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Part 1: Year in Review for Rancho Santa Fe

Below is a recap of notable actions/events that took place in Rancho Santa Fe in the first six months of 2016. A recap of notable events that occurred in Rancho Santa Fe in the last six months of 2016 (with changes that ultimately occurred to some of the actions taken in the first half of the year) will be published next week (Jan. 5, 2017 issue).

January

The Covenant Club design subcommittee continued work on the initial design schematic for a 12,200-square-foot fitness club, situated in between the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club’s player’s club and the Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club. The design included a pool and spas.

The Association technology committee completed term sheets with two bidders out of 11 received on its broadband project to bring better internet connectivity to the Ranch.

The RSF Association considered two proposals from Verizon and American Tower Corporation (ATC) on faux tree cell phone towers to significantly enhance coverage.The committee identified four sites for the towers: two Association owned, one in the right-of-way and one privately owned property on Lago Linda, Via de Fortuna and the roundabout on La Glorieta.

The Association’s governing documents committee announces they are no longer recommending giving condo owners the right to vote with the 2016 bylaws and articles of incorporation update. The committee determined there was not enough information to make the condo change at this time but they would move forward with the other amendments, which include deleting the registration process and ensuring all property owners receive one Association membership with two votes.

The RSF School District considered solar options on campus, such as a mounted array over the structures on the blacktop lunch and play areas, arrays on top of the roof or structures over the staff parking lot on the Dacus property on El Fuego.

The RSF School District discussed its options for R. Roger Rowe’s aging gym facility. At the Jan. 7 board meeting, the board members learned if they opt to do nothing, over the next five years it would cost $623,000 to maintain the existing facility, which would include repairs to the roof, beams, walls and maintaining the gym floor. A new gym was estimated to be $16.2 million to $19 million. At the February board meeting, Superintendent Lindy Delaney advised not to go forward with a bond in 2016 for the new gym.

In October, a portion of the gym roof fell and had to be repaired.

San Dieguito Union High School District (SDUHSD) certificated employees received a 12.5 percent raise at the end of 2015 and the school board followed suit and approved the same raises for non-represented employee groups at its Jan. 14 meeting. The salary increase of 7 percent for 2015-16 and 5.5 percent for 2016-17 was approved in a 3-2 vote, with John Salazar and Mo Muir voting against the raises, expressing serious concerns about their affordability.

“I believe we can afford this raise,” board member Amy Herman said. “By giving them this increased compensation we’re showing them that we value their commitment and expertise and we will hopefully ensure stability to our district by retaining them.”

RSF School District Superintendent Lindy Delaney announced her retirement.

First hired as a teacher in 1986 by Dr. Roger Rowe, Delaney has spent 30 years with the district as a teacher, coach, and administrator.

“It has been the greatest privilege of my life to spend my career working on behalf of the children and families of the Rancho Santa Fe School District. This is a very special place,” Delaney said.

Plans were scrapped for new construction at the site of Plaza de Santa Fe, the home of the post office and the former Stump’s Village Market. The plans, which included a two-story building, parking garage and enhanced gathering spaces was met with some resistance from neighbors.

February

The RSF Association board agreed to provide San Diego County with an additional $60,000 to update the Environmental Impact Report for the Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway roundabouts project, which had gone “stale.” The roundabouts effort began back in 2004 when the Association requested roundabouts as an alternative to traffic signals.

A Draft EIR went through public review from late 2012 to early 2013 and the Association also initiated an independent study of a traffic signal concept. The county held off on certifying the EIR pending a clear recommendation and, in May 2015, the county received the request to move forward with traffic signals.

However, public opposition to the board’s decision led to a community-wide survey in the fall in which 73 percent voted in favor of roundabouts. The board then forwarded its request to the county for roundabouts instead.

The “refreshed” EIR was certified in November but it is unknown when funding will be available to complete the project.

The Association decided to hold a town hall meeting before agreeing to a contract with ATC for the cellular improvement project after members expressed concerns about the potential sites for the 45- to 90-foot faux tree towers.

“I came here because of the Covenant, it’s rustic, it’s protected, there’s a homeowner’s association, there’s a board, there’s people here protecting what we paid a lot of money for,” said Tom Szabo, an 11-year resident. “You’re talking about a 90-foot tower 15 feet from my house. It would be a travesty of your responsibility if you let that happen.”

