Frank Robertson column photo

Frank Robertson

Lynda Hopkins sounded like a progressive candidate for president last week when she dissed San Francisco’s powerful Bohemian Club for being an all-male bastion of conservative white privilege.

Hopkins’ comments on the Bohemian Club’s shortcomings focused on the Bohemian Grove, the club’s private Monte Rio retreat where members and guests arrive next month for three weeks of partying.

“Stop trying to convince me that the Grove is totally normal,” Hopkins advised Grove members who’ve been getting county scrutiny about their security contract with the county sheriff’s department.

The Grove is not normal, said Hopkins. “It’s weird.”

The weirdness includes the Grove’s long tenure as a place where women can’t go.

“The Club has been around for 150 years,” noted Hopkins in her manifesto detailing the club’s faults. “A lot has changed in that time.”

Well, yes. American women can vote, for instance, and are getting elected to public office in numbers that probably scare the crap out of the Bohemian Club.

Hopkins isn’t running for president, but she’s up for re-election as supervisor next year. There’s no one in sight running against her — and why would they? She works hard and does a good job. She’d probably make a good president.

I believe this is the first time a Fifth District county supervisor has weighed in on the insular Grove since Camp Meeker political activist Mary Moore first orchestrated political demonstrations outside its gates circa 1981.

The Bohemian Club still hasn’t changed, said Hopkins. It’s an anachronism. It’s out of touch with modern life.

Is that so bad? At least the club’s bucolic 2,700-hundred acre camp along the river hasn’t been logged into another Stumptown; it’s still a cool redwood forest with old-growth trees, visually beautiful and mostly unspoiled.

That is weird.

It’s true the Bohemians drink a lot and pee on the trees, as Hopkins points out. But in that respect are they any different from everyone else visiting the river this time of year? Kayakers stop on the beach near my house in Guerneville all summer to take a leak. They all do it, men, women and children. Rather than go behind a bush, as you’d think modesty might dictate, they often prefer to stand in front of a patch of vegetation and pee directly on it. There’s little concern for modesty. They walk over to some foliage and whip it out. Women pull down their bottoms and squat.

This may be one area where the Bohemians hold the moral high ground as responsible stewards of the environment.

In contrast with the lower river’s many antiquated sewage disposal methods threatening to render the river unfit for recreation, the Bohemians have built a modern waste treatment plant. They paid for it themselves.

So I’m not sure why everyone’s so exercised because a few Bohemians urinate in the woods. It’s a drop in the bucket.

“I know I keep bringing up the peeing,” said Hopkins, in her critique of the secretive Grove. “I do so because it’s one of the only Grove behaviors publicly confirmed in court records.”

That’s the Superior Court record of a successful lawsuit accusing the Grove of unlawful gender discrimination for its historic policy of refusing to hire female employees.

“Women would ruin it,” former California Gov. Edmund G. Brown said, defending the Grove’s men-only hiring practices. Brown (Jerry Brown’s father) said “Men should be allowed a brief period of time to get away.”

Especially when so many women are pissed off at them.

To gain perspective on the Grove’s past employment strategies (and the sheriff’s role therein), we could also read the record involving the motel across the river from the Grove.

Sheriff’s investigators once sent an undercover female deputy posing as a prostitute out to the motel to book a room during the Bohemian encampment. The deputy was wearing a wire to send her conversation back to deputies listening on a tape recorder.

The inquiring visitor was told there were no vacancies — until the deputy said she’d heard the area is “a nice place for a working girl.”

“You’re a working girl?” said motel owner Manu Kanani, according to the sheriff’s report. Suddenly a room became available and Kanani was assuring her of opportunities to make “a lot of money.”

A pandering charge was later dropped because the recorder didn’t work.

So historically it appears the Bohemians have always hired women, they just didn’t expect them to work in the grove.

Hopkins said she’s getting divided feedback on her scolding of the club.

“I’m shocked at how passionate people are on this issue on both sides,” Hopkins said.

I wonder how the sides look by gender.

Frank Robertson is a member of the Sonoma West Publishers staff.

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