Rancho Santa Fe rewind Part 1: A look back at the year that was in 2019

To address concerns about school safety, the RSF School District approved a $424,000 system of electronic locks in March 2019 for all classroom doors and perimeter fencing at its R. Roger Rowe campus.
(Karen Billing)

Below is a look back at events and news that occurred in Rancho Santa Fe during the first six month of 2019. Look for Part 2 of this story (covering the last six months of 2019 in Rancho Santa Fe) online starting the week of Dec. 30.


On Jan. 1, Donna Tripi took over as superintendent of the Rancho Santa Fe School District, following a six-month search. Tripi brings over 30 years of experience in education and was the principal of La Jolla Elementary School since 1999.

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board discussed how it is looking to take a stronger role in its oversight of the Covenant Design Review Committee, which reviews development and building applications against the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant crafted in 1928 and the guidelines laid out by the regulatory code.

Oversight included the length of CDRC meetings and ensuring the committee is consistent in judgments, particularly as the staff remained without a building commissioner.

The Celebrate the Forest event educated residents on the value of protecting Rancho Santa Fe’s urban forest and hoped to motivate residents to work together and be actively involved in achieving a fire-safe community through tree abatement. As a forest health study found, 95 percent of dead and dying trees in the Covenant are located on private property.

“If we act today to do the right things with regard to our Covenant area forest, we will have a profound, positive impact on our community for many generations to come,” said Bill Beckman, chair of the Forest Health and Preservation Committee. “If not us, then who? If not now, then when? It has to be us. It has to be now.”

San Diego County held a swearing-in ceremony for new Supervisor Jim Desmond, who represents Rancho Santa Fe and District 5.

Desmond said locally he wanted to ensure that unincorporated areas of San Diego County get the roads, the parks, the infrastructure and the health and human services that they need. Regionally, he said he would be concentrating on public safety, transportation, housing and behavioral health and homelessness.

Throughout the year, the Association worked on establishing a better relationship with the county and the supervisor.

 A new boutique, Love Datsiya, opened in the village owned by Rancho Santa Fe’s Naghmeh Farajollahi


The RSF Tennis Club underwent a renovation and upgrade that resulted in two newly resurfaced courts and seven new courts for pickleball. Pickleball, a popular game with members, is played on a smaller court with solid wood paddles and a ball similar to a wiffle ball. A Pickleball Extravaganza was held the next month.

The Association board issued a letter to the CDRC on Feb. 7, outlining its concerns about the decision-making process and encouraging the committee to operate in the most efficient and respectful manner.

The letter stated while it is not the board’s role to regulate the CDRC, it is the board’s responsibility to ensure that the CDRC enforces the Protective Covenant, the Regulatory Code and Residential Design Guidelines on a fair and consistent basis.

The Association board also issued a second letter to the CDRC regarding building materials that are used in new construction.

In an effort to close a budget deficit, RSF School Superintendent Tripi announced a plan to “realign and reset” and the board considered lay-offs of a number of certificated employees. At a special meeting on Feb. 26, many parents expressed shock and disappointment.

“I ask you to figure out a way not to take away these positions and keep this extraordinary school extraordinary instead of ordinary,” said parent Stacey Harris.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved a new all-way stop at the intersection of Linea Del Cielo and Rambla De Las Flores and Calzada Del Bosque. The stop sign went live in April, decorated by smiley face balloons.


In order to address concerns about school safety, the RSF School District approved a $424,000 system of electronic locks for all classroom doors and perimeter fencing at its R. Roger Rowe campus.

The school board voted 4-1 to approve the system with President Sarah Neal opposed due to concerns with ongoing costs for maintenance of the system.

The locks were installed over the summer.

The RSF Association passed a resolution in favor of the California ranch home type, relying on outside counsel and the advice of its consulting architect in determining that the style derives its chief inspiration from Latin types and is permitted in the Covenant. The resolution also states that the use of wood is consistent with the Covenant if the material is consistent with the allowed styles. The vote was not unanimous as directors Steve Dunn, Mike Gallagher and Sharon Ruhnau voted in opposition.

The San Dieguito Union High School District board approved a new agreement with the San Dieguito Faculty Association, resulting in a 1 percent pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2018. At the board’s March 7 meeting, they approved both the salary increases and the second interim budget for the school year that showed a reduction in deficit spending.


Jane van Praag resigned from the Association’s CDRC at the end of an April 1 open session board hearing for her removal. The Association board was set to go into an executive session to deliberate and decide on her removal on the basis of malfeasance, however, before the hearing concluded, van Praag formally handed in her resignation on her “treasured, dog-eared copy of the Covenant.” Jack Queen was appointed to fulfill her remaining term on the CDRC.

After the longtime Rancho Santa Fe Flowers and Gifts shop closed in the village, a new floral shop sprouted up in its place with the fresh and modern Third Bloom.

Thyme's longtime owners the Pursells.
(Karen Billing)

Thyme in the Ranch owners Shane and Dawn Pursell announced they would retire after 23 years in the village.

“We wish we could be here forever,” Dawn said. “This is a really hard step for us because it’s been such an incredible experience.”

For several years, Thyme had a space in the village courtyard with just the kitchen and small customer service area before the Pursells purchased the whole building in 2003, transforming a former dental office into the Thyme of today.

As owners of the building, the Pursells were selective in picking the right person who would succeed with the eatery—after a long search, new owner Keely Barrera took over in October.

For the first time ever, the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club offered trial playing privileges to Covenant residents. The three-month trial was offered for 90-days.

