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Rancho Santa Fe: 2020 Year in Review

R. Roger Rowe School was the first in the county to reopen school.
(Hannah Clements
)

It was a year like no one had ever experienced before.

In 2020 we learned words like PPE, social distancing, distance learning, Zoom and “You’re on mute.” Nearly everything was canceled, there was no July 4 parade through the village, no Rancho Days, no fair. We improvised with drive-by birthday celebrations and graduations, virtual happy hours and online meetings. We posted signs in windows and in our yards and wrote cheerful messages in sidewalk chalk.

We sang “Happy Birthday” as we washed our hands. We worked from home, we went to school at home, we voted from home, we wore sweats at home. We binge-watched, we got outside and washed our hands some more.

For months there were no sports. In the summer, the Padres brought the excitement of Slam Diego, making the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. After the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26, Laker fans were able to celebrate a championship when playoffs were held in the NBA bubble.

We protested: for social justice, to open businesses, to open schools and to keep schools closed.

There was fear and anxiety as we worried about job loss, learning loss and human loss.

As the pandemic ebbed and flowed, we learned the only thing we could rely on was that things were constantly changing. We cringed at the words “unprecedented”, “new normal” and “these trying times” but they came to define what the year truly was.

We looked ahead to 2021 with hope for healing, lessons learned and renewed gratitude for the things we took for granted.

January
The Santa Fe Irrigation District approved three percent water rate increases for the next three years. The board’s vote was 4-1 with Director Marlene King voting in opposition. In November, the board made the decision to freeze water rate increases in 2021 due to the district’s financial position and the impacts the pandemic continues to have on the region and customers.

Rancho Santa Fe Connect installations ramped up in the month of January, providing gigabit internet service to Covenant homeowners—for some, it is their first time having reliable internet in Rancho Santa Fe.

February
The RSF Association moved forward with the Covenant Modification process for a Village Church columbarium. The church planned to add a walled memorial garden with niches that hold cremains, however, as the use is prohibited by the Covenant it would require a Covenant-wide vote.

Two-thirds of the property owners of record in the Covenant and two-thirds of the Covenant area must vote in favor of the change.

The Solana Beach School District board appointed new trustee Dana King out of five applicants. King, a Solana Beach resident, filled the vacancy left by the resignation of Rich Leib. Leib, who served on the board for 12 years, resigned due to his increasing responsibilities serving on the University of California Board of Regents.

The Solana Beach School District worked on its transition from district-wide to by-trustee area elections, holding public hearings in January and February. The board adopted the new map with the goal of equity and inclusiveness, keeping like-minded communities together and setting clear boundaries. The map was supposed to be used in the November 2020 election but the approval process was delayed by the pandemic.

March
Rancho Roasters opened on March 9 in the village’s Plaza De Santa Fe, transforming a former loading dock into a coffee shop. Owner Courtney Cindrich, daughter of former RSF Association manager Pete Smith, opened right before the pandemic forced stay at home orders on March 19 and benefitted from their mostly outdoor operation.

Santa Fe Irrigation District Director Kenneth Dunford submitted his resignation after serving on the board for 18 years.
The resignation came after the RSF Association sent letters to the water district, the San Diego County District Attorney and the California State Water Control board questioning his residency status. Dunford notified the district and his fellow board members that he had made a commitment to move to Carlsbad, setting his last day as March 31.

The Rancho Santa Fe arboretum.
(Karen Billing)

The RSF Association created a new arboretum, a living display of the types of trees that grow best in the Ranch. The idea for an arboretum was first planted about 10 years ago and was given new life thanks to a Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club grant. About 50 trees were planted along the golf course from Via De Fortuna and Via De Cumbre, on both sides of the trail. A March 14 grand opening event was canceled.

The San Dieguito Union High School District board approved 3.5% salary increases for the superintendent, deputy superintendent and three associate superintendents on March 19. The group of employees was the last San Dieguito employees to receive raises following the 3.5% raises that were given to the certificated teaching staff in December 2019 and 3.5% raises that were given to classified staff and non-union represented supervisory and management employees in January.

Local school districts closed on March 16 but then launched into the “brave new world” of online learning. Teachers got creative to provide learning opportunities for students and struggled with the challenges of online teaching, juggling taking care of their own families and providing instruction to students. In the coming weeks, remote learning would evolve to include more interactive “live” synchronous learning for students.

