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Rancho Santa Fe rewind Part 2: A look back at the year that was in 2019

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The Rancho Santa Fe Association installed a new play structure in the summer.
(Karen Billing)

Below is a look back at events and news that occurred in Rancho Santa Fe during the last six month of 2019. Look for Part 1 of this story online at rsfreview.com in the News category.

July

The first home goes live on Rancho Santa Fe Connect with long-awaited 1 gigabit internet service.

The Association installed a new play structure for the community’s kids at the Rancho Santa Fe Sports Fields. The new $42,744 set replaced the aged wooden structure that was removed in December 2018 to the surprise of some local families.

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After being appointed the K-8 principal at Rowe, Garrett Corduan resigned on July 12, taking a position as the new K-6 principal at Mendoza Elementary School, part of the South Bay Union Elementary School District in Imperial Beach.

The RSF Association board elected its new officers: Rick Sapp was elected president, Mike Gallagher was elected vice president and Bill Weber was named board treasurer.

The RSF Golf Club enjoyed an uptick in members after offering trial playing privilege to Covenant members this spring and summer. Shanon McCarthy, director of membership and communications, said it was encouraging to see a lot of younger families taking advantage of the trial.

The Association continues on year four of a collaborative project with the California Native Plant Society, the US Fish and Wildlife, the San Dieguito River Park Conservancy, Fairbanks Ranch, the RSF Fire Protection District and a lot of private homeowners to remove hazardous wildfire fuels.

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“This is a huge group effort,” said Assistant Parks and Recreation Manager Caitlin Kreutz said of the project that began with 10 acres in the San Dieguito River Valley in 2015 and has grown to 105 acres, 95 acres of which have been treated.

In addition to fuels removal, the project includes native plant restoration and providing information to homeowners to protect their properties and families.

The project is focused on the two main fire corridors that go directly into the Ranch.

August

The Association hired new building commissioner Maryam Babaki, filling a position that had been vacant for about 10 months. A civil engineer, she led the public works and development services department for the City of Commerce, was an engineering director for the City of San Marcos and a development services director for National City.

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RSF Association Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki
(Courtesy)

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors unanimously and somewhat reluctantly adopted its new regulations regarding 5G small cell sites on Aug. 7. Chair Dianne Jacob said the new ordinance is “The best that we can do”—aiming to protect constituents and communities while complying with narrow federal regulations to keep up with demand as more people’s lives become dependent on wireless technology.

“The intent is clear, to push the limits as much as we can under federal law and also to fight as hard as we can both on the legislative front and on the legal front in order to have local control back in our hands over these particular facilities,” Jacob said.

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The county’s approved ordinance seeks to minimize clutter and reduce the number of new poles by encouraging co-location on existing infrastructure, establishing separation requirements and setting the most preferred locations for new poles as industrial and commercial zones—the county’s least preferred locations for new sites are residential and rural zones. The ordinance also establishes a buffer prohibiting new 5G sites within 300 feet of schools, childcare centers, hospitals and religious facilities, fire departments and sheriff’s stations.

Rancho Santa Fe residents Beth Nelson, Holly Manion and Susan Foster all requested that the supervisors include “substantial setbacks” from residential homes to protect residents based on factual safety.

As a real estate agent, Manion said the cell sites near homes will cause property devaluation and that the cumulative effect of carriers competing for coverage will damage the beauty and community character of every corner of the county.

“Poles will scar our skyline, historic neighborhoods, scenic highways, coastal roads and pepper our county right of ways,” Manion said. “They will be a blight…Instead of scenic views of mountains and sunsets over the Pacific Ocean, San Diego County will look like a pin cushion of cell towers unless we are able to exercise some local control.”

The RSF School District started the year with a new leadership model: two assistant principals Megan Loh and John Gaulipault and an interim principal Chris Hargrove to serve as a consultant. Loh will focus on elementary school and Galipault on middle school.

The RSF Tennis Club added a new pickleball membership category. For the last four years, the sport has been growing in popularity at the club, with people paying to play at Rancho Santa Fe.

“Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” said Courtney Le Beau, president of the tennis club board. “It has had a 650 percent increase in numbers over the last six years.”

The assessment lawsuit filed against the Rancho Santa Fe Association was dismissed in San Diego Superior Court but the legal fight may continue in an appellate court. In October 2018, a group of 50 unnamed homeowners, called the Rancho Santa Fe Covenant Residents for Fair Assessments, sued the Association over its assessment methodology.

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Per the Covenant, homeowners are assessed at a rate of $100 per the assessed value of the lot as shown on the San Diego County tax assessor’s roll, not on the property’s fair market value. The lawsuit alleged that this creates an inequity between what is paid by longtime homeowners and those who have recently purchased, built or remodeled a Covenant property.

