RSF Association board debates process for regulatory code updates

(Karen Billing)

Last month the Rancho Santa Fe Association board approved a new timeline for all regulatory code updates, a multi-step process that seeks to inform and gather input from residents on the document that guides Art Jury decisions on projects within the community.

Regulations already approved by the board this year will again go through the process in the coming year, including the use of wood in home construction, outdoor lighting, solar and grading.

At the Dec. 9 board meeting (rescheduled from Dec. 3 due to the power outages), the board discussed whether they should continue on with that process or instead have directors re-write regulations, a suggestion from Director Bill Strong. Following a lengthy discussion, a motion to stay with the new process passed 5-2, with Strong and Director Laurel Lemarie opposed.

“We really need to stick to the program we’ve agreed to and execute it,” said Director Rick Sapp. “I know there’s frustration on how long it takes but it seems to me that we keep pulling the tree out of the ground to see if the roots are growing as opposed to letting the thing progress day to day.”

In the existing process, the RSF Association building commissioner and the building department are working to revise the document using the inclusive process the board just agreed to in November. The effort to update the regulatory code began about three years ago and included the hiring of a consultant, Rick Engineering. That process was put on hold when the Association was without a building commissioner for about 10 months—when Maryam Babaki was hired in August 2019, she took up the work. Throughout this year there has been movement on several chapters on lot coverage, wood and solar installations.

Since being elected to the board last year, Strong has been frustrated by the lack of progress. He took a stab at writing several of the regulations himself as well as submitting a proposed findings document for the Art Jury to use in its decisions. The board has made improving Art Jury consistency a top goal and Strong said he thinks they can do a better job of achieving it, ensuring that the most important issues are being addressed as the community approaches full build out.

“We have a system that produces inconsistency. The inconsistency holds an awful lot of risk for the longevity of this unique place,” Strong said. “The inconsistency we see shows problems in the process, not a lack of regulations. (The problem) is the uneven application of the existing regulations.”

Lemarie backed Strong’s efforts and said it should not be up to the building commissioner to draft regulations. She suggested that the board establish an ad-hoc committee like they did when they rewrote the Association bylaws. That committee met for over a year revising the bylaws and they were then approved by a Covenant-wide vote in 2016.

Director Sharon Ruhnau agreed that the board has not pushed hard enough on their stated goal and asked that the commissioner consider suggestions received from Strong and other directors. Sapp said the board is responsible for its own inaction and they will achieve their goals if they prioritize and cooperate, rather than keep circling back. At the December meeting, the board again revisited revisions of the solar regulation that they have been working on since last December and first approved in July.

The majority of the board supported the building commissioner remaining in charge of the regulations and following the new process.

“We all want to see consistency, we want to see the rural nature of our community continue, we do not want to have major problems related to regulations that create glaring issues and we want to have better relationships with the Art Jury,” said RSF Association President Mike Gallagher. “At the end of the day we’re all here for one principal reason: to enhance the property values of our community and improve the lifestyle of our residents.”

Babaki said she wants the process of updating the regulatory code to be inclusive and for that to happen it needs to be an iterative process, incorporating all of the issues that come up: “That’s why it takes time.”

Taking the board’s input, she has moved the grading regulation up in the schedule. It was expected to begin review in March 2021 but now is set for January.

New Art Jury members appointed
At the Dec. 9 meeting, RSF Association President Mike Gallagher appointed Rob Whittemore and Beth Nelson as the newest members of the Art Jury, replacing departing members Shauna Salzetti-Kahn and Janet McVeigh. Gallagher thanked Salzetti-Kahn and McVeigh for their expertise and “tireless work” in serving the community.

Whittemore is an attorney with experience in volunteer work serving as a member of numerous groups, including the San Diego Foundation, La Jolla Town Council, La Jolla Business Improvement District and the La Jolla Community Planning Board Association.

Nelson is a longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident who has been very active in the community, including representation on the Rancho Santa Fe Community Center, RSF Library Guild and RSF Education Foundation boards. She currently serves on the San Dieguito Community Planning Group.