.

But if one flouts the residential-zoning law, others will do it.

It escalates.

I hope somebody puts this column front and center on Mayor Carlisle’s desk this morning.

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