According to the plaintiffs, despite receiving equal services, hundreds of long-term owners pay less than a $1,000 a year in assessments while recent purchasers of properties of similar current value, receive annual assessments that approach or even exceed $10,000 per year.

Rancho Santa Fe’s Ben Brown completed his second 100-mile Kodiak Ultra Marathon, taking on the challenging and rugged course in Big Bear Lake in support of wounded warriors.

The Association looks for an alternate location for a permanent restroom for Richardson Field after it is found out that placing it in the snack bar building will not be feasible due to its location in the flood plain. Could 2020 be the year?

September

The RSF Association teamed up with FireWatch, a service designed to empower communities to take action to reduce wildfire risk by identifying high-risk zones through aerial imaging. The Association committed $10,000 for the initial phase, flying a three-hour mission to acquire over 1,250 GPS-referenced color and color-infrared images and using the aerial mapping to create a baseline to target and monitor vegetative fuels in Rancho Santa Fe, conduct data analysis to determine proximity of homes and structures to wildfire risks and promote community preparedness.

As FireWatch founder Richard McCreight said, reducing flammable vegetation in proximity to homes is the single most important defense against wildfires and until those fuels are reduced or removed, record losses of life and property will continue.

“FireWatch can identify wildfire danger before smoke appears over the ridge…We know from studying fires in California what burns and what doesn’t burn and why. We know that people can be doing a lot more to protect their communities and keep them fire safe,” McCreight said. “This is doable, you have a choice today. Unlike the people in Paradise, you still have a chance to save your community.”

San Dieguito Union High School District classified employees seek pay raises equal to those received by certificated staff earlier in the year. Meeting at the bargaining table with the district over several months, the union dropped down to 3.25 percent from their initial request for a five percent raise. The district offered a one percent increase and negotiations were at a stalemate.

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San Dieguito classified staff rallied at school board meetings.
(Karen Billing)

The Solana Beach School District began a community outreach process on the modernization of Solana Santa Fe School.

“We very much looking forward to the modernization of Solana Santa Fe,” said Principal Matt Frumovitz. “There are a lot of site challenges but I believe the end result will make our wonderful school even better.”

Plans for the modernization include paving over the culvert to add parking spaces and queuing space for drop-off and pick-up and the addition of a two-story classroom building.

Phased construction is expected to start in December 2020 and the project is anticipated to be complete in 2022.

A group of Rowe middle school students brought the Global Climate Strike to Rancho Santa Fe on Sept. 30. Middle schoolers Fabiola Theberge, Maya Alam, Ruby G and Angela Aguirre were inspired to raise their voices by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who held her first climate strike alone in 2018 and sparked the interest of millions of children demanding action for climate change this year.

“The longer that we do nothing, the harder it will be to reduce the effects of climate change…it’s up to us to change the world,” said Fabiola.

October

Construction began on a new bell tower in the Plaza de Santa Fe as the first office tenants moved into the new Rancho Santa Fe Village Suites next to the post office. Plaza owners the Woolley family worked with the Rancho Santa Fe Association’s Covenant Design Review Committee on the design for the tower, meant to hold a new elevator that will bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The tower will include a clock (it will not chime) and will be built in between Morgan Stanley and Chase Bank.

The office suites plans to open a coffee shop in the corner near the former loading dock and following the completion of the elevator project in March 2020, there are plans to completely renovate the parking lot in the plaza, including refreshing the landscaping.

The Solana Beach School District board decided it would not build the district’s eighth school in Pacific Highlands Ranch nor will it expand Solana Ranch to house the incoming students from the growing Pacific Highlands Ranch.The board voted unanimously to use the district’s existing space available at Solana Santa Fe, Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific schools.

The district is preparing to absorb students from 464 new homes scheduled to be built in Pacific Highlands Ranch over the next two school years.

To help the Association in its efforts to address fire safety, they established a new position of fire preparedness administrator and Caitlin Kreutz was selected to fill the role. In her two years at the Association, Kreutz has worked to secure grant funding for several restoration projects to reduce fire risk and is heading up the new FireWatch partnership, identifying high-risk wildfire zones through aerial imaging.

About 1,000 homes in the Covenant were affected by SDG&E’s public safety power outage as a preventative measure against wildfire during October’s potentially dangerous Santa Ana winds.

R. Roger Rowe School was closed for two school days and it was hit and miss which areas of the Covenant had power and which did not

“We are looking at lessons learned from the outages,” RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen said, including back-up generators for Association facilities. “This may become a way of life with power outages so we want to make sure we are ready to stay up and running.”

Covenant residents voiced strong opposition to a proposal that would restrict turning in six locations on Rancho Santa Fe roads in an effort to get a handle on Del Dios Highway/Paseo Delicias traffic.

