RSF Association board to weigh its Osuna Ranch options

Graham Fields riding Joli, led by Kimberly Hart at the Celebrate Osuna event.
(Jon Clark)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board has started a conversation on the future of the Osuna Ranch.

After a hearty board and member discussion at the June 13 meeting about maintenance, property enhancements or even a potential sale, the board directed Manager Dominique Albrecht to come back in July with some options for the Osuna moving forward.

“If we’re going to make it a premier horse facility that we’re proud of …we need to up our game,” said Board Vice President Courtney LeBeau. “We need to make a decision and a commitment.

“This will be a hot topic going forward.”

The Association purchased the 28-acre Osuna property in 2006 for $12 million with the goal to protect open space, prevent subdivision and preserve the historic adobe. A three-acre parcel with a home was split off and sold in 2013 leaving behind 25 acres— currently, the ranch is home to a 50-horse boarding facility and the historic Osuna Adobe.

The adobe sits where it has since about 1831, on the property once owned by Juan María Osuna, San Diego’s first mayor—it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2017.

It was Association Director Phil Trubey who brought the Osuna item to the agenda, to share his serious concerns about maintenance of the property.

“Osuna as a horse-keeping facility has been degrading over time and in danger of turning into a really low-rent facility that isn’t in keeping with what Rancho should be,” Trubey said.

Trubey said as it stands now, he believes the stabling needs improvements beyond what the ranch can charge its boarders in monthly rent. He said he is not trying to be an enemy of the Osuna but he wants to ensure it doesn’t fall apart from a maintenance perspective. His rough estimate to bring the facilities up to grade was that it would take about $500,000 but the question for the board is where the financing would come from and if they even should.

“I would like for the board to make a decision: what are we going to do with Osuna?” Trubey said. “In my opinion, we can’t just keep doing what we’ve been doing because it is falling apart.”

Another option Trubey pitched for the board to consider is selling the property with a with a deed-restriction so that it would remain a horse stable.

In her comments, Director Lorraine Kent noted that the property was purchased with open space funds and is the Association’s only open space property that is self-funded, using no assessments or general fund dollars.

“The sole intent when they purchased this was open space, to preserve an important historical resource to not only the Rancho Santa Fe community but the greater San Diego area,” Kent said.

Kent was clear that she would not support selling open space: “I don’t believe open space should be tampered with.”

Kent recognized the Osuna Committee’s efforts to improve and maintain the property over the last few years, taking on projects such as repainting the barn, putting in new footing for the jumping arena, new fencing and the recent addition of shade structures. A grant from the RSF Garden Club helped the Association make landscaping improvements and add a new trail and seating spaces.

In 2018, the Osuna Committee developed a master plan developed for the expanded use of the property that has been mostly shelved. The plan involves moving the horeskeeping to the south end of the property and developing a historical park with a multi-use community barn fully funded by donations and fundraising opportunities. Per the plan, the barn amenity could provide rental space with a catering kitchen for weddings, events and other programming.

Kate Williams, a member of the Osuna Committee, disagreed with Trubey’s assessment of the maintenance needs required. She said the equestrian facility is “superbly managed”, home to Hap Hanson Stables’ high-quality training facility— recently a Covenant horse and rider competed at Devon Horse Show in Pennsylvania and brought a grand championship home to Rancho Santa Fe.

Williams said the committee’s vision has been to respect the property’s historic past while creating a vibrant community resource—they would love the opportunity to advance their master plan for the ranch.

Before making any decisions, Director Scott Thurman said the board should revisit that master plan.

What to do with the Osuna Ranch is not a new topic. Past Association boards have twice looked into various options to sell and have opted not to move forward. Outgoing Treasurer Rick Sapp said that it is difficult to acquire land of that size and the board shouldn’t dispose of it just for money, it would likely just get developed.

The historic adobe in particular he said makes the land more valuable and has meaning.

“I like that building as a reminder that we do have history here… we’re not just another planned community with a golf course,” Sapp said.

While he will no longer be on the board to make the decision, Sapp encouraged the board to look at what is needed to invest in the property and find ways to support the facility to make sure it reflects well on the community.

During public comment, resident Joan Caratan Lenny, a finance committee member, spoke out against the claims that the ranch is a drag on the Association’s finances and that keeping it could result in increased dues. Per the 2023-24 budget, she said the Osuna generates $125,000 of income after expenses, reflecting a 15% profit margin.

She cautioned about the proposal for a deed-restricted sale as deed restrictions are increasingly being lifted by judges as the state looks to solve the affordable housing problem with more dense housing. As evidenced by the recent Celebrate Osuna event, she said the property has the potential to be so much more—sharing ideas for a natural landscape playground, dog park or a natural amphitheater.

“It is indeed the most historic part of historic Rancho Santa Fe…it’s 25 open acres of pastoral space, not easy to find these days in the heart of our town,” Caratan Lenny said. “Even after living here for seven