Meet the Rancho Santa Fe Association board candidates
The Rancho Santa Fe Association hosted its first-ever virtual Annual Meeting on July 2, featuring a forum for the five candidates vying for the two available seats on the board. Candidates Michael Sperlinga, Greg Gruzdowich, Ted Butz, Rick Sapp and Paul Seitz spoke with about 63 people in attendance via Zoom.
Sperlinga moved to the Covenant from Boston with his wife Shannon, who grew up in Rancho Santa Fe. Sperlinga has gotten involved in the community as a member of the golf club, Rancho Santa Fe Education Foundation board and by coaching baseball in the Rancho Santa Fe Little League.
As a father of three boys ages 2, 6 and 8, Sperlinga is focused on what can be be done to make Rancho Santa Fe an even friendlier place for families with kids. He believes he could be a benefit to the board by representing the interests of his “cohort,” families who are relatively new to the community and have young children.
“I want to follow up on the board’s work on branding and making this the most welcoming place for newcomers, especially those with children,” Sperlinga said. “To me, that’s the key to property values longer term…the more we can attract families to the community, the better it is from a homeowner’s standpoint.”
Sperlinga said he would like to maximize the Ranch’s properties such as the golf club and Osuna Ranch to ensure they are more family-friendly as well as to maintain and improve the community’s parks.
One of Sperlinga’s other priorities would be to “champion the revitalization of the village” as he has heard from his wife what the village was like growing up, particularly having a grocery store.
“It just seems to be a shame that there’s not a lot of diversity of businesses,” he said, hoping he could spark an effort to make the village more vibrant.
Sperlinga said he was also interested in continuing to use Zoom for Association meetings in order to promote transparency and allow more people to participate.
Gruzdowich has lived in Rancho Santa Fe for 27 years. His two children went through the R. Roger Rowe School, he is a RSF Golf Club member and as avid horse riders, he and his family are familiar with the trail system and members of the Rancho Riding Club.
Originally from Massachusetts, Gruzdowich has a degree in chemical engineering from MIT, received his MBA from Stanford and served as chief financial officer of a public company.
When he stopped working full-time, Gruzdowich refocused his efforts back to the community, fighting for fair water rates as a member of the Santa Fe Irrigation District board for four years through 2016.
“We are the largest users of water within the SFID community but we’re only represented by two board members out of five,” Gruzdowich said. “We’re under-represented and that’s resulted in what I believe are unfair water rates for a decade or more.”
He has also served on the Association’s finance committee and infrastructure and water rate committee.
As a board member, Gruzdowich said his priorities would be ensuring that the Association is best using its financial assets and investigating alternative housing options for people that are looking to downsize yet remain in Rancho Santa Fe. He said as a board member, he would also continue to fight for equitable water rates.
“I think we’ve got some great candidates and I don’t think the community can go wrong with any two of the five,” Gruzdowich said. “I just hope that I’m one of the two that ends up getting selected.”
Butz moved to Rancho Santa Fe with his wife Suzanne four years ago from the east coast. A father of two and grandparent to a 1-year-old granddaughter, Butz is recently retired: “It’s taken me about three and a half years to say that but it’s a good feeling.”
Butz has been very active since moving into the community—he has served as a board member and president of the RSF Garden Club, is a current member on the RSF Foundation’s finance and investment committees and he is also on the Association’s finance committee. He is a member of the golf club and is an active trail walker.
“Through a lot of these relationships over the years we’ve really felt like this is home,” Butz said. “We’ve got a really good feeling of how special this place is.”
Butz believes he can bring unique skillsets to the board including “rational long-term thinking” and his experience with board governance. He would like to see the board avoid micromanagement of staff and committees, make meetings more efficient and to see the board get more things done by prioritizing goals and getting continuous input from all members.
Although it’s a harder and more long-term issue, Butz said he would also like to see a revitalization of the village.
“I’m strongly in favor of being more active in developing creative alternatives for our commercial district to make it more vibrant,” Butz said. “I think that will help both the feel of the community and property values.”
The current president of the Association board, Sapp has served on the board for the last four years and has overseen “tremendous progress” on a lot of goals to improve member services and the functionality of the Association with a complete overhaul of business functions. As chair of the technology committee, he also helped lead the effort for the RSF Connect fiber-optic network.
