Political activity and protests come to the Rancho Santa Fe village

A protestor in a peaceful drive-through protest on June 2.
(Karen Billing)

This summer, the streets of Rancho Santa Fe have played host to both a pop-up kiosk selling merchandise for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign as well as local youth protesting racism and police brutality.

“There has been lots of activity in our sleepy little village over the last month,” said Rancho Santa Fe Association Manager Christy Whalen, providing an update at the board’s Aug. 6 meeting.

Whalen said they have received a lot of calls with questions about both the Trump stand and the protests—whether the stand is allowed, whether the gatherings should be allowed and whether the people involved should be wearing masks.

“Our concern is always the safety and wellbeing of our members,” Whalen said. “However, the roads in the village, as well as the sidewalks, are county property.”

While the Association can enforce rules on the over 50 properties they own in the Covenant, when it comes to county property, it is the purview of the County of San Diego and the sheriff’s department. Whalen said the Association has been coordinating closely with the sheriff’s department regarding the recent activities but it is not their call to enforce any sort of rules on the sidewalk. “From what we understand no one has been breaking any county rules,” Whalen said.

Rancho Santa Fe Patrol Chief Matt Wellhouser confirmed that the patrol has also received complaints about both the Trump stand and protesters from people upset by their presence. He said that there has been no reported violence or property damage, just verbal arguments.

Since early July, the Trump merchandise pop-up stand has been set up in the village, at various locations. Their spot, now located away from most business storefronts at the intersection in front of The Inn, is designated by the sheriff and they have a permit from the county. The stand is there nearly every afternoon and the workers say their interactions with the community have been 90% positive. The workers said the negative interactions have included shouted obscenities and middle fingers from people as they drive by—they said they do not shout at people walking or driving by.

“There’s so much hatred attached to this election, that’s shocking to me,” said the worker, who said last week a group of teenage boys came up to the stand and began throwing the stand’s t-shirts onto the ground.

Rancho Santa Fe saw its first protest activity over the death of George Floyd on June 2, a peaceful drive-through protest organized by a R. Roger Rowe School student and her mother—there was also a peaceful protest on June 19 for Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the day that slaves were emancipated in the U.S. in 1865.

The most recent protest activity in the Ranch occurred over the July 24-26 weekend, set in motion by local minors who asked not to be named.

It started on July 22 when a pair of high school age Rancho Santa Fe sisters and their teenage friend were confronted by a woman while posting signs on the lawn in front of The Inn, near the Trump stand. The signs read: “Black Lives Matter” “Abolish the Police” and “Justice for Breona Taylor”.

The 17-year-old high school student posted the incident to her Instagram page, asking people to support her and join them in a peaceful protest over the weekend.

“The word got out to people we didn’t know…I didn’t think anyone would actually come to the protest,” she said. To her surprise, groups from Encinitas and Oceanside and San Diego shared her message to their larger audiences and adult supporters came to the village on Saturday and Sunday—the protests were still relatively small with about 30 people. The girls said admittedly some of the adults’ messages were more anti-Trump than their message of Black Lives Matter and justice for Taylor. They said they felt intimidated to tell them to stop some of the obscenities they were shouting, “We didn’t want to come off in that way,” one of the girls said.

Three 14-year-old Rancho Santa Fe girls and recent graduates of R. Roger Rowe School were among some the younger kids who showed up to support the older high school student over the course of the three-day protest. None of the girls knew the older girl. There was a stand to sell homemade cookies and bracelets to support Black Lives Matter and many parents accompanied their children to make sure they were safe.

The girls said they received some positive support from the community but were disappointed by the way some adults treated the minors, including one fifth grade protester getting flipped off. They said most people who spoke to them said they disagreed with the Black Lives Matter movement and just went away, however, there was one recorded incident of a verbal argument that escalated.

The weekend’s protests also included signs that read “Honk if you’re not racist” and protesters yelled at people who did not honk. Some complained about protesters using bullhorns to harass people.

The girls said their intent was always a peaceful protest: “We never approached anyone in a violent manner or even approached anyone,” the 17-year-old RSF resident said.

In the aftermath, the younger girls said that there were misconceptions that the event was orchestrated by adults.

“A lot of people are really looking for an excuse. They don’t want to believe that there are actually people in this community that believe in the movement,” said one of the girls, noting even though they are young, they have educated themselves and they do have a voice and a right to protest. “We want equal rights and opportunities for all people no matter their skin tone.”

So far the older high school girls have collected $700 in support of their cause. The older girls said if they returned to the village streets, their new approach would be having a stand selling merchandise and collecting donations for Black Lives Matter, similar to the Trump shop.

On Aug. 1, there was a drive-through “I Can’t Breathe” Car Caravan in the Ranch that was held by an outside organizer. None of the Rancho Santa Fe girls interviewed for this story participated.