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RSF Association candidates talk community issues

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RSF Association board candidates Skip Atkins, Bill Strong, Laurel Lemarié and Bill Weber.

At the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Annual Meeting, residents had a chance to hear from the four candidates vying for three seats on the board: Skip Atkins, Laurel Lemarié, Bill Strong and Bill Weber. Ballots were mailed on May 9 and are due back June 10 by 5 p.m. (The candidates are listed below based on the order they spoke at the meeting and appear on the ballot after a random drawing.)

Skip Atkins

Atkins and his wife purchased their home in the Covenant in 2013 and became full-time residents in 2015. Drawing on his career supplying services to utilities and telephone companies, he immediately got involved on the Association’s Technology Committee as they worked on the fiber-optic network.

He has also served on the Finance and Audit Committee, RSF Garden Club and RSF Golf Club’s activities committee.

“My 51 years working with utilities and counties would be an asset to the community,” Atkins said, adding that he has become very aware of the need to improve the Covenant’s infrastructure.

He said the Association needs to establish a relationship with SDG&E, to work with them to rid the community of “unsightly power poles.” He would also like to see a better relationship with San Diego County, working to address road issues such as speed limits, crosswalks and potholes.

His priorities include completing the fiber project, supporting the work of the RSF Golf Club to improve the dining and golf experience for the whole community, keeping the Tennis Club financially healthy, and continuing to pressure the Santa Fe Irrigation District to establish fair rates so Covenant residents aren’t subsidizing other communities.

“A vote for Skip Atkins is a chicken in every pot,” he said.

Bill Strong

Strong, a resident since 1987, has the unique experience of prior service on the Association board—he served from 2001 to 2004 and was twice named vice president.

“Being a director is serious work,” Strong said. “The seven directors protect and run this operation. We have serious competition now and we must always be sure that we’re doing everything possible to make sure that Rancho Santa Fe is attractive, enjoyable and valued.”

Strong, who currently serves on the Finance Committee, said he knows the job well and has developed 15 firm principles that make a good director and what he is committed to bring to the board.

Principles include representing all members; ensuring all discussions are “cordial, factual, fair, neighborly and wise”; and protecting the Covenant and the community’s historic rural uniqueness which means no density increases in residential zones.

In an effort to encourage broader participation and to be forward-looking, one of Strong’s ideas is to create a Rancho 2020 committee to focus on all future issues with participants from each age cohort.

“We all should keep in mind the reasons why we moved here, bought here and live here. The best thing about this place is the people,” Strong said.

Bill Weber

Weber has volunteered for numerous Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club committees and is currently president of the board of governors. He also served on the Association’s Audit and Finance Committee for two years.

Weber moved to Rancho Santa Fe 20 years ago, attracted to the area’s beauty and sense of community.

“I’m running because I want to preserve those qualities, even as we move into the future,” Weber said. “Things are changing; technology is changing, our population is changing and we need to move the community ahead while still preserving those things that attracted us when we first came.”

Weber said key issues facing the community include building relationships between the Association and other community boards, infrastructure and water, such as developing alternative sources of water for the golf club.

“I’m a listener, I’m a problem-solver and I’m a consensus builder…I think strategically, I think that’s important. We need to understand what our vision is and where we want to go and then figure out how to get there,” Weber said. “We want to continue to build and market the unique brand of this community and equally important, we want to engage the full spectrum of the demographics in this community as volunteers.”

Laurel Lemarié

A resident of Rancho Santa Fe since 1976, Lemarié has been active in the community having served on the San Dieguito Planning Group for the last 16 years and the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District for five years.

In her remarks, Lemarié broke down the many issues she sees facing Rancho Santa Fe internally and externally. One big internal issue is “the understaffed Association office that lacks historic memory,” stating the need to fill staff vacancies such as the building commissioner as well as appoint a liaison to the county and local utilities. Other internal issues included the completion and deployment of the fiber network, village revitalization, addressing the health of the Covenant forest and maintenance for trails and parks, “for example, why do we still have a porta potty at Richardson Field?”

