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State of the RSF Association: Staffing challenges a top issue

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The Association is facing challenges with attracting and retaining staff--six positions are currently vacant including building commissioner and code enforcement officer.

Faster internet, better treatment of its employees and stronger relationships between community groups were the prevailing themes at the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Annual Meeting on May 9. Filling in for absent RSF Association President Ken Markstein, outgoing Vice President Allen Finkelson offered a look back at the accomplishments of the last year as well as the challenges he expects the new board will face in the year ahead.

-- Finkelson, Markstein and Treasurer Janet Danola’s three-year terms will expire in June. Four candidates are running for the three board seats (in alphabetical order): Skip Atkins, Laurel Lemarie, Bill Strong and Bill Weber. Ballots, which were mailed to members following the Annual Meeting, are due back by 5 p.m.on June 10 and will be counted during the board’s open session on June 11.

-- Over the past year the Association fought for fair water rates for its residents and made efforts toward making the community more fire safe. Finkelson said one of the Association’s biggest accomplishments was the Rancho Santa Fe Connect fiber optic project, bringing one gigabit high-speed internet service to all residents.

-- Service provider Race Communications was at the meeting to sign people and since the groundbreaking eight months ago, 53 miles of conduit have been laid and the central hub was built at the top of the RSF Golf Club property.

Despite a five-week rain delay, Finkelson said the project is on budget and the network backbone is expected to be fully operational by September. Customer connections will begin in early summer on a zone by zone basis.

-- This year the Association board took steps to ensure that development is consistent and mindful of the character of the community and the intentions of the Protective Covenant.

“This board began for the first time to exercise some supervisory authority over the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC),” Finkelson said, noting that they provided guidance on adherence to the Covenant, Regulatory Code and architectural guidelines, as well as provided some interpretations of the Covenant related to architectural types and materials.

Finkelson said asserting that supervisory authority has caused some “bruising” and one of the goals moving forward will be to improve the Association board’s relationship with the CDRC board.

-- The Association has also taken a stronger stance on Covenant violations, allocating resources to a full-time code enforcement officer, who, unfortunately, has since left.

“We increased issuing stop work orders and fines for unauthorized building and grading. It’s remarkable to me that people can move into this neighborhood and think that they can move miles and miles of earth and/or start to construct a house without bothering to ask anybody,” Finkelson said. “But it happens and it happens a lot.”

Finkelson referenced the grading on El Montevideo that he calls the “ski slope.” Unfortunately they weren’t able to issue a stop work order on that development project because a permit was granted and grading was approved by the CDRC.

---The Association sorely needs new building department leadership, Finkelson said, part of the larger staffing challenge. Administrative services and the building department staff are down 31 percent—they have six vacancies, including building commissioner, code enforcement officer and two other building staff positions.

The board recently adopted a new employee harassment rule to curb poor treatment of employees and improve employee retention.

“This remains a big issue in the Ranch,” Finkelson said. “We do not behave the way we should behave toward our employees and it makes retention very, very difficult.”

---Looking ahead, the Association has already begun work collaborating with the RSF Golf Club board on a potential remodel of the clubhouse and restaurant to “maximize its enjoyment.” Finkelson said the goal is to enhance the restaurant to make it a destination for all members, building on the most popular elements such as the indoor/outdoor spaces and the bar.

An ad hoc committee of RSF Golf Club and Association managers as well as three members of each organization’s boards have recommended and obtained approval for an architect to come up with a plan to redesign the clubhouse building as well as a lighting consultant, branding consultant and landscape architect. The committee is working toward a conceptual idea for a redesign and re-branding of the restaurant although no commitments have been made and no costs attached to the potential project.

“There’s no point in building a beautiful building unless you can serve good food on a consistent basis with good service,” Finkelson said.

The restaurant does have a new food and beverage manager and a new chef will begin in June.

---Another one of the incoming board’s challenges includes litigation.

In October 2018, the Association was sued by a group of 50 unnamed homeowners over the Association’s assessment methodology. Currently per the Covenant, homeowners are assessed at a rate of $100 per the assessed value of the lot as shown on the San Diego County tax assessor’s roll, not on the property’s fair market value. The lawsuit alleges that this creates an inequity between what is paid by longtime homeowners and those who have recently purchased, built or remodeled a Covenant property.

Finkelson said the lawsuit is proceeding with the courts. The Association plans to file a motion to dismiss this week as well as a discovery motion to find out who the parties are.