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Not on the Public’s Beach

The Jonathan Club long ago swept a stretch of Santa Monica beach clean of the wrong kinds of people--pretty much anyone who is not white and male and prosperous--to bring its seashore annex into conformity with its downtown membership policies. The club now wants to lease some adjoining beach from the state for paddle-tennis courts and parking space. The California Coastal Commission says that the club can have the property if it honors the spirit of the state’s coastal act by opening its doors to all Californians regardless of race, religion or sex.

A club spokesman says that its membership policies are irrelevant to its need to acquire more public beach to which it can apply those policies, about which the club continues to maintain a silence as arrogant as it is suggestive.

Whether the spokesman is legally correct is something that can be decided only in court. But there is no question that the commission is on the ethical high ground in this case, and that silence will not serve the club as well this time as it has in the past when members drew the drapes on the real world until the trouble blew over.

One striking irony in the episode is that the club, for reasons that are obscure today, borrowed its name from a member of the New England Trumbull family whose patriarch was the only colonial governor to turn his back on the aristocracy and support the American Revolution. Club members may choose to distort that kind of symbol by turning their downtown premises into a sanctuary of privilege. But that attitude has no place on California’s public beaches.

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