April
The RSF Association board held its first virtual meeting on April 2. Both the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club and Tennis Clubs closed, 45 employees were furloughed, the golf club restaurant started doing take-out orders and while outside conduit work continued, Race Communications had to put home installations on hold for five days for training and ordering personal protective equipment for workers.

“This project has proven itself to really be vital to our community as lots of people are home looking to stream Netflix and kids are looking to do online school work,” RSF Association Manager Christy Whalen said. “We’re understanding more than ever the importance of this high-speed internet service that we’re offering.”

Rancho Santa Fe orthodontist Dr. Melanie Wang only worked one day in her new office in Fairbanks Village Plaza before she was forced to shut down. With her office closed, she shifted to printing 3D masks for first responders.

Parents and students opposed the San Dieguito’s decision to move to a credit/no credit grading system, asking the district to give students a choice to earn their grades for the last months of the school year. The change in the grading policy prompted a public outcry of thousands of emails and petition signatures, a drive-by rally at the district office and threats of board member recalls.

Rancho Santa Fe sisters Natalie, Avery and Kelly Slosar started exclusively making hand sanitizers with their organic beauty care company Sunshine Body Products. In addition to selling online and to the local pharmacy, they also provided some hand sanitizers to The Village Church to help supply the San Diego Rescue Mission.

May
R. Roger Rowe School’s talent show went virtual, just one way that the school got creative trying to keep students connected during school closure.

“We didn’t intend the show to be digital but we’re super excited that it still gets to happen,” said Walden, one of four Rowe student council leaders who organized the online show. “It’s so sad what is happening to our world today and we know it can be scary and difficult at times, but we’ll make it through it.”

The Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club had a big May after the county allowed golf courses to reopen with restrictions: The 3,000 rounds played were more than have ever been played in a month.

With recreation rules further loosened on May 8, the RSF Tennis Club also welcomed back members back to the court with social distancing.

On May 14, the San Dieguito board voted to alter its credit/no credit grading policy and give students give students a choice to opt into letter grades or credit/no credit.

“I think choice is the only option, it’s a win-win for everyone,” said SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir.

The RSF Association started to move ahead on a project started nearly three years to update chapters of its regulatory code. At the May 14 virtual board meeting, the board approved two new regulations on roofs and lot coverage.

A rendering of the new classroom building at Solana Santa Fe.
(Courtesy)

Community outreach continued virtually on the Solana Santa Fe School modernization project. Plans include getting rid of existing portables and building a new two-story, eight classroom building. The administration office will be redesigned to be safer and more efficient, as well as making it a higher profile entry element that matches the architectural style of the neighborhood.

The large drainage culvert will be paved over and there will be enhancements to the parking lot to improve the traffic flow into and out of the school.

The $21 million project is expected to begin in April 2021 with a targeted completion date in December 2022. The next outreach meeting will be held on Jan. 27, 2021 to discuss the impacts of construction during school operations.

Canyon Crest Academy and Torrey Pines High School held drive-through graduation ceremonies.

Emma Carr's car decked out for Canyon Crest Academy graduation.
(Karen Billing)

The Santa Fe Irrigation District was split on the appointment of a new director to fill its board vacancy— a motion to appoint Rancho Santa Fe’s Greg Gruzdowich failed 2-2 on May 21. SFID President Mike Hogan and Director Andrew Menshek could not support Gruzdowich as he is listed as a plaintiff in the RSF Association lawsuit against the SFID over its rate structure.

“I believe that our SFID community needs to heal and I do feel that I’m uniquely qualified to help that happen,” Gruzdowich said in his interview.

As the board failed to make an appointment, the appointment next fell to the county board of supervisors.

On May 24 a grateful community organized a balloon bomb and “Get Well” drive-by for for longtime San Diego County Chief Administrative Officer and former RSF Association General Manager Walt Ekard as he underwent treatment for cancer.

June
On June 2, about 40 Rancho Santa Fe families took part in a peaceful drive-through protest in the village over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Organized by R. Roger Rowe Middle School students, the group of cars lined up in the school parking lot and drove through the village, honking horns and waving signs out the window.

R. Roger Rowe student Fabiola Theberge at the peaceful protest on June 2.
R. Roger Rowe student Fabiola Theberge at the peaceful protest on June 2.

(Karen Billing)

Olivia Markey, a 9-year-old Rancho Santa Fe resident, planned a fundraiser for Helen Woodward Animal Center, offering up her original artwork and bracelets in exchange for donations to help the animal shelter. Olivia set up shop by the Rancho Santa Fe Post Office on June 5 and raised $834 to help the animals.