The street limitation proposal was the result of a lawsuit filed against San Diego County over the roundabouts that have been approved for the intersections of Via de la Valle, El Montevideo and El Camino del Norte.

As some grow frustrated with the queuing and stopping on Del Dios, people have taken to turning off the highway and making their way through neighborhood streets—the “no turn” signage proposes to mitigate that cut-through traffic.

According to RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen, the Association received 37 emails from members, detailing the “extreme inconvenience” and delays it would cause in getting to their homes, advocating that roundabouts remain the best solution to the traffic problem.

“I believe we need roundabouts, I believe we needed roundabouts yesterday,” said resident Ilia Christy, who lives on La Valle Plateada. “A lawsuit shouldn’t be able to negatively affect the safety and the quality of life of the entire community.”

The Association continues conversations with the county on expediting roundabout funding.

November

The RSF Association approved a roof remodel for the Osuna Adobe, replacing the clay barrel roof with the more historically significant wood shingle.

The Osuna Committee has planned a restoration for the adobe that reflects the various layers of history important to the Osuna— the restoration will bring back the long porch but leave some Rice elements, such as the fireplace and living room. The plan is to remove the non-historic kitchen and bathrooms and while the Rice-era tile floors will remain in the living room, the rest of the adobe will be restored to wood floors. The Amigos de Osuna, a non-profit organization that seeks to preserve and restore the Osuna Adobe, continues to fundraise for that work.

The Solana Beach School District will start the process of transitioning to a by-trustee area election process after receiving a demand letter alleging that the district is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. The San Dieguito Union High School District underwent the same process in 2017,

Draft plan maps will then developed with more public hearings in January, leading to board approval of the map in February. The selected map will then go to the San Diego County Committee on School District Organization for approval and if the committee approves the change, the new voting areas would take effect in the November 2020 election.

The Santa Fe Irrigation District is moving forward with a proposed three-year rate plan that would raise total revenue for the district by 3 percent per year over the next three years, beginning early next year, through rate increases and changes in the district’s rate structure.

While the overall impact to the district’s bottom line will be a 3 percent revenue increase each year, the impact on individual customers’ bimonthly bills will vary based on the amount of water they use and the size of their water meter.

The RSF Association has long contended that the district’s tiered rate structure, under which customers are charged a higher rate for water as their water use goes up, unfairly discriminates against larger water users, and that it effectively results in larger users subsidizing the bills of smaller water users.

For those who object to the proposed rate plan, the district is including a protest form in its mailing to customers. If the district receives protest forms from a majority of its 6,500 customers, the rate plan will not go forward. Protest forms must be submitted by mail or in person to the district office by the date of the Jan. 16 public hearing.

December

The RSF Association’s Covenant Design Review Committee was renamed the Art Jury. The name was changed in 2013 and Manager Christy Whalen said the Association wants to return to its historic roots for consistency and to clear up a lot of confusion they hear on a daily basis. As she noted, all of the Association’s legal documents still refer to the Art Jury.

“(The CDRC) name is difficult administratively and legally it’s not the name of that entity,” Whalen said. “Besides, it’s a mouthful.”

The Rancho Santa Fe Gateway project received a key approval from the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, allowing the Rancho Santa Fe village development to continue moving forward.

Landrock Development, which has been working on this project for seven years, believes that they should be able to start construction in 2020.

The project will replace the existing gas station on the corner of La Granada, Via de Santa Fe and La Flecha with an office and retail building and a revitalization of the village’s entry gateway with a landscaped open space plaza. The developers also hope to fill the niche for a 5,000-square-foot market. The village has been without a market since Stump’s closed in 2015.

Solana Beach School District Vice President Rich Leib resigned from the board, citing his time commitment to the UC Board of Regents. His resignation leaves a board vacancy that will be filled by an appointment process. Applications are now available and due Jan. 31. A new board member will be appointed in February 2020.

After about three years worth of work and with a new building commissioner in place, the Association is moving forward with updates to its regulatory code. In December, the board approved two chapters on roofs and solar that will go into effect after a 30-day review of the membership.

As the RSF Association and Race Communications roll out with Rancho Santa Fe Connect installations, Race CEO Raul Alcarez apologized for some missed connections in the first hook-ups. The first six zones have been tested and released for service and they expected the last three zones, Sycamore, Cyprus and Birch, to have been released by Christmas. Race has had 800 inquiries of interest and 430 orders in the first six zones and so far 120 customers have been installed.

The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society has commissioned a new Lilian Rice statue for the Rancho Santa Fe Village. The hope is for the new statue to be in place for Rancho Santa Fe’s 100th birthday celebration in 2020.


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