An external issue she would like to see addressed is how Rancho Santa Fe connects with the North County community, particularly regarding clustered density, roads and traffic—she personally delivered 1,000 petitions and spoke out against the county supervisors’ rezone of two projects in Harmony Grove that will impact Rancho Santa Fe’s roads.

As Lemarié’s granddaughter attends R. Roger Rowe she said she hears the concerns of younger families.

“My initiatives will benefit all homeowners, I’ll represent all families,” Lemarié said. “A vote for me is a vote for the future.”

As part of the Annual Meeting, RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen led a question and answer session with the candidates, featuring questions from the board and community members.Two of the questions centered on the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC), as the current Association board has faced a number of issues regarding the committee’s decisions.

Candidates were asked if the Association board should have oversight and also if they supported the board’s February oversight letter to the CDRC.

Atkins said it was a tough decision for the board but one he supported “wholeheartedly.”

“The board definitely should have oversight over the CDRC and getting a building commissioner is going to be a big asset,” Atkins said.

Lemarié said with the oversight letter and following March 7 resolution, she does feel that the CDRC is on the right track.

“I was pleased that they said we do find Ranch houses consistent with the Covenant, because I have one,” Lemarié said.

Lemarié said she “wasn’t thrilled” with the part of the board’s resolution that stated hardie board was prohibited due to the fire danger that wood houses present.

Strong said that he was in full support of the board’s asserting the “Art Jury” back to its obligation to enforce the Covenant.

“Each Art Jury does not have the latitude to do whatever they want,” Strong said. “Their goals should be to protect the rural aspect of Rancho Santa Fe, enforce the important parts of the CC&Rs and also maintain the land forms, prevent excessive grading and approve harmonious structures. That’s the vision… We have 100 years invested in this brand, we shouldn’t abandon it.”

Strong said while he supported the oversight letter, the board’s March 7 resolution (approved in a 4-3 vote) “seemed to undo all that brilliance.”

“(The resolution) seems to allow any style, all you’ve got to do is call it ‘California Ranch’ and whatever it looks like, whatever it’s made of you’ve got an argument,” Strong said. “You can even have sliding glass doors.”

Weber said he supported the board’s action and that is was entirely appropriate that they provide oversight just as they do the golf and tennis club boards. While the committee must abide by the Covenant and guidelines set by the Association board, Weber said, “I think it’s important that the CDRC work as an independent body to carry out its work in timely fashion.”

One audience question asked the candidates how they would separate conflict of interest between golfers and non-golf members. As outlined by Vice President Allen Finkelson, an ad hoc committee has formed to explore an upgrade of the clubhouse and restaurant.

Strong, who has been a golf club member since 1999, said the club is a valuable community asset and he supports the club’s plan to make the restaurant more of a community hub. From a director’s standpoint he said it would involve making decisions fairly on behalf of all Covenant members with the goal to increase community activity.

“I’m not sure I understand what the conflict of interest is,” Weber said. “As long as we’ve been here, it’s been the responsibility of the golf club and golf club board to maintain and improve all these facilities.”

Weber said over the last 16 years golf club members have invested $80 million through dues and enrollment fees to support the facilities that are open to all Association members. He supports the golf club board’s goal to make sure the building and restaurant can better serve more of the community.

Lemarié said she is not a golfer and in their 42 years in the Ranch, she and her husband have never been golf club members. She does use the trails frequently as a horseback rider and goes to the club for brunches and special events, “I feel like I own it, I’m not paying dues but I could understand it might be time to look at how we’re using the assessments for supporting the golf club building here,” she said.

Atkins, like Weber, said he was surprised to hear that there was a conflict.

“I think the golf club does a great job of maintaining this facility with what they have to work with right now,” Atkins said, adding he supports the plan for new architecture and improving the club’s reach. He said he hopes that with a “little bit of a remodel” the restaurant would stay busy.