R. Roger Rowe fifth graders held a promotion parade on June 9.

San Diego County asked the state for more local control in reopening as the majority of the board of supervisors backed Supervisor Jim Desmond’s push for the immediate re-opening of businesses such as gyms, hotels, nail salons and breweries as well as churches, youth sports and pools.

“My goal has always been to boost the economy by opening up businesses utilizing the health officers’ safety guidelines and protecting the most vulnerable,” Desmond said. “We need to empower the people of San Diego County to get back to work.”

Desmond would continue to advocate to reopen San Diego throughout the year.

On June 8, the California Department of Education’s released its guidance document with recommendations for schools as they work with their local public health officials and communities to plan the next steps toward re-opening in the fall. Guidance included symptom screening, face masks and desks spaced six feet apart.

“I’m very concerned that more restrictions there are, the more difficult it’s going to be for school districts to reopen,” San Dieguito Superintendent Robert Haley said, citing challenges with secondary school campuses.

The Rancho Santa Fe Tennis Club welcomed John Chanfreau as the new general manager. Chanfreau comes to the Ranch from the Palos Verdes Tennis Club where he was general manager. He was also a head tennis pro at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club for 10 years.

“We feel very fortunate to have an experienced manager to take the reins during these challenging times,” said Courtney LeBeau, tennis club president, noting that the club was challenged by COVID-19 but also earlier in the year with the Assembly Bill 5 ruling which required the conversion of the club’s independent contractors to employees. The conversion also forced an adjustment to the club’s fee schedule for tennis pros, lessons and clinics. “We know he will strengthen not only the club itself but also our position in the community of Rancho Santa Fe.”

The RSF Association unanimously supported nominating Frank Creede to fill the vacancy on the Santa Fe Irrigation District board.

Creede had been an active voice at SFID meetings and was involved at the RSF Association on the water rates committee and served on the infrastructure committee and the technology committee.

He was appointed by the county board of supervisors in July.

July

On July 13, the state announced a reopening rollback—a shut down of indoor operations such as places of worship, restaurant dining, gyms and other business uses.

In the RSF Association election that was pushed from May to the summer, five candidates vied for two open seats: incumbent Rick Sapp, Ted Butz, Greg Gruzdowich, Paul Seitz and Mike Sperlinga.

The election would also include the Covenant modification that would allow the Village Church to install a columbarium. On July 2, the RSF Association board voted 6-1 to direct Manager Christy Whalen to vote in favor of the proposed change. Director Laurel Lemarie voted in opposition as she said she believes in strictly following the intent of the Covenant.

Rancho Santa Fe resident Joyce Tang started the grassroots campaign Quarantine Hair Share to help make free wigs for children with medical hair loss.

As Tang said, the global pandemic has severely affected the donations collected by charities, causing many to struggle to survive. With the stay-at-home measures, many people have also not been able to get a haircut.

“Our hair has continued to grow while we quarantine at home and social distance these past few months,” said Tang. “By donating to those in need, we can make our first post-quarantine haircuts more meaningful and bring a bit of joy and positivity to 2020.”

The RSF Association approved a new regulatory code chapter on solar energy systems at the July 2 board meeting. The vote was 5-2 with Vice President Mike Gallagher and Director Sharon Ruhnau opposed.

The new regulatory code chapter on solar establishes some requirements for solar systems to minimize the visual impact on neighbors while adhering to new state standards. The policy addresses the elevations, screening, color and maximum height of ground and roof-mounted solar projects in the Ranch.

The RSF School District pursued a waiver to reopen in-person school in the fall.

Superintendent Donna Tripi and the board believe that with their comprehensive reopening plan that follows the state guidelines, they can do everything they can to keep students and staff safe. As Tripi has said, they are in a unique position to be able to reopen safely with the campus’ large classroom spaces, commitment to small class sizes, ample outdoor space and the custodial staff to accomplish the required cleaning and sanitation practices.

“The number one driving factor is what is best for the kids,” said board member Tyler Seltzer. “I am convinced and remain convinced that the single best thing for the students of this school district is to reopen the school and get them back on campus and in the classroom.”

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

On July 28, the San Diego Public Library announced its collaboration with the international Robert Frost Society, creating a permanent new home for the Society at the downtown Central Library. The Central Library will become a permanent center for research and study of the celebrated American poet’s work and collections of his rare books and letters—it is the first home base for the Society since its founding in 1978.

