At their Jan. 3 meeting, the Rancho Santa Fe Association board members discussed how they are looking to take a stronger role in the board’s oversight of the Covenant Design Review Committee. The CDRC, formerly known as the Art Jury, reviews development and building applications against the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant crafted in 1928 and the guidelines laid out by the regulatory code.
During public comment, residents had questions about some recent developments going through the CDRC, including one new home construction in the grading process on El Montevideo.
The regulatory code calls for preserving natural landforms, including slopes, ridgelines and valleys through grading standards, to maintain the rural character and landscape features of the community. However, as one resident once said, what has happened on El Montevideo is the “largest grading project ever in the Covenant, since it was first created.”
“I can’t tell you how many trucks of earth moved,” said resident Linda Hahn. “It breaks my heart to see the changing of the hillside. That shouldn’t have happened.”
Patty Queen, a former CDRC member, said there is the perception in the community that there have been changes at the CDRC. Queen said she hasn’t seen story poles for certain projects, she had concerns about the earth movement in some areas as well as concerns about violations of the dark sky policy. The dark sky policy prohibits uplighting on residences, however, residents and board members have pointed out that several homes are in violation.
“This is a wonderful community and I just want to see that maintained,” Queen said, urging that the CDRC and Association board hold fast to the rules spelled out in the Covenant and regulatory code.
The CDRC board is composed of volunteers and is guided by a building commissioner—the Association is currently in the process of filling that position, left vacant after the departure of Tom Farrar in late 2018.
“The board has examined its responsibility in regard to the CDRC and it’s imminently clear that the board not only has the authority but an obligation to ensure that the CDRC is following the rules and operating in a business-like fashion,” Director Mike Gallagher said.
Gallagher said the Association board’s role will include oversight over the length of CDRC meetings, ensuring the board focuses on big issues versus small ones and that it is consistent in judgments. Gallagher said as the nature of the CDRC governance includes a lot of board member turnover, the Association must ensure it is always working at an optimum level and receiving support from staff that is professional, clear and consistent.
Director Steve Dunn echoed the importance of creating a strong staff that so that no matter who is on the CDRC board, decisions remain consistent throughout. Dunn said in his experience attending CDRC meetings, it is clear how important the role of the building commissioner is.
“A strong commissioner who understands Covenant policies and procedures makes life a lot simpler for the CDRC board,” said Dunn, noting that hiring a new commissioner is a top priority and the Association hopes to make a selection in the next few months.
RSF Association President Ken Markstein said the board’s oversight can also include internal dispute resolution, the right to appeal if a CDRC-approved project does not meet Covenant or regulatory code guidelines. Markstein said the oversight intentions will be memorialized in an internal letter from the Association board to the CDRC.
Jane van Praag, a member of the CDRC, said she was encouraged that the board was moving in a positive direction regarding oversight to ensure all new construction conforms to the Covenant.She stressed the importance of the Covenant and how it protects the rights of members and their investments with regulations on issues such as height, bulk and mass, grading and architectural styles—the Covenant states that homes must conform with designs that derive their “chief inspiration directly or indirectly from Latin types.”
In van Praag’s opinion, proposed projects that do not conform with the Covenant should never make it past the staff for review by the CDRC board. Resident Gordon Jennings noted that some architects view the CDRC process as a negotiation, seeing how big they can be allowed to build rather than sticking to the defined criteria regarding appropriate building area, height and scale.
van Praag and resident Rory Kendall noted that personal interpretation of the Covenant only causes inconsistency.
“Claiming to uphold the Covenant is not the same as actually doing so,” van Praag said.
In March 2018, the board approved a new fine schedule that allowed the Association to enforce a stronger penalty on members who are in violation of the Covenant. Prior to the adoption of the fine schedule, the only course of action the Association had was to revoke a member’s privileges from the golf and tennis club or prohibit the member from voting in Covenant elections. In addition to fines, the Association can also issue stop work orders for construction violations.
Gallagher said the board has levied fines over the past year for violations, including for properties that are not maintained or for building without a permit. The board stated they are committed to making sure residents follow the rules.
For over a year, the CDRC has been working on updating the regulatory code, which hasn’t been updated since 2007.
“There are areas in the Covenant that are vague and could be defined better,” Markstein said.
Independent consultant Rick Engineering worked with staff on amending and re-organizing the document to ensure it conforms with Association board and CDRC policies as well as correct errors, omissions and weaknesses to make it more fair, consistent and enforceable
.Markstein said cleaning up the code will provide the CDRC better guidance on topics such as animal keeping, lighting and major construction. So far 10 chapters have been reviewed by the CDRC but no changes have been finalized—any change to the regulatory code would come before the Association board for approval with a 30-day public review period.
At the Association board’s December meeting, the board requested that the CDRC wait on completing the regulatory code update until a new building commissioner is in place.