The Association discussed the possibility of selling a portion of the Osuna property, the 28-acre site purchased in 2006 for $12 million with the goal to preserve the historic adobe, protect open space and prevent subdivision. A three-acre parcel was sold for $1.7 million in 2013, leaving 25 acres as one legal parcel.

The Osuna Committee analyzed valuation scenarios such as selling the property as is, which was valued at $8.96 million, or making improvements and selling the lots as a two- to five-lot subdivision, generating $3.8 million to $5.13 million. In reviewing the valuation scenarios, the board members agreed that it was not the right time to move forward.

The RSF School District issued a request for proposal (RFP) for search firms to assist the board in selecting a new superintendent.

The RSF School board backed off a proposal to bring solar-generating panels atop the school’s rooftops and over the blacktop area.

“I’m just afraid these things are going to look massive,” Vice President Tom Frank said.

Due to the persisting parking problems in the village, Mille Fleurs decided to close for lunch two days of the week.

“Nobody can park in the village,” said 30-year restaurant owner Betrand Hug.

SDUHSD classified employees received a 12.5 percent salary boost. Paired with raises for SDUHSD certificated teachers, four assistant superintendents and management, confidential and supervisory employees, the net effect of the salary increases represents $1.1 million increase in cost to the district.

Trustees John Salazar and Mo Muir voted against the increases, as they have for all district raises.

The classified employees had not received a master contract raise since 2007 and Superintendent Rick Schmitt said the district can afford the increase in salaries as it has budgeted conservatively and has healthy reserves.

The Covenant Club design subcommittee announced an updated cost estimate for the club at $15.8 million, higher than the $10.9 million estimated by the exploratory committee prior to the 2014 community-wide vote.

One project opponent wondered why the community vote was for a pool and workout facility but now the plan has grown to a “little city” of buildings, with a kids’ club, steam room, restaurant and a grand staircase to the pool.

With the project costs high, the community-wide vote on the Covenant Club never moved forward.

March

Following a Feb. 29 town hall on potential cell towers, the Association board members stated that they would take a step back from approving a contract with ATC.

RSF Association President Ann Boon acknowledged that the board moved too quickly on the project.

“We were deeply troubled and feel badly that we could have done anything that would have caused you to mistrust our motives or our actions,” Boon said. “No one on this board would ever consider taking any action that would violate our Covenant CC and Rs. You elected us to uphold them.”

The contract with ATC was to explore cell service solutions, not to erect three 95-foot towers, RSF Association Vice President Heather Slosar said. Slosar said she was frustrated that was the message perceived by the membership.

RSF Association Manager Bill Overton went on a leave of absence. He never returned to his position. In August, Christy Whalen was named interim manager and a search committee continues to look for a permanent replacement.

The RSF School District selects Leadership and Associates to assist in the process of finding a replacement for Superintendent Lindy Delaney.

Construction continues on Palma de la Reina, a new mixed-use retail and residential project on Via de la Valle, at the entrance to the Whispering Palms community.

Leases have been signed with a fitness studio, dry cleaners and a beauty salon, although none of the businesses had opened by the end of the year. The project also includes 54 rental units.

April

A petition signed by 200 residents raised questions about the approval process of a condominium subdivision project at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. In response to the petition, the submittal process for the subdivision was “recreated” and would require review by the Covenant Design Review Committee and an Association public hearing.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District continued its outreach process on the proposed raise in water rates with public hearings and opportunities for homeowners to oppose the rate increases.

“We haven’t raised rates in three years and we currently have the lowest rates in San Diego County,” General Manager Mike Bardin said. “I used to take a certain amount of pride in that but at this point that causes me some concern because the cost of business goes up, we’ve been absorbing a lot of costs and wholesale water costs are going up. It’s critical now for us to raise our rates.”

Residents were allowed to weigh in on the proposed changes to the Association’s articles and bylaws before they went to a community-wide vote.

“There was a lot of due diligence on this in terms of trying to match it with the Davis-Stirling Act and the California Corporations Code and we had thousands of hours on this thing,” said director Fred Wasserman, chair of the governing documents committee. “The response I’ve gotten in general from the community has been very, very positive and the issue of getting equality in terms of voting we thought is very, very important.”

