Whispering Palms board in Rancho Santa Fe ‘deadlocked’

The Whispering Palms Community Services District has found itself in “uncharted territory” with a vacant seat, a divided board and no leadership. At its Dec. 13 meeting, the split board of four could not come to an agreement on electing a president or vice president and will now seek a legal opinion on whether General Manager Chuck Duffy can serve as its neutral leader.

Motions for member Bill Haynor to be president and for the board to have a rotating president each month both failed 2-2.

“I’m concerned that we’re going to find ourselves deadlocked 2-2 on a number of issues,” said new board member Doug Manatt, who was elected to the board in November with fellow new member Byron Hanchett and incumbent Kathy McHenry.

The board’s situation became complicated in September when three board members resigned. President Nancy McElfresh, Vice President David Nugent and Director Jack Wasserman all stepped down leaving the board without a quorum with only two members. Governing boards have a 60-day time period in which to fill the vacancy, which came and passed as the board did not have a quorum. The board also exhausted a 30-day extension from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors.

That leaves them, as Duffy said, in a “strange point in time” that he has never seen before in his 20-year career. The new member now must be elected in a general election which could possibly be June 2017 or as far as two years out. The CSD (Commmunity Services District) may have to foot the entire cost of a special election — Duffy said they are still researching to find out the next steps.

The CSD faced criticism over the summer with its plan to remove 54 palm trees as part of a landscaping improvement project that included replacing turf and re-locating a sidewalk at the community’s entrance along Cancha De Golf. The plan called to remove the Queen palm trees, believed to be aging and diseased, and replace them with King palms and refreshed landscaping.

One-hundred residents signed a petition to keep the palms and meetings turned heated. At the last meeting before they resigned, both Nugent and McElfresh addressed being called names and slurred.

“I was elected largely on a slate that said we were going to take care of the palm trees and maintain them,” Manatt said, wanting to see if there was a maintenance plan in place, as well as a plan to mitigate diseased olive trees.

Duffy said they have been maintaining the palm trees; they will be trimmed in the coming weeks and also will be given a special fertilizer. The olive trees have also been pruned, although only about six of the trees remain.

Removing the olive trees was a part of phase two of the controversial median landscape improvement plan. As McHenry said, the olive trees are diseased and are not getting better — “We’ve known this for three years.”

The plan, now on hold, called for removing the olive trees and replacing them with California peppers.

“I would be OK with taking out the olive trees until we come to a conclusion on what we need to do to replace them, mainly because I do think they are diseased,” Haynor said.

He made a motion to remove the trees immediately but it was not seconded.

Haynor also requested an update on the status on the median landscaping project’s budget.

A budget of $620,000 was approved by the board in June although the project itself was never approved.

The bid for the Cancha De Golf landscaping renovation came in at $340,000 and a sidewalk relocation bid came in at $40,000. Turf replacement west of the fountain came in at $80,000 and turf replacement east of the fountain came in at $100,000.

Manatt wanted to clarify that the plan was to spend down $620,000 of its $860,000 reserves. Duffy said that was correct and noted each year they add about $100,000 to the reserve.

The CSD has spent $59,700 of the $620,000 so far doing design work for the projects — $18,000 of the $59,700 was spent on supplemental hedge planting unrelated to the median and turf replacement project.

Duffy said there are no additional planned expenditures.

At the board’s meeting in August, the members had agreed to do a community-wide vote to allow residents to decide between the options of keeping the palms or updating the landscaping. No further action has been taken on that survey.

Duffy said at the board’s next meeting they hope to have a larger discussion on the landscaping plan, the possibility of a survey and to find some kind of board consensus.