2018: Rancho Santa Fe year in review


2018 was a year of school board shake-ups, superintendent switches as all three districts that serve Rancho Santa Fe found new leadership; and carved-up Covenant roads filled with orange conduit as the Rancho Santa Fe Connect fiber optic network finally began construction bringing long-awaited internet service to the Ranch.

Here’s a look back at a 2018:


-The Rancho Santa Fe School District board heard presentations from two architectural firms as they considered a new or refreshed master plan as well as reconstruction, modernization or expansion of the school gym, built in 1973. Discussions continued on whether to go out for a bond in November 2018 to build a new gym.

-A groundbreaking ceremony was held for the Helen Woodward Animal Center expansion. When the first adoptions building was constructed in 1972, the center was finding homes for about 300 pets annually. More than 45 years later, approximately 3,500 orphan pets receive life-saving medical care and placement in forever homes annually, despite its staff working in the same building and facilities.

“We are beyond thrilled to embark into this massive next phase for the center, it’s truly a dream come true,” said Renee Resko, Helen Woodward Animal Center vice president of development. “The new facility will provide the type of enclosures that will not only be incredibly comfortable for these pets, but it will also make it easier to show them off and get them into their new forever homes more quickly, allowing us to increase the number of animals we serve.”

The RSF School board considered placing a bond on the November ballot for a new gym.
(Karen Billing)

-Tensions ran high in the Solana Beach School District as the Solana Beach Teachers Association and Solana Beach Association of Support Professionals requested 5 percent pay increases at several well- attended board meetings. Both sides worked hard over the first months of 2018 to bridge an impasse in negotiations, resulting in an agreement in March for 4 percent salary increases for certificated teachers and 3.25 percent increases for classified staff for 2018-2019. The district also agreed to retroactive increases of 4 percent for 2017-18.

-The Rancho Santa Fe Association was found not to have violated the open meetings law in dealing with Rancho Librado, a step-down housing project proposed for the Calzada del Bosque property. The lawsuit of Golden Eagle Land Investment v. Rancho Santa Fe Association was decided on Jan. 12 in the court of appeal. No plan for the property has ever been officially submitted to the RSF Association and it last came before the RSF Association board in May 2014 as an informational item.

-A special election was called for April 24 to fill the vacant Rancho Santa Fe School board seat. The election was forced after a petition of 110 signatures was submitted to the San Diego County Superintendent of Schools objecting to the school board’s appointment process — the first successful petition of this kind in San Diego County since 1994. The petitioners were opposed to the board’s appointment of Jon Yonemitsu to fill Marti Ritto’s seat. Five candidates qualified for the ballot and Tom Barton was elected in April. Barton did not seek re-election to the board and served on the board through November.


-As SDG&E began work to replace aging wooden utility poles in Rancho Santa Fe with fire-resistant steel, it was met with resistance from residents who wondered why the poles needed to be replaced above ground at all.

“We’re really not happy about this project,” RSF Association President Fred Wasserman told SDG&E representatives. “We would prefer that this project be done underground.”

SDG&E installed 120 steel poles in the community, replacing 70 wooden poles, nine of them installed by helicopter. The project was required to meet its goals for fire safety as well as upgrading the system to meet increasing demands for electricity and reliability.

Over 200 people signed a petition to “adamantly oppose a permanent blight on state designated historic landscape” and advocate for the poles to be undergrounded.The next phase of the project, still in the design phase, will include 110 new steel poles, replacing about 50 wooden poles.

-Following the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., numerous San Diego high schools experienced threats of violence. There were two threats at Torrey Pines High School in February, resulting in juvenile arrests. A Canyon Crest Academy student was arrested in March for making criminal threats on a social media post.

In May, a Torrey Pines High School graduate made online threats which prompted the school to cancel classes and all activities for the day. He had posted a photo on his Instagram account showing himself holding an AR-15 assault rifle, an image of a decapitated head, the phrase “I hate all of you” and a veiled threat that “no one” was going to graduate from Torrey Pines. In August, the 21-year-old was sentenced to one year in custody at a residential treatment facility and placed on probation for five years.


-The RSF School District received a report on the conditions of its school gym, hearing EMG’s findings that the building is safe, has been well-maintained and is in “good to fair” overall condition.The report listed the need for immediate repairs of $322,639 and almost $900,000 over the next 20 years for a building that is valued at $1.8 million.

