SAN FRANCISCO -- A secretive men's-only retreat hosted by an elite club that has included former U.S. presidents and business leaders will pay for security protection from a Northern California county after a majority of women on the board of supervisors on Tuesday reluctantly approved a $151,000 contract.
The three women and two men on the Sonoma County board unanimously approved the contract with the Bohemian Grove, a private campground owned by the exclusive Bohemian Club. It was the 15th consecutive year that a security contract was approved. The contract would reimburse the sheriff's department for staff time and vehicle-related costs. Several supervisors cited the short period of time between their vote and the July 10-28 event as the reason for approving the deal.
"The concern was we could jeopardize public safety if they were not able to come up with a plan B before encampment," Supervisor Lynda Hopkins explained in a phone interview after the vote. She feared that even the wealthy, influential Bohemian Club might not be able to find a security detail because of the volume of events held in the summer and the need to book security "many, many months" in advance.
Women on the board had criticized the club at a meeting last week for excluding women from its event. They questioned whether the county should do business with an entity they say discriminates against women.
"We wouldn't be up here even having this discussion if the Bohemian Club said no African-Americans allowed, no gays allowed, no Latinos allowed, no immigrants allowed or no Jews allowed," Supervisor Shirlee Zane said during Tuesday's meeting. "It's scary right now to be a woman."
Hopkins, whose district includes Bohemian Grove where the retreat takes place, asked whether the county should do business with the Bohemian Club, even though a county attorney's memo specified it could.
Hopkins said she understood some people thought "we should take the money and run," but she questioned whether stationing deputies outside the campground would stretch the county's resources and whether the amount of money appropriately compensated the county for the security services.
"What is the public benefit of contracting with this entity?" Hopkins asked.
Still, she approved the contract.
"I consider myself a gentleman," Hopkins said tongue-in-cheek, explaining that the attention surrounding the controversy might create a public safety hazard. She also said she would need to be convinced of the public benefit of the arrangement or she would not approve future contracts with the sheriff's department.
Supervisor Susan Gorin said the conversation about the retreat "should cause everybody to question how we support private clubs either through our sheriff's contract or other tax benefits."
Supervisor James Gore said he acknowledged his position of privilege as a "white dude" and that he learned a lot from his colleagues over the past week.
"I am inspired to be with a group of powerful women," he said.
Representatives for the Bohemian Club have not responded to telephone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.