County's Private Clubs Surveyed : No Discrimination Claims Encountered

Times Staff Writer

Unlike some private clubs in Los Angeles, Orange County's most exclusive clubs don't have a reputation for discriminating against women and minorities, leaders of Jewish, women's and black groups said this week.

Official club policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, creed or sex, said representatives of the Center Club, the Pacific Club and the Santa Ana Country Club. Managers of the Balboa Bay Club were unavailable and those at Big Canyon Country Club refused to comment.

The American Jewish Committee researched those five clubs, seen as the "most vital to the business and social life of the community," and found Jewish members in all of them, said Hinda Beral, area director of the Orange County chapter of the organization. The American Jewish Committee is a national organization that protects civil and religious rights of Jews and others. "It reflects well on our community and belies the myth of Orange County" as ultraconservative and right-wing, she said.

"I think they're all terrific," she said.

Wendy Lozano, chair of the South Coast chapter of the National Organization for Women, said she hadn't heard of any complaints from women. "I don't know of any people trying to get in," she said.

The county's newest private club, the Center Club, has 1,100 members, mostly patrons, donors or frequent users of the Performing Arts Center, said manager Jim McTeigue. More than half are presidents, owners or chief executive officers of businesses and 15% are ethnic minorities, he said. Entry fee at the club is $10,000.

Unlike older clubs, most Orange County private clubs were formed in an era when discrimination had come to be seen as an "unacceptable part of the American way of life" and harmful to social, business and cultural life, Beral said.

Another explanation may be that, compared to Los Angeles, Orange County has fewer blacks and other minorities who might be able to afford entry fees (which reach $75,000 at the Santa Ana Country Club), said George Mallory, a Los Angeles attorney who represented the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People at the state tax board hearings. Moreover, "it is unclear what desire blacks and other minorities have to join a club that is predominantly majority if it is perceived that they may not be wanted," he said. "My sense is there's a lack of data here," said Rusty Kennedy, director of the Orange County Human Relations Commission. "It's an elite thing. People who are discriminated against might not complain about it."

The Orange County clubs were surveyed at a time when the Jonathan Club, one of Los Angeles' two leading private men's clubs, seemed ready to admit women as regular members. The club is surveying its more than 3,000 male members on the question of admitting women, with the results expected to be tabulated next week.

Membership in most private clubs is by invitation, and membership committees are more concerned with an applicant's reputation, honesty and "chemistry" with other members than with race, sex or creed, said club spokesmen.

The Santa Ana Country Club, incorporated in 1923, has 400 full members, most of whom are businessmen in their mid-50s, said Paul Watkins, a membership chairman. There are Jewish members and members of Asian descent, he said. Some women are "associate members," he said. He was unaware of any black members, he said.

Applicants to the Pacific Club, a Newport Beach social club with a fitness center, need seven sponsors, said general manager Brooke Bentley. Money is not a criterion, he said. But those unable to afford the $12,500 membership fee and monthly fee of $195 would not be proposed for membership, he said.

"It's mostly a matter of economics," said Ramon Curiel, 40, international relations consultant and vice president of the Hispanic Development Council, a United Way committee to develop leaders in the Latino community. "I've attended most of the exclusive clubs and never sensed any major problem. To my knowledge, none have exclusionary policies. But it does come to mind when you go in and you don't see too many people of color."

Los Angeles' all-male Jonathan Club may be moving toward accepting women members. Part I, Page 1.

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