RSF Association: California ranch style, wood are consistent with Covenant


In an effort to put a rest to a longstanding debate about whether California ranch architecture is allowed by the Covenant, the Rancho Santa Fe Association passed a resolution in favor of the home type at its March 7 meeting.

The vote was not unanimous as directors Sharon Ruhnau, Steve Dunn and Mike Gallagher voted in opposition.

Vice President Allen Finkelson said the board relied on outside counsel and the advice of its consulting architect in determining that “California Ranch Type” is of a type deriving its chief inspiration from Latin types and is permitted in the Covenant. The resolution also states that the use of wood, while not preferred, is consistent with the Covenant if the material is consistent with the allowed styles.

“It’s not a rewrite of the Covenant, it’s the board’s interpretation of what the Covenant means,” Finkelson said of the details that have been in dispute for a long time at the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) .“I think it’s time to bring some of these issues to their logical conclusion.”

President Ken Markstein said in his four years on the CDRC he saw a lot of split votes as members grappled with what the broad terms in the Covenant meant, particularly regarding California ranch style.

“We’re not attempting to change anything in the Protective Covenant, we’re trying to discuss what architectural types can be,” Markstein said. “It’s important for us to do this, to give more information to the CDRC and the guidelines so members who come here get a feel for what would or wouldn’t be approved.”

Sharon Ruhnau said she found the resolution “problematic” and disagreed with the concept that they are not changing the Covenant. “The framers of our Covenant were very clear that they did not want specific styles referred to and I think that’s exactly what this resolution does,” she said.

“Every reference made to ‘we’ is a misrepresentation because we, the board, didn’t have any consultation on the resolution. It was drafted without any consensus.It was taken on by a certain individual on the board, they drafted it and presented it to the rest of us as a fait accompli,” Ruhnau said. “There was never any discussion on this resolution or how anybody might want it presented….This is not the product of the board, this is the product of a certain person. I don’t think this is how resolutions should be dealt with.”

Director Rick Sapp said he believed the framers of the document were relying on the common sense of those who would be invested in the community in the future, that they would continue with the spirit of the Covenant as time passed and styles evolved.

“It’s in our power as seven neighbors to fairly interpret the language so everyone has clear guidelines of expected architectural outcomes,” Sapp said in support of the resolution. “We need to get this moving forward.”

The discussion about paragraph 157 of the Protective Covenant has been ongoing since 2017 at the CDRC as the architectural review board has asked for oversight and clarity regarding the California ranch type.

Paragraph 157 states that homes must conform with “that distinctive type of architecture which for decades has been successfully developing in California deriving its chief inspiration directly or indirectly from Latin types which developed under similar climatic conditions along the Mediterranean or at points in California, such as Monterey.”

“That paragraph of the Covenant that defines what conforming types are and sketches out what the buildings are to be, and yet for anyone who reads this paragraph, it’s complex,” said Andrew Wright, the consulting architect for the CDRC. “It’s a difficult paragraph to get your head around.”

Wright said “Latin types” is a non-occurring term so he can only speculate about the original intent of the authors, by looking at climate and geography.

He walked the board through various periods of California history and showed how Spanish colonial haciendas and ranchos evolved through time. Wright pointed out the details he believes the Covenant was trying to capture, such as the “U” or “L” -shaped structures with courtyards and connected covered porches of the Mediterranean type and Monterey details like grand two-story porches, climate protected adobe and highly pitched roofs. He showed evidence of adobe buildings clad in wood siding as well as the Monterey type being employed by Lilian Rice in the former garden club building she designed in the village.

Ruhnau said that California ranch is such a broad category with two ends of the spectrum. She said while a more traditional California ranch is deeply rooted in a Latin background, later iterations include the board and batten—she questioned which would be considered more closely aligned with the intent of that “distinctive type of architecture.”

Wright said Ruhnau’s question was a tough one—the resolution included an appendix that lays out the characteristics of California ranch for the CDRC. Wright said that some responsibility falls to the architects, to make enough of the connection to the two distinctive architecture types in the Covenant as when characteristics are abbreviated or manipulated, the architecture loses that chief inspiration.

Finkelson said that it is in the board’s authority to interpret the Covenant and they have determined that California ranch is an accepted style. Janet Danola said she got over the hurdle of whether the ranch house was an acceptable style and believed that the resolution would strictly limit the use of wood in future projects approved by the CDRC.

“I think this is a great step forward at this point in time,” said Danola of the resolution. “It’s not a forever document.”

The guidelines do include a long list of unacceptable architectural styles that includes Italian villa, English Tudor, postmodern and oriental to name just a few. Resident Laurel Lemarie pointed out that examples of almost every unaccepted style can, unfortunately, be found in Rancho Santa Fe.

Dunn was in favor of getting a second opinion regarding the Mediterranean and Monterey architectural types called out by the Covenant. He said it was likely that the second opinion would validate everything Wright said but he still believed the board should do their due diligence by bringing in someone who could offer a different perspective.

“My concern is that we’re making a resolution or modification that changes what the Covenant represents and what the intentions were 75 years ago,” Dunn said. “I believe it’s too important of an issue to not be sure.”

Dunn said that they all love this community and want to ensure it remains a “thoughtfully designed place.”

Ruhnau agreed that the board would be remiss without a second opinion on such an important topic. “We’re talking about putting in language that has never been seen before in our governing documents,” she said.

Dunn made a motion to get a second opinion and it failed 3-4—director Gallagher said he was comfortable with the information they had but supported getting a second opinion if it would help bring about unanimous support of a resolution.

“I think we have enough information to make an effective decision without bringing in a second opinion,” Markstein said.

The resolution also makes a determination on building materials. Paragraph 159 of the Protective Covenant states that “plaster, adobe and stucco, concrete, stone are preferred” — the resolution states that while wood is not listed as a preferred material it is not prohibited.

Markstein, who served four years on the CDRC, said he struggled with wood as a material, however, wood has been shown to be directly derived from the architectural types, even if it is not a preferred material.

“The exterior surfaces of a structure are not solely determinative of whether the building or structure is of an architectural type,” the resolution reads. “External wall surfaces of wood board and batten or ship-lap are consistent with California Ranch type buildings.”

The use of Hardie board, metal siding that has the appearance of wood or other material that initiates wood remain strictly prohibited.

Jane van Praag, a member of the CDRC, had some questions about the document and how she would be able to enforce it as a CDRC member.

“The second paragraph introduces a new term: California ranch type. That has become a repository for broad Americana ranch,” van Praag said, noting that Swiss, Cape Cod and Hamptons-esque types could be defined as California ranch.

van Praag argued that the California ranch elements included in the appendix included metal framed glass doors, which are listed as not allowed in the design regulations. It was her belief that the resolution and its appendix was not written with care: “It’s vague, ambiguous, and it makes our CC&Rs unenforceable,” van Praag said.

Dunn said that in spite of the fact that the board is entitled to interpret the Covenant, he could not approve of a resolution that presupposes that they are all comfortable with the information it was based upon—he and Ruhnau were not.

Voting against the resolution, Gallagher said he believed that it dances around the acceptance of wood as a material and creates a “loophole so big you could drive the Pacific Fleet through it.” He said the resolution is hopeful that it will affect some kind of change rather than strongly stating a change—Gallagher said he believes they could have gotten to that point with more consideration and board consensus.

“I think nothing will change as a result of this and therefore I see no need for a resolution,” Gallagher said.