County extends review period for RSF Golf Club grading permit

The Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club under construction in 2021.
(Laurel Lemarié)

The County of San Diego is currently reviewing a major grading permit for the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Club renovation, addressing grading that has already been done (40,250 cubic yards of excavation work completed in 2021) as well as covering future work on the course’s driving range and short game areas.

According to the county, about 12 acres were graded in violation and the proposed additional grading work makes up about 10 acres—the county is unable to bifurcate the future work from the violation and must consider the project as a whole.

The grading permit application had an original deadline for public comments of Jan. 19 but it has been extended to Feb. 10 at the request of the San Dieguito Community Planning Group. The planning group’s Chair Douglas Dill said the extension will allow the board and community members more time to review the permit and provide comments at its regularly scheduled Feb. 9 meeting.

The first phases of the $6.4 million RSF Golf Club renovation were completed last year, including the full turf replacement on the fairways, a new irrigation system and reshaped bunkers. The upgrades to the putting green and driving range areas were part of the original plans for the course remodel but the work was halted after the county received complaints from the community and it was determined that a major grading permit was required.

Conor McGee, planning manager with the county’s code compliance division, said the county received the initial complaint on June 28, 2021 and a stop work order was issued on Aug. 13.

According to the planning group’s recent letter to the county, members had numerous complaints regarding the grading and work on the course. Concerns included construction being done outside of normal work hours and on holidays like Memorial Day and July 4, significant amounts of dust being generated without the use of a water tender, “excessive” construction noise, construction debris and waste accumulating near residents’ homes, “hazardous” conditions on the trails and “significant” tree removals.

The planning board’s letter also stated that an Association member had observed grading continue after the stop work order. At the planning group’s Jan. 18 special meeting, McGee said that was not the case: “Based on what we saw with follow-up, there was not massive amounts of earthwork, we didn’t observe any further violation.”

The planning group has questions about if penalties were enforced and what happened in the time frame between September 2021 and the January 2023 application notice for the grading permit. Planning board member Joseph Zagara said the violation was “egregious” and he had serious concerns about how such a significant amount of work could have been completed without a grading permit.

“I’m comfortable with the proposed work because I know it will be done with best management practices, I have no worries about that,” said planning board member Laurel Lemarié, a past member of the RSF Association board. Lemarie’ said her concerns revolved around the damages that neighbors had to endure.

Todd Huizinga, who became the general manager of the golf club in January 2021, said over the past year he has been working very closely with the county and with FEMA on this project. One of the main requirements for the county grading permit was to perform a map revision of the FEMA floodplain, which has been completed.

“Really what we’ve tried to do from the golf club and Association perspective is really work hand in hand with the county to make sure we are addressing all of the concerns and be in full compliance in terms of any remediation efforts,” Huizinga said. “It’s every commitment and intention that we have to retroactively address these concerns, to the point where I think we have more than satisfied the county.”

The extension would be a “devastating delay” for the golf club and Huizinga asked respectfully for the county not to push back the date. The extension pushes the club out of its contractor’s availability window—the next phase of work is expected to take 90 days to complete and the contractor will not be available after April 16, when they will start work on another two-year project.

“We have a couple million dollars tied up in phase three of the project so the timing of this extension is of grave concern to us,” Huizinga said.