Avalon officials have asked the city attorney to investigate whether the all-male Tuna Club prohibits women from becoming members and, if so, whether the club can continue to lease city-owned property.
In an interview, a club official said it does not prohibit women but none have been nominated for membership. Prospective members must be nominated by someone already in the club, he said.
City Councilwoman Irene Strobel said she raised the issue of "whether it's legal to lease public property to a group that restricts females" during a discussion of a lease renewal at a recent council meeting. Members of the exclusive, 90-year-old club want to extend their lease on the tidelands property before repairing heavy damage the building suffered in a storm last January, said Acting City Manger Pete Woolson.
Strobel said she has twice accepted invitations to visit the club in her role as a council member, but she refused to enter by the side or back doors that women are supposed to use. Instead, she went through the front door.
The white, New England-style building stands on the Santa Catalina Island waterfront, not far from the landmark Casino Ballroom. Last month, Tuna Club members asked the City Council to consider offering the club a 40-year lease, replacing the 10-year lease that expires in December, 1989, Woolson said. The club, which pays $4,800 a year for the property, has an option to renew that lease for another 10 years.
Estimates for repairing the building, which dates from the early 1900s, come to about $250,000, Woolson said. Club officials said they would pay for the repairs if they can get a 40-year lease, Woolson said.
In response, the city requested that the club allow more public access to the building's meeting facilities and to its private dinghy dock, but club members would not agree, Woolson said. Only one of the club's 200 members lives on the island.
"The city does not want to agree to a 40-year lease," Woolson said. "The city basically thinks the public is not getting enough out of the club. We have a private, exclusive club on public property, and the city thinks there should be greater public access to it."
Dave Denholm, a member of the club's board of directors, would not comment on the lease negotiations, but said the club does not prohibit women members. To join the ranks of the 200-member organization, prospective members must be nominated by a member, Denholm said. To his knowledge, he said, no woman has been nominated.
A new member also must be "recognized in the fishing community as being one that is active and respectful to sport fishing and conservation," and must receive final approval from the board of directors, Denholm said.
The club's bylaws "do not preclude a woman from being put up for membership," Denholm said. Membership is open equally to men and women, and the main qualification is "dedication to the sport," he said.
Denholm said the club is a community asset.
"The Tuna Club is historically a part of Avalon," he said. "Its relative value to the community is intangible." The club has contributed to local charities, schools and the Avalon hospital, he said.
City Atty. Michael Jenkins will report to council members within a few weeks on the legality of leasing the property to the Tuna Club.