“It’s valuable that we did this report, I’m glad we have it. But as I said several months ago, I’m convinced of the need, and even more than the need, the potential benefit of a new athletic center,” said RSF School Board Vice President Tyler Seltzer.

-San Diegans for Managed Growth worked to gather signatures to get the Safeguard Our San Diego Countryside (SOS) on the ballot in November, aiming to give residents a stronger voice on development in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County. SOS would require countywide voter approval for amendments to the General Plan that increase residential density in semi-rural and rural areas.

-The Association’s 68-acre Arroyo Preserve received upgrades of new horse-tying posts and road, bridge and parking lot improvements. A demonstration garden was also planted thanks to a $7,300 grant from the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District and San Dieguito Water Districts celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the San Dieguito Reservoir
(Karen Billing)

-Solana Beach School District Superintendent Terry Decker announced his retirement after a 38-year career in education and six years in the Solana Beach district.

“It’s been a great journey but it’s a nice time to take a step back,” said Decker, who retired along with his wife Rahn, an Oceanside Unified School District teacher. “Our lives have been very much filled with education for a long time…we will step off to the next adventure together.”


-The RSF School District board opted to table the potential November 2018 bond for a new school gym. Superintendent David Jaffe made the recommendation with board members agreeing to stop the bond planning process at this time. The next opportunity for a bond would be 2020.

-The RSF Association selected Race Communications as the internet service provider for its Rancho Santa Fe Connect project. Race will provide fast and reliable internet, telecommunications, TV and additional in-home wireless while the Association will construct, own and maintain the fiber-optic network.

-The RSF Association board approved expenditures not to exceed $200,000 for interior improvements to the Association building on Avenida de Acacias to help staff work more efficiently. The reconfiguration included moving the building department into the former board meeting room, the end of an era for the wooden pew-style benches that once filled the room.


-The RSF School board approved hiring a safety consultant to provide a security evaluation and assist the advisory safety committee in developing recommendations for the district’s comprehensive safety plan.Jeff Kaye, of School Safety Operations, reviewed the physical environment of the campus and completed a hazard and vulnerability assessment. His assessment included a recommendation for access control, electronic locks at the campus.

-The Library Guild of Rancho Santa Fe celebrated another successful chapter in its long history with a new logo, new leadership and new name. Mary Siegrist was elected the Guild’s new president— she is a Book Cellar volunteer, lifelong reader and private investor with 30 years of leadership experience in the information services industry. “

It’s really my honor to be your president for the next three years,” Siegrist said. “I want to continue down our path of progress. We have a wonderful 50-year history…all of us are very committed to serving our community of readers and patrons and our very, very generous Guild members and benefactors.”

-SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill announced he would be leaving the district at the end of the school year for a new post as the chief business official position at the Santa Clara Unified School District in the Bay Area. Dill worked in the San Dieguito district since 2001 and was the superintendent since the 2016-17 school year—his resignation was official on July 1.The board hired Larry Perondi as interim superintendent and a search firm to find its next leader.

-The Santa Fe Irrigation District and San Dieguito Water Districts celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the San Dieguito Reservoir and the dedication of the new pump station.

The Association received a grant to do restoration work.

“This is important to us to celebrate the accomplishments we’ve had here and the history we’ve had going back 100 years,” SFID General Manager Michael Bardin said. “The reservoir and pump station have been important assets from the beginning for ensuring customers of our two districts have high-quality water.”


Three candidates vied for two RSF Association board seats with Sharon Ruhnau going up against incumbents Mike Gallagher and Fred Wasserman. Ruhnau and Gallagher would win the seats.

-The Solana Beach School District hired Jodee Brentlinger as its new superintendent. An educator for 30 years, Brentlinger came to Solana Beach from the Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach, where she served as the assistant superintendent for educational services.


- RSF School District Superintendent David Jaffe voluntarily resigned from the RSF School District after a little less than two years serving the district. The board would make no official comment about the reasons for Jaffe’s departure.

“The board looks forward to beginning the search for a new superintendent and will be discussing next steps at this Thursday’s regular board meeting,” read a statement posted to the website. “The board wishes David well in all of his future endeavors.”