Several R. Roger Rowe teachers spoke out in favor of salary increases as negotiations between the district and the RSF Faculty Association heated up.

Teachers also voiced concerns about the renewal of Board Policy 4111, regarding enrollment of children of district employees in the school. The policy is triennially connected to the negotiations process and teachers said they believe it has been used to create division and worry. Teachers also said they believe that the ability to have their children enrolled at R. Roger Rowe should be a fixed feature not something that is in yearly jeopardy.

Some R. Roger Rowe parents expressed concern with the safety of the school’s artificial turf. Parents Amanda and Ali Shapouri took the initiative to take a sample of the crumb rubber from the field and have it tested by a local geotechnical and environmental firm.

“Although the test found that the toxins present do not exceed the acceptable level established by governmental agencies, we can all agree any level of toxic materials around our children and staff is a major concern and should not be allowed in our school,” Amanda said.

Superintendent Lindy Delaney said that the district conducted its own test but did not find any detectable amounts of toxins.

Mozy Jahanguiri, owner of Rancho Santa Fe Bistro, brought new life to an under-utilized courtyard in the center of the village. In the back of the Bistro, through an archway he built and nestled in between real estate offices, Jahanguiri created a pleasant spot overflowing with flowers, succulents and greenery. The courtyard conversion includes tables and chairs for people to gather.

While the changes to the Association bylaws had been expected to go for a community-wide vote in June, after an April town hall meeting, Director Fred Wasserman said there was still work to do. The group had spent an estimated thousands of hours of work on the documents and Wasserman said the process was “far more difficult than we ever thought it would be nine months ago.”

On April 29, a woman suffered severe injuries and the horse she was riding was killed when a car driven by an 87-year-old motorist struck them on Linea Del Cielo near San Dieguito County Park.

May

The Santa Fe Irrigation District raised rates for the first time since 2013 following a public hearing on May 19, over the objections of two district board members and about 20 percent of the district’s customers. In order to block the rate plan — which authorizes the board to raise rates an average of 9 percent over each of the next three years — 3,253 of the district’s 6,504 customers would have had to file written protests. The district received a record 1,324 written protests but fell short of the 50-percent-plus-one threshold needed to prevent the rate increase.

The Association ratified its approval from June 2015 on a boundary adjustment and subdivision for condos after a community-raised concern that the JMI Realty project had not been processed as Association’s documents require.

The boundary adjustment was simply to correct longstanding errors and the subdivision is for a 13-unit Orchard development off Steven Royce Boulevard west of The Inn. JMI plans to demolish two units and replace them with five for a net increase of three units.

JMI has identified areas where future development could occur across The Inn’s 14 parcels in the Covenant. Projects have been developed for The Grove and La Gracia Village sites and they are known collectively as The Residences at The Inn. As those projects are more complicated, requiring Covenant Modifications and approval from two-thirds of the neighbors, JMI has decided to put those on the back-burner for now to build more support for them.

On May 5, the Association approved a letter of intent with Philadelphia-based Hotwire Communications to build out a one-gigabit to 10-gigabit speed fiber-optic network to every home in the Covenant. The 10-gigabit speed will make Rancho Santa Fe the “most connected community in the country.”

“This has been a huge undertaking for a project that we think is one of the most exciting ones that we’ve had here in the community at least since I’ve lived here for 14 years,” Director Mike Licosati said. “It’s really connecting us to 21st-22nd century communications, which is critical infrastructure in today’s environment.”

Through the terms of the letter of intent, the Association would fund the full $13.5 million cost of the construction through Community Enhancement Funds and bank loans. Hotwire committed to invest $5 million in additional revenue to design and build the network. The project would have to go before a community-wide vote for approval.

The Association approved a six-month pilot parking program at the First Church of Christ Scientist on La Flecha with the aim of encouraging business employees to park away from the center of the village and free up more space for visitors

The Village Vibe had been hosting community gatherings every other Saturday on the village green until it was discovered that the Association unknowingly did not have proper permits with the county. The parks at the heart of the village are not zoned for active use more than six times a year. As a result, the Village Vibe committee began to explore other options in hosting community events, leading to a successful Celebrate Osuna event at the Osuna Ranch in June.