Sapp was a longtime partner at Goldman Sachs and lived in London with his family for 15 years before returning to the U.S. in 2005. Sapp said the Ranch was the one that was the best fit for what they wanted after his retirement: “a beautiful rural community with horse riding for my daughters; golf and tennis for myself, my wife and my sons; and the ambiance of a timeless quality of just enjoyment.”
Sapp got involved as a local volunteer with the RSF Education Foundation and the RSF Foundation where he chaired the investment committee. As he has strong interests in education, he helped build up Pacific Ridge School in Carlsbad as an alternative private school and served as a Stanford University trustee for five years.
Sapp said he would bring continuity and experience to the board and he would like the chance to finish out his work with RSF Connect, to get as many homeowners on the network as possible. He would also like to continue to improve on Association member services.
“There’s some unfinished business I would like to address which is the optimization of the Osuna property,” Sapp said.
Sapp said he would like to see the Association study if there are higher and better uses of the property, “I think it has historic value and horse-keeping value but there are other things that we may site there on that land and use it for the benefit of the entire community.”
“You may have seen me in my cowboy hat around town or riding my horse through town, maybe even shanking a golf ball far and hard to the right,” said Paul Seitz by way of introduction.
Seitz said he is running for the board because he loves the town and he feels blessed that he lives in Rancho Santa Fe with his wife and kids. As a board member, he said his mission would be to protect the homeowners while “maintaining our way of life here in Rancho.”
Seitz said being a board member means being the voice of the homeowners and he wants to ensure all voices in the community are heard including the RSF Garden Club, Osuna Ranch, Golf Tennis Club, trails committee, business owners and Art Jury members.
Seitz said he also wants to ensure the Association follows its own regulations and does not “overstep its boundaries” and to make sure building requirements are in line with county and state requirements.
“It’s important that we help the homeowners get their projects off the ground and finished so we keep our place looking beautiful and growing while still maintaining that great, appeasing look,” he said, noting he would also like the Association to be a more helpful resource for new homeowners.
As a board member, he would like to see improvements to the trail system and athletic fields: “They need some TLC, they need to be maintained properly so we can continue to use them for years to come.”
“The best thing that I’ve noticed about Rancho Santa Fe is the people we have here. We truly have some of the most incredible people in the entire world right here in our small hometown,” Seitz said. “I know working as a team with those people in our community, we can get anything done.”
Candidates discuss the Osuna property
The candidates fielded a few questions from audience members on their role as board members, their priorities and perspective on interpretations of the Protective Covenant. One topic that arose during candidates’ opening statements and member questions is the future of the Osuna Ranch property.
The Association purchased the 28-acre Osuna property 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 purchase of the property has been debated many times over the years and, in 2016, the board considered several scenarios for selling off portions of the property (retaining the historic adobe) but decided against moving forward at that time.
Currently, the Ranch serves as an equestrian training facility operated by Hap Hansen Stables with horse boarding for Covenant and non-Covenant members. Over the last several years, improvements have been made to the stables, the adobe, landscaping and for recreational use enhancements. The Osuna Committee also developed a master plan for the property in 2018, which includes a community barn to hold special events.
Butz said in running for the board, he has heard a lot of opinions about the Osuna property—he doesn’t believe there are any easy answers but said the board would need significant input from the community before moving forward on any option.
Sperlinga said he has a vision for Osuna that is multi-use, “I’d like to see a lot of that area used specifically to cater to families.”
Gruzdowich said when he served on the finance committee, he spent a lot of time going through the Osuna’s financial statements.
“We started questioning the financial aspects of the Osuna four or five years ago and I think that even though we paid way too much for that property, it’s time to look at how we can unlock some of that value and do the best for the community at large rather than a small subset of people,” he said.
Gruzdowich said his vision is maintaining the adobe and potentially selling off the surrounding property and considering a step-down development for seniors or others looking to downsize.
Sapp said as the Association made the investment in the property, they should have a better vision for what they want to do with it in the future, as he mentioned in his opening statement.
“There are a number of interesting opportunities for the property that involve creating a community identity from a historical and recreational perspective,” Sapp said.
Seitz, who shares a fence line with the property, said he worries about mixing the uses of horses and kids. He agreed that the Association should continue to review the financial benefits of the horse-keeping operation and said they need to be more proactive and forward-thinking about the property and not allow it to stagnate.
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