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San Francisco Supervisors Vote To Bar Single-Sex Private Clubs

November 17, 1987

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ The city supervisors Monday unanimously approved an ordinance prohibiting exclusion of women and minorities from membership in the city’s major private clubs, including the Bohemian Club, whose members include President Reagan.

The ordinance, patterned on measures in Los Angeles and New York, targeted eight clubs, including three that cater to women.

″It may shake things up a little bit for a few,″ Supervisor Nancy Walker predicted shortly before the ordinance she proposed passed 11-0.

While voting for the measure, Supervisor Wendy Nelder expressed concern that it would be about as effective in fighting discrimination ″as providing vitamin C for a broken leg.″

Mayor Dianne Feinstein has 10 days to sign or veto the measure. If signed, the ordinance would take effect after 30 days.

The ordinance defines as a business any club with more than 400 members that regularly serves meals and receives income from non-members who dine or rent rooms at the club.

Courts since 1984 have rejected claims by several large men-only clubs that they were private entities. Instead, the courts have ruled the clubs were businesses, subject to civil rights laws.

A New York measure similar to the San Francisco one has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

″At first blush, it may look like an elistist white women’s issue,″ said Drucilla Ramey, executive director of the San Francisco Bar Association. ″But if you’re not admitted to places at which business is transacted, you don’t have equal access to those economic opportunities.″

″What is involved here is affirmative action opportunities that are missed for women and minorities for professional growth,″ said Supervisor Doris Ward.

″It’s really gotten ugly,″ said Kate Monico Klein, an aide to Walker, adding that her office has received numerous obscene telephone calls relating to the ordinance. ″This must have hit a really deep nerve with these people.″ Some said the board’s action is unlikely to translate into any quick changes in the locker rooms, golf courses, executive dining rooms or steam baths at any of the clubs affected.

One reason is that several of the organizations, such as the Olympic Club, have waiting lists several years long. Another is cost.

For example, the 2,300-member Bohemian Club has 3,000 names on its waiting list. The initiation fee is $8,500 and monthly dues are $110. The Olympic Golf Club near Daly City charges $12,000 for membership.

Attorney Melvin Belli, a member of the all-male Olympic Club, said he supported opening the club to the opposite sex.

″I like the fellows who belong. They’re real great old-time San Franciscans. ... As for dames, Jesus, I like that,″ he said. ″I think a woman is essential to all parts of a man’s life.″

Harry Scott, past president of the Bohemian Club, disagreed.

″I love to be with women,″ he said. ″But when a woman comes in the room your conversation changes, your subconscious behavior changes, the rules of etiquette change. I like to have an hour or two to come here and sit and relax. I don’t see anything wrong with that.″

Edmund G. Brown Sr., former governor of California and a longtime Bohemian Club member, said he favors same-sex clubs.

″You get up there in the redwoods (the club’s exclusive encampment near in Sonoma County) ... you talk and you drink and you tell dirty stories,″ he said. ″You come out of the shower bald-naked. It’s kind of nice to be away from women for a few weeks.″

Holly Cronan, a member of the all-female Metropolitan Club, opposed the measure.

″At places like the Bay Club, you see women working out in full makeup, jewelry, matching leotard, matching towel, the works,″ she said. ″It’s nice that you can go to a place and not worry about how your hair looks.″

During the month since the ordince was proposed, the issue has triggered heated debate.

Anthony Kennedy of Sacramento resigned from the Olympic Club shortly before becoming a finalist for the U.S. Supreme Court, and Edward Panelli stepped down from the Saratoga Men’s Club before appointment to the state’s high court.

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