Exit interview: Licosati reflects on RSF Association term

Mike Licosati resigned from the Rancho Santa Fe Association board in August after moving full-time into his family’s new home in Solana Beach. The 15-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe served a shortened term, from 2015 to 2017, and listed accomplishments such as the successful approval of the fiber-optic network Rancho Santa Fe Connect and the update of the governing documents. He also believes the Association is operating with a “phenomenal staff,” including Manager Bob Hall whom he played a role in hiring. “He was invaluable with the fiber optic project because of his municipal experience,” Licosati said.

Licosati served on the technology committee and worked for several years on the fiber-optic project, first entering into a letter of intent with Hotwire Communications to build the network last May before that deal was terminated. Work then began on the Rancho Santa Fe Connect project that was approved in October’s vote.

“I’m overall happy that we got it done but a two-year delay is going to cost the Association business. It will be more difficult to get subscribers than it would’ve been if we’d done the Hotwire deal,” Licosati said.

Licosati said there was “no material difference” between the Association’s current deal and the one with Hotwire — the costs were the same and they are utilizing the same contractors, Henkels and McCoy. Licosati’s concern is that in the delay, competition will ramp up. AT&T has been making improvements in the Ranch, Cox and Spectrum have moved into some Covenant areas for the first time and other internet service providers are making inroads. He said Orion Cable has also been investing in their network and picking up subscribers.

“We had an opportunity to get ahead of that,” Licosati said. “The one advantage we had, speed to market, was squandered with the cancellation of the Hotwire deal. Two years, which is a lifetime in technology progression, will give the competition all of the insight and time they need to expand their market share.

“I’m glad we did it, it needed to get done. But I think the project is riskier now than it was two years ago.”

RSF Association Manager Bob Hall said he cannot speak to the Hotwire deal as it was before his time, but he said with RSF Connect, they are working as expeditiously as they possible can.

“We were all teed up waiting for the vote to occur and our goal was to be ready to move forward quickly,” Hall said.

Hall said the Association is prepared to negotiate a final deal with an internet service provider, targeting December for board approval. The design firm is ready to submit drawings to the county in November.

Once construction begins, Hall said it is likely that more than one crew will be at work during the 12-18 month process to build 65 miles of fiber network.

“We’re putting this in as quickly as possible,” Hall said. “The internet service provider will start signing people up as soon as the contract is finalized. We’re trying hard not to delay in anything moving forward.”

As Licosati resigned, the board went through an appointment process to fill his seat. Of six candidates for the post, the board appointed Mike Gallagher on Oct. 5.

Licosati said his departure left “zero voice” on the board for the most underrepresented demographic in the Ranch, families with children in the home.

He said he is also concerned that the board that is now comprised solely of RSF Golf Club members, “two of whom are former presidents and one who is married to the current president.” He is concerned that the board makeup does not include diverse perspectives and that they may act as an “echo chamber.”

“Fewer than 25 percent of households are golf club members and fewer than 15 percent of new owners in the past five years have joined the club,” Licosati said.

One of Licosati’s largest defeats while on the board was the Covenant Club — he served on the pool and fitness club committee as a volunteer before being elected to the board in 2015, believing that the health club and pool could enhance a declining golf club membership and provide something that would appeal to young families.

In a community-wide vote, Association members narrowly voted in favor of spending $350,000 on a professional planning phase for the Covenant Club, a vote of 762-713, with the intent to bring the project to a community-wide vote. A design and finance team worked for about a year but the effort died in early 2016 after the cost of the club was revealed to be about $15.8 million. The vote never happened.

Licosati said one-third of the Covenant has kids in the home and steps need to be taken to give that younger demographic a voice and to ensure the Covenant is a welcoming place to young families and children.

“In the past there was a sacred trust between generations, where the older generation would sacrifice for the long-term good of the next generation,” Licosati said. “That seems to have been lost in recent years.”

While the Association administration had no comment on the makeup of the board, a spokesperson said it recognizes that ensuring that all members of the community are represented is important and noted it was a topic of a strategic planning session in August.

Two Association board seats will be up for election this coming spring.