“We are an Association amenity and the more residents who chose to use the golf club facility is how we measure success,” said Manager Brad Shupe. “This is our attempt to ensure we maximize the number of Association residents that are taking full advantage of this amenity, making it as meaningful as possible.”


Torrey Pines High School performed the final act in a saga over 20 years in the making: a dramatic and emotional ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new performing arts center.

“To every student in this space, every person who put their fingerprints on this building, to those students who came before, you are the dreams that stuff is made on,” said Marinee Payne, the drama teacher at Torrey Pines for nearly three decades. “This is your building. This is your building to fulfill your dreams and your aspirations and to watch you soar higher and farther than you ever thought you could.”

The new performing arts center at Torrey Pines High.
(Karen Billing)

The RSF School District approved the layoffs of 17 teaching positions at R. Roger Rowe in order to address a budget deficit and staffing levels that have not changed despite declining enrollment.

“We may have finite financial resources but we have an abundance of talent,” said RSF School Board President Sarah Neal of the “emotionally trying” process. “This is difficult, there will be some pain but we will survive this, we will thrive.”

The cuts included the elimination of the math coach and literacy coach, all literacy support staff, science teachers, art teacher, PE coach, librarian and a computer science teacher, a class that was just added in the fall to replace elementary school Spanish. There were also major shifts in administration— middle school Principal Garrett Corduan was selected to serve as the new K-8 principal and K-5 principal Kim Pinkerton would move back into the classroom.

Many parents opposed the cuts.

“I feel that a sledgehammer has been used to chop off our valuable teaching staff and remove a lot of programs,” said parent Rona Shapouri. “I recognize there are easy years and harder years, however, I’ve never witnessed a year such as this one that has such turmoil, discord, discouragement…I’m sad and disappointed that we’re at this point.”

Later that month, Pinkerton was announced as the new principal at Skyline School in Solana Beach. Pinkerton had been at Rowe for 15 years and for five months filled the role of the district’s interim superintendent.

The Solana Beach School District board approved increasing staffing to support its comprehensive social and emotional learning program, to help students in need and equip children with the tools they need to successfully respond to the challenges they will face in middle school, high school and beyond.

The board approved five school counselors to support the district’s seven sites as well as four guidance assistants across all schools.

Solana Beach School District board President Julie Union credited Clerk Debra Schade for advocating to add $350,000 into the budget last year to develop a comprehensive health and guidance program that they hope will be a model for other school districts.

On May 31, a Rancho Santa Fe family held an emotional memorial service for their family home, which was destroyed in a fire in April. For 54 years, the home had been a piece of the Brown family’s history—the Browns and their four boys moved into the house on a quiet, breezy spot on the west side of the Covenant back in 1965.

Arthur Brown had been living in his childhood home for the last nine years with his wife and son. Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading beyond the home and put out the fire in about an hour but it was a total loss An investigation into the fire has found the cause to be undeterminable.

“Our plan is to rebuild, we love where we are in Rancho Santa Fe,” Brown said


SDG&E began its second phase of work in the Rancho Santa Fe community, replacing 57 old wooden utility poles with new steel poles and converting the system to enhance safety and improve reliability.

In 2018, during phase one’s work that replaced 70 poles, over 200 people signed a petition to stop SDG&E’s project and to advocate for undergrounding to reduce both visual blight and fire risk. The Association board even explored the possibility of securing an injunction against the project.

According to SDG&E,undergrounding utilities is more expensive and they prioritize areas in higher risk threat areas such as Julian, Palomar and Valley Center that get higher winds more frequently—Rancho Santa Fe is not considered part of the high fire risk district map that was put together by the California Public Utilities Commission in December 2017.

RSF Association worked to establish a better relationship with SDG&E and advocate for undergrounding consideration. RSF Association Vice President Mike Gallagher noted that Rancho Santa Fe is considered enough of a high fire risk area that insurance companies have taken it off their coverage grids because of wildfire concerns. Additionally, due to the nature of the community with its winding roads, dark sky policy and power poles right next to roads, cars can and frequently have taken out power poles which causes outages as well as a potential fire threat. Taking all of those factors into account, Gallagher said he didn’t understand why SDG&E wouldn’t consider it a prime area for undergrounding.

Laurel Lemarie, Bill Strong and Bill Weber were elected the three new RSF Association board members, filling the seats of outgoing members Allen Finkelson, Janet Danola and Ken Markstein. Strong, a resident since 1987, has the unique experience of prior service on the Association board—he served from 2001 to 2004 and was twice named vice president.

Weber, a 20-year Ranch resident has volunteered for numerous Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club committees and was the president of the board of governors. A resident of Rancho Santa Fe since 1976, Lemarie has been active in the community having served on the San Dieguito Planning Group for the last 16 years and the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District for five years.

The RSF Association board approved an agreement to share the cost of running the shared asset of the restaurant at the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club. At the board’s June 11 meeting, the board also approved forming a joint committee to oversee food and beverage operations at the club and consider a restaurant redesign. A new chef was brought on this year.

“The clubhouse restaurant is a community asset for all Covenant members,” said Markstein, the outgoing RSF Association president at his last board meeting. “It is in our best interests to work together to build a successful restaurant that will become the central gathering place for all Association members and an enhancement to our entire community.”

After a particularly wet spring and the onset of warmer summer weather, the lerp psyllid insect made an unfortunate return to Rancho Santa Fe’s trees, eating up red gum eucalyptus foliage and leaving behind a sticky mess.

“In the last three weeks, I’ve seen them explode in numbers,” said Caitlin Kreutz, parks and recreation assistant manager. “Everyone expects a really bad year for pests with all the vegetation growth. We will see this become more apparent over the summer and the worst will be in the late fall.”