In a closed session meeting board appointed Principal Kim Pinkerton as interim superintendent in a vote of 3-1-1, with board members Tyler Seltzer, Scott Kahn and Tom Barton in favor and President Todd Frank opposed. Board member Sarah Neal abstained from the vote. A search firm was hired to conduct the search for Jaffe’s replacement.

-The RSF Association approved expanding the sponsored membership category at the RSF Tennis Club allowing more non-Covenant residents to play at the club. The vote was 5-1 in favor of expanding the category from 25 to 30, less than the tennis club board’s requested 50 spots. Director Sharon Ruhnau voted against it and Director Steve Dunn was not present.

-The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved three new housing projects, including Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano that will bring 779 new homes to North County San Diego. At the July hearing Rancho Santa Fe resident Laurel Lemarie, a member of the San Dieguito Planning Group that recommended denial of both the Harmony Grove and Valiano projects, presented a petition of 923 signatures opposed to the county allowing high density of homes where rural or semi-rural zoning now exists.

The Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Council filed litigation against the county board for its approval of the projects. Despite requests from some Covenant residents, the Association board decided it would not move forward in joining a lawsuit or filing its own legal action against the county.


-RSF School Board President Todd Frank resigned from the board. Frank served on the board for eight years and served as president for multiple years.

-Rancho Santa Fe Connect celebrated a groundbreaking on the $19 million project that will bring all Covenant residents one gigabit internet service. The construction of the 60-mile network is expected to be complete in fall 2019.

-RSF resident Ben Brown, a United States Army Ranger and Purple Heart, finished the Kodiak Ultra Marathon in Big Bear Lake as the sixth place male fighting all the way back from being dead last early on in the race. Brown ran the 102-mile race to support wounded veterans, police officers and firefighters through his nonprofit 9 Week Warrior –he raised over $18,500 to support the cause

.“I had so much support behind the goal and who I was doing this for, the vets and first responders. It’s just such an honor to run for them,” said Brown. “The support was incredible, to have that kind of power behind us was amazing.”

In the fall he ran again: for the RSF School board.

-The village got its first new retail tenant in years with Amy Meier, an eclectic new home and gift boutique owned by a Rancho Santa Fe local.


-The SDUHSD board hires Robert Haley as the new superintendent. Haley has over 25 years of experience in education, serving as a teacher, principal and district level administrator in six school districts. For the last seven years he served as the superintendent of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District in Sonoma County.-

-The RSF Association was awarded an $83,303 grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service that allowed them to remove highly flammable invasive species and enhance the streambed on the 68-acre Arroyo Property along the San Dieguito River. The three-year project beginning this month will be a collaboration between the Association, the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy and the California Native Plant Society.

“If we are successful, it opens the doors to even more grants,” said Caitlin Kreutz, the Association’s parks and recreation assistant manager.

-A new traffic signal was installed on San Dieguito Road at Circa Del Sur, outside the gated entrance to the Fairbanks Ranch community. A second signal at Via dos Valles is expected to be installed in early 2019. The traffic signals are a County of San Diego project that has been fully funded by the Fairbanks Ranch Association.

“The Fairbanks Ranch Association has been looking at ways to improve safety on San Dieguito Road for many years. We started this project in 2016 to address the increased traffic and numerous accidents outside our community,” General Manager Ray Sohl said.

-The RSF Faculty Association (RSFFA) presented its initial proposal to the RSF School board for public sunshine, the beginning of contract negotiations for 2018-19. The RSF Association is requesting an on-schedule salary increase that meets the rising cost of living in San Diego, an increase in stipends to promote higher education, health benefits covered to the highest cost for employee plus one, and compensation to employees who decline health care.

“Our goal in this negotiation is to compensate our professional and dedicated teaching staff in a way that is competitive with surrounding school districts. In doing so, we will be able to attract and retain highly qualified professionals who have the passion and desire to continue to grow in our career development,” said Elaine Dolnack, co-president of the RSFFA. “The end result? Our students will receive the highest quality of education as expected by our administration, school board, parents and community.”


-The RSF Association’s Covenant Design Review Committee recommended the denial of a Covenant modification to increase the density of the Rancho Santa Fe Villas development on 39.42 acres off Del Dios Highway near El Camino Del Norte. The developers Quantum Estates were requesting a modification to allow a maximum of 35 casita homes on the property, an increase over the potentially seven legally buildable lots on the property.

