Rancho Santa Fe approves high-speed internet project

One gigabit internet service is in Rancho Santa Fe’s future as the community overwhelmingly voted in favor of the RSF Association’s $13 million-$14 million fiber optic project.

Rancho Santa Fe Connect received 799 “yes” votes and 141 “no” votes. With the favorable advisory vote, the Association will now construct and own the 65 to 70-mile-long fiber backbone and contract with an internet service provider to operate the network.

The RSF Association received a total of 959 ballots, although 19 were determined to be invalid, according to election inspector Bruce Bishop, who hand-counted the votes with volunteers during the Oct. 5 board meeting.

“An 85 percent approval is astounding,” said RSF Association President Fred Wasserman. “It shows that we’re moving in the right direction for this community.”

According to RSF Association Manager Bob Hall, much of the work on RSF Connect is teed up and ready to go following the vote.

Henkels and McCoy will finish up the network design and get it ready for construction drawings and Hall said they hope to submit the project to the County of San Diego by the end of November. Hall said they anticipate at least a 90-day review with the county but, if all goes well, the Association should have a permit sometime in January and begin construction in the first quarter of 2018.

The project will take 18 to 24 months to construct.

The Association expects to fund the project with $8 million from the Covenant Enhancement Fund and bank financing for the remainder with a 10-year fixed-rate, fully amortizing loan.

The Association’s assessment rate is set at 14 cents per $100 of assessed property value, with 2.5 cents going into the Covenant Enhancement Fund.

At the Oct. 5 meeting, Director Allen Finkelson made a motion to abolish the Covenant Enhancement Fund “forever” and put the 2.5 cents portion of the assessment that comes in annually into a new Fiber Optic Fund. The motion was seconded by Director Stephen Dunn and passed unanimously.

The Association’s Open Space Fund became the Covenant Enhancement Fund (CEF) in 2012. The Open Space fund had been established to purchase land to maintain and protect the rural character of the Covenant —the last land purchase was made in 2006 with the $12 million Osuna Ranch. In 2012, the Covenant Enhancement Fund (CEF) was set up to allow for not only parcel acquisitions but expenditures to “renovate, enhance or improve Covenant resources or safety.”

Treasurer Janet Danola said the finance committee had discussed this option as the Association’s independent auditor had recommended that the remainder of the CEF be allocated to specific projects. In the past, Finkelson has referred to the CEF as a “slush fund” and that he believed it to be illegal for homeowners to be assessed for something that the budget does not specify.