SDUHSD Superintendent Rick Schmitt announced his departure for San Ramon Valley Unified District.

As negotiations continued between the RSF School District and the RSF Faculty Association, parents and staff felt the tension and animosity on campus. Teachers organized to arrive and leave campus together in a group in a statement to the district and flyers spread around campus from the faculty association and the district.

“As a veteran at this school, it is heartbreaking to see the poor morale on campus as well as the broken spirits of my colleagues. Twenty-four years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said teacher Jackie Mendez.

In a letter to parents, Superintendent Lindy Delaney acknowledged the “emotional times” and stated: “Please know that the district values and appreciates its teachers.”

The RSF School District expressed confidence in the safety of its artificial turf field after a study commissioned by the San Diego County Office of Education showed no significant exposure to lead or any measured contaminants.

Rancho Santa Fe endured another divisive election season as six candidates vied for three seats on the Association board. The annual meeting was held on May 12 and was an opportunity for the community to hear from candidates Janet Danola, Allen Finkelson, Rachel Laffer, Rachel Leheny, Ken Markstein and Terry Peay.

“Whatever comes of this election, I have enjoyed meeting so many people that I wouldn’t have come across in my everyday life. I’m really proud to be your neighbor. There’s some really cool and wonderful people with incredibly diverse backgrounds and I think that’s what makes our community so special,” Laffer said. “The one thing we all can agree on is that we’re all neighbors and we all love this community.”

RSF School District board member Richard Burdge resigned on Monday, May 16 after 11 years on the board and his open seat was filled by Friday, May 20 with the board’s appointment of Scott Kahn. Several parents expressed their concerns with the “abbreviated” process.

President Tyler Seltzer said the only reason they would need a longer timeline is if they had trouble finding candidates — by Friday, the district had five candidates for the open seat.

“One of the reasons I personally felt comfortable moving forward was I just knew that there were many, many good candidates out there and interested people,” Seltzer said. “It is sincerely and truly gratifying and inspiring to have so many qualified people come through in such a short period of time. It never ceases to amaze me the quality people we have in this community.”

The district appointed Kahn after an open interview session with the five candidates. His seat would be up for election in November, along with Seltzer and Todd Buchner’s seats.

The SDUHSD selected the search firm of Leadership Associates to help find a replacement for Superintendent Schmitt. By the end of the year, a replacement has not yet been found and Eric Dill, assistant superintendent of business services, serves as interim superintendent.

The RSF School District and the RSF Faculty Association reached an agreement in their contract negotiations, settling on a 4.5 percent salary increase, a $600 annual increase to the district’s employee health benefit contribution and two personal business days for teachers each year.

In order to resolve the issue of Board Policy 4111 regarding teachers’ children attending the school, the board eliminated it, therefore teachers’ children will no longer be allowed to enroll although those already enrolled are able to return.

The faculty association’s goal is to work with the superintendent and board to craft a mutually beneficial agreement to allow teachers’ children to attend the school.

June

The Association’s effort to improve a lack of village parking has failed to gather support from village merchants. The Association decided not to move forward with a six-month pilot parking program at the First Church of Christ Scientist after a survey showed only five of the 41 village businesses said they would consider using the spaces.

The survey did not have full participation from all 41 businesses in the village core, despite the Association’s repeated attempts for participation.

The RSF Tennis Club sought Association board approval to renew its 25 sponsored memberships, an initiative approved in 2015 to help boost club activity and play, increase dues revenue and maintain the vitality of the community asset.

The board was split 3-3 on the renewal, with those in opposition citing concerns about non-Covenant members being allowed into the exclusive club.

New directors Janet Danola, Allen Finkelson and Kenneth Markstein were elected, replacing outgoing members Heather Slosar, Philip Wilkinson and Jerry Yahr. There were 1,654 ballots counted out of 2,200 eligible voters.

Markstein, a 29-year resident of Rancho Santa Fe is a past president of the CDRC, the RSF Golf Club and the Rancho Riding Club. He is CEO and chairman of the board for Markstein Beverage Company. Finkelson is a retired attorney who moved to Rancho Santa Fe five years ago from New York City. Danola has lived in Rancho Santa Fe for four years and has a background in accounting and finance.

On June 27, three women, including a teenager, were killed in a double-homicide and suicide in a home on Via de la Valle.


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