-The RSF Association gave its support to a proposal from the San Diego County Traffic Advisory Committee to upgrade the intersection of Calzada Del Bosque, Linea Del Cielo and Rambla De Las Flores from a two-way to an all-way stop. About 7,000 cars a day enter the intersection with hourly volumes of 500 cars an hour.

“By volume, we should be considering a more forceful assignment of right-of-way and traffic control,” said Kenton Jones, managing traffic engineer for the county, noting that the need for the all-way stop is enhanced when considering the number of traffic collisions that occur at the intersection.

-The SD County Board of Supervisors approved placing the Safeguard our San Diego Countryside initiative on the ballot of the next statewide election on March 3, 2020. San Diegans for Managed Growth gathered the signatures of over 103,000 registered voters to force the ballot measure. If approved, SOS will require voter approval for amendments to the General Plan that increase residential density in semi-rural and rural areas.

-A lawsuit was filed against the RSF Association by a group of members called the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant Residents for Fair Assessments challenging the Association’s method of assessments. Before engaging in expensive litigation, in December the board proposed an agreement staying the lawsuit to participate in mediation pursuant to the dispute resolution provisions of the law governing associations. The plaintiffs agreed and the court has signed an order staying the case and referring it to mediation.

-Local residents submitted a petition to the RSF Association asking that any changes to zoning, General Plan amendments, annexation/de-annexation or cluster housing efforts within the Covenant boundaries must receive the approval of at least two-thirds majority of all Covenant members. In December, the board said they are pursuing putting the proposed bylaw change to a Covenant-wide vote in spring 2019.


-Jee Manghani and Kali Kim were elected to the RSF School board.

-The RSF Golf Club welcomed new Manager Brad Shupe. Shupe comes to Rancho Santa Fe after serving for five years as president of Poppy Holdings, Inc. and general manager of the Poppy Hills Golf Course.

-In the first SDUHSD election with the new trustee areas, Melisse Mossy was voted in as Rancho Santa Fe’s representative on the SDUHSD school board.

- San Marcos Mayor Jim Desmond as elected to the SD County Board of Supervisors to represent Rancho Santa Fe and District 5. Supervisor Bill Horn had termed out after 26 years on the board.

-The RSF Association pushed back against the Santa Fe Irrigation District’s proposed three percent water rate increases over the next three years. The Association encouraged its members to protest in favor of a more equitable rate structure and stated they would consider legal action if the rates are approved.

-Upgrades begin in the former home of Stump’s market in the Rancho Santa Fe village’s Plaza De Santa Fe to turn it into individual office suites called Rancho Santa Fe Village Suites. The project is expected to be completed by February 2019.

-Rancho Santa Fe businessman Bob Wilson donated $1 million to high school students who were victims of the Camp Fire in Northern California. The fire became the most destructive wildfire in California history as well as the deadliest, claiming the lives of at least 86 people.


-The RSF Association voted 7-0 to deny a Covenant modification for the proposed 35-home development Villas at Rancho Santa Fe.

-RSF Fire Chief Tony Michel retires after 35 years in Rancho Santa Fe. Michel was replaced by new fire Chief Fred Cox .

- The RSF School board approves the hiring of new superintendent Donna Trippi. Trippi has over 30 years of experience in education and has been the principal at La Jolla Elementary since 1999.

-Santa Fe Irrigation District Manager Michael Bardin retired after more than 14 years at the helm of the water district and nearly 40 years of public service. The district’s board of directors will launch a search for the next general manager.

-Sarah Neal was elected the new RSF School board president.

-A plan to raise rates by an average of 3 percent per year over the next three years was voted down Thursday, Dec. 20, by the Santa Fe Irrigation District board of directors.

The 3-2 vote by the board followed an eight-month process that included a series of public meetings and a rate study prepared by a consultant, which determined the district's revenue needs in the coming years, and recommended a new rate structure to generate the additional funds.

Board members Marlene King, Ken Dunford and David Petree voted against the rate plan, while board members Michael Hogan and Andy Menshek voted for the proposal, which was recommended by district staff.

Meanwhile, the Rancho Santa Fe Association, which objected to the new rate plan as well as the district's current rate structure, filed a lawsuit against the Santa Fe Irrigation District on Wednesday, Dec. 19, in Vista Superior Court.

The Association's lawsuit alleges the district's current rate plan does not comply with state law, and it seeks repayment of what it claims were fees and charges that have been illegally imposed by the district.