“A marriage without conflicts is almost as inconceivable as a nation without crises.”—Andre MauroisFrom the gleaming towers of San Francisco to the poolside glitz of Beverly Hills, there's a storm a-brewin' over a decision by the State Bar of California to hold its upcoming annual meeting at the Downtown Manchester Grand Hyatt.
The problem: Papa Doug Manchester's financial backing of Proposition 8, the anti-gay-marriage ballot measure that voters narrowly approved in November. Manchester, the hotel's owner, donated $125,000 to the Prop. 8 cause at its early signature-gathering phase.
Of late, the Manchester Hyatt has been no stranger to boycotts due to its association with the tough-minded developer.
Gay-rights organizations, such as GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), have pulled out of events scheduled at the Manchester Hyatt in protest. Labor unions, as well, back the boycott, which extends to Manchester's other hotel holdings, The Grand Del Mar luxury resort east of Torrey Pines and the Whitetail Club and Resort in McCall, Idaho.
Last August, the Union-Tribune reported the boycott fever had resulted in grand debates within the Manchester Financial Group, Papa Doug's holding company, over concerns that the protests would cost Manchester, according to his chief financial officer, “millions of dollars of lost revenue and possibly tens of millions of dollars in lost value for both the Manchester Grand Hyatt and The Grand Del Mar.”
At the time, Manchester downplayed those concerns, telling the U-T that his CFO's assumptions were “totally incorrect” and boasting that the hotel had “picked up lots of business” since the start of the boycott.
But now the boycott craze has drifted into the realm of Bonnie Dumanis, the nation's first openly gay district attorney who joyfully married her longtime partner last September.
Ironically, the ceremony took place just prior to a State Bar of California conference in Monterey, similar to one now scheduled for the Manchester Hyatt in September. Dumanis is a member of the State Bar's ruling elite, otherwise known as the Board of Governors.
Late last month, State Bar governors held an emergency closed session via teleconference to discuss relocating the annual meeting to another venue. Depending on whom you speak to, the board either declined to move the meeting or took no action.
While little has been said locally about the proposed boycott, that hasn't stopped bar associations across the state from weighing in on the matter. And you know when lawyers start talking—well, enough said.
The 8,000-member Bar Association of San Francisco sent a letter to State Bar President Holly Fujie expressing its “grave disappointment” in the decision to stick with the Manchester Hyatt site, calling Manchester's support of Prop. 8 “antithetical to BASF's mission and longstanding support of diversity and inclusion.”
Fujie tells Spin Cycle that she understands the sensitivity regarding the hotel choice—again, made years ago (it's also scheduled as the site for the 2011 conference)—but explained that “we, as the State Bar, an agency of the state government, cannot do anything political.” The cancellation fee for breaking the hotel contract would run $450,000, she added.
She, too, opposed Prop. 8, but “unfortunately we can't deal with the personal emotional or civil-rights issues. However, we are taking a look at the economic issue and seeing what the economic effect would be of having the annual meeting at the Hyatt. We need to study it more.” To that end, Fujie hopes to organize a “working group” composed of State Bar governors, members of the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations (whose meeting coincides with the State Bar conference) and interested local bars. She offered no timeline, however.
Still, a spokesperson for Dumanis told Spin Cycle this week that the district attorney has asked that the relocation proposal be placed on the State Bar Board of Governor's March agenda “so that there can be an open discussion.”
Asked how she voted on the matter earlier, spokesperson Paul Levikow said “technical difficulties with getting patched in to a conference call” prevented Dumanis from participating in the emergency closed session.
Whether Dumanis supports relocating the meeting, Levikow wouldn't say. “I think we're done now,” he told Spin Cycle.But perhaps as a clue, Levikow faxed over two stories about the proposed boycott of the State Bar annual meeting, suggesting that Dumanis—who staunchly opposed Prop. 8—has been keeping track of the broiling controversy.
So, can the Bar get out of its contract with the Manchester Hyatt? Nancy Knupfer, president of the Beverly Hills Bar Association, doesn't see why not. The Association of Law Professors, she said, did just that in January “without the payment of any penalties.”
Meanwhile, the San Diego County Bar Association—which voted to oppose Prop. 8 last September—issued a statement this week offering its meeting rooms to attendees who oppose setting foot in the Manchester Hyatt.
Both Manchester and Hyatt corporate offices did not respond to requests for interviews.
Mayor's D.C. update
So, it turns out going it alone wasn't in the plans for Mayor Jerry Sanders, who was scheduled to depart Tuesday for Washington, D.C.
As you might remember, the mayor's office recently deflected criticism for passing on the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in D.C., arguing that a solo trip by the mayor would bear more financial fruit. The comparison was made that a one-on-one interview would be better than a job fair.
Well, Tuesday morning Sanders announced that while in Washington, he will join the mayors of Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Jose in a meeting with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, as well as meetings with Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Asked if San Diego wouldn't be competing with these cities for precious federal stimulus dollars, mayoral spokesman Darren Pudgil said there's power in numbers. “Our problems are similar,” he added.
Safe travels, mayor! And don't come back without a few billion, OK?