The idea was put into motion just last year by Robert Hurley, a Rancho Santa Fe writer and businessman, who gained the support of San Diego businessmen and civic leaders Art Flaming, Malin Burnham and Mel Katz.

“Together, we have adopted the Society and, like the moon in a Frost poem, ‘put it shining’ in San Diego,” Hurley said.

August

Rick Sapp and Greg Gruzdowich were elected to the Rancho Santa Fe Association Board of Directors. A total of 1,233 ballots were cast, representing a voter turnout of 37%

Outgoing board member Steve Dunn was recognized for his service on the board over the last three years. Dunn will continue serving the community as a newly elected member of the RSF Golf Club Board of Directors.

The Association board approved a new regulatory code regarding the use of wood in new home builds and remodels. The vote was 5-1-1 with Director Laurel Lemarie opposed and Bill Strong abstaining.

“We’ve been criticized as a board for getting involved with this process of giving guidance to the Art Jury,” said new board President Mike Gallagher. “And there have been criticisms of the Art Jury over many decades that there has been inconsistency in the application of the rules. This board has an obligation to provide clarity as much as possible and to give guidance to the Art Jury. We don’t want to be doing this, we have an obligation to be doing this.”

San Dieguito announced it would start the entirety of the first quarter of the school year with distance learning. The district’s position had not changed since July. When the district was allowed to bring students on campus in small groups, they prioritized special education students, English language learners, high-risk students and students with inadequate learning environments and those who were credit deficient.

The San Dieguito board approved the $5.2 million purchase of 13,300 Chromebooks at its Aug. 18 meeting. The vote was 3-2 with Vice President Mo Muir and Clerk Melisse Mossy opposed.

The touchscreen devices were funded from the $6.3 million the district has received in state and federal learning loss mitigation funds. The majority of the funds, $5.1 million, needed to be used by December 2020. The board received several public comments questioning the need for the Chromebook purchase and whether the money could’ve been used for other things the district needs for the safe reopening of schools.

R. Roger Rowe students back at school in August.

R. Roger Rowe was the first public school in the county to welcome students back for in-person instruction on Aug. 24. Students gave positive reviews of the different kind of school year in a video shown to the board in September:

“It’s fun, we’ve been off of school for awhile and it’s good to go back and see our friends again.”

“It’s kind of weird because we have zones and can’t play with other kids but I think it’s actually pretty nice,” said one student on the playground

The Solana Beach School District approved a proactive COVID-19 testing program for students and staff on Sept. 10. The partnership with UC San Diego Health will provide an additional health and safety measure as they prepare to welcome students back to in-person learning in a three-day-a-week hybrid model.

“We’re going above and beyond because we want to protect the health and safety of not only the children but also the adults on our campuses,” Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger said. “We want to make sure that the adults and our students have those maximum safety precautions.”

Funding for three Rancho Santa Fe roundabouts was included in the San Diego County Board of Supervisors budget. On Aug. 25, the board approved allocating $3 million toward getting roundabouts at the Del Dios Highway/Paseo Delicias intersections of Via de la Valle, El Montevideo and El Camino del Norte shovel ready. The work will include completing the preliminary design and right of way acquisitions —it is estimated it will take another two years to have the project in construction.

September

Chief Matt Wellhouser celebrated his 40-year anniversary of serving on the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol.

“I never intended to stay for 40 years. When I started, I was 23 years old, I thought ‘I’ll work here for a couple years’,” Wellhouser said. “I think it just grew on me, it is a great place to work.”

On Sept. 24 San Dieguito parents and students took to the street, protesting the continuation of distance learning for students. At the end of the rally, they stacked their signs on the district office’s doorsteps leaving the collective message that they wanted schools reopened and that they wanted to be heard.

Families protested San Dieguito's continued distance learning.

The RSF Association continued to take a proactive approach in helping to keep its community fire-safe by approving a second phase with FireWatch, a service designed to empower communities to take action to reduce wildfire risk by identifying high-risk zones through aerial imaging.

October

In October, the RSF Association board approved committing $48,000 toward the next phase, a landowner defensible space mapping project that will provide valuable information for every resident in the Covenant. The neighboring Fairbanks Ranch Homeowners Association has also signed up for FireWatch.

A resolution passed by the San Dieguito board on Oct. 14 represented a shift in the district’s thinking regarding reopening, allowing them to move toward bringing students back to in-person school one to two days a week by second quarter. The board directed staff to move forward creating plans that could allow for middle school students to return to one day a week for in-person instruction in November.

“We believe these are reasonable goals, we believe it’s reflective of what we’ve heard from the community,” Haley said. “Setting those dates is a goal. I do believe that our students want to see some hope.”

A couple of weeks later, those target opening dates were extended to Jan. 4.

November
RSF Association Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki presented a new timeline for all regulatory code updates, a multi-step process that ensures that the membership is engaged and involved in the issues that impact the community.

“We recognize that it’s important that we put a process into place the provides for better communication of the intent and the substance of the regulations,” Babaki said. “We also put a process in place to receive and circulate a summary of different viewpoints that are expressed by the members.”

After 48 years, the Rancho Santa Fe Barber Salon reopened under new ownership with a brand new look. New owner Juleah Roll, a native of North Dakota, comes from a long line of hairstylists.

The RSF School District approved a new testing agreement with UC San Diego Health to provide symptomatic COVID-19 testing of staff and students. At this time, none of the board members supported surveillance testing for students.

The Solana Beach School District continued to move forward with its timeline to get more students back in school more days. Kindergarten students returned to a new four-day schedule on Nov. 9 and were joined by first graders on Dec. 7. The timeline remains in place for second graders to return four days on Jan. 11 and third graders on Jan. 25.

District and site committees are at work on a plan for phasing in grades 4-6 four days a week, targeting a February 2021 return.

The November Rancho Santa Fe School board election saw no incumbents in the race—Tyler Seltzer stepped away from the board after nine years and Sarah Neal and President Scott Kahn wrapped up four year terms.

The seven candidates for the three seats included Christopher Blatt, Jason Karches, Rosemarie Rohatgi, Annette Ross, Paul Seitz, John Tree and Ellen Williams.

Ross, Rohatgi and Tree were elected.

In San Dieguito’s trustee area 4, Michael Allman faced Jane Lea Smith for 24-year board member Joyce Dallessandro’s seat. Allman won by 326 votes.

Incumbents Dana King and Julie Union were elected to the Solana Beach School District board.

December
The RSF School District board approved providing re-entry testing for all staff following the winter break but the board did not have majority support for similar asymptomatic surveillance testing for students.

Superintendent Tripi said she would like the board to revisit the issue of asymptomatic testing for students after they meet with UC San Diego Heath again in January: “The Health and Hygiene committee really feel like this is important, especially after winter break.”

The RSF Association proposed new rules for the Osuna Ranch property including operating hours, access points and identifying areas where visitors are not permitted due to its use as a working horse ranch. The new policy will be posted for 28 days for member input and will come back before the board in February 2021 for final approval.

Horse boarding and shows will be suspended at Del Mar Horsepark in 2021, according to an announcement by the Del Mar Fairgrounds that surprised trainers, show organizers and other local equestrians. Those who oppose the decision plan to address the fair board during its next meeting on Jan. 12.

The RSF Association did not receive enough votes on the proposed Covenant modification that would have allowed the Village Church to install a columbarium. The August vote deadline from the summer RSF Association election was extended twice with the latest deadline on Dec. 4. According to Manager Christy Whalen, they received just over 900 ballots of the 2,000 that were sent out.

On Dec. 15 the San Dieguito board voted 3-2 in favor of a resolution that expanded school reopening. Students were expected to return to one-day a week instruction on Jan. 4 and full-time, five day a week school by the first day of the third quarter on Jan. 27.

The resolution was met by student protests, more teachers requesting leaves or accommodations and a lawsuit filed against the district by the California Teachers Association and the San Dieguito Faculty Association. At a Dec. 28 special meeting, the board ratified a settlement agreement with the union, which required the board to rescind its reopening resolution, meaning that there will be no movement toward bringing more students back to campus for in-person instruction likely until the county is out of the purple tier.

Marlene King resigned from the Santa Fe Irrigation District board after six years of service.

“I loved serving the interests of the customers in Division 3,” King said. “It was a very difficult decision to resign with two years left of my term.”

The board accepted King’s resignation on Dec. 17 and started the procedure to appoint a replacement—they have 60 days to fill the position.

The Rancho Santa Fe Historical Society started the year with plans to erect a statue honoring Lilian Rice, the woman who designed the Rancho Santa Fe village almost 100 years ago.

The hope was for the statue in the village green to be unveiled at Rancho Days in September. As the year unfolded, Rancho Days was canceled and the statue’s unveiling was moved to December.

The society had hoped to celebrate “Lilian Rice Day” with the community in December but in light of the pandemic, the official dedication and celebration of the life and work of Rice was moved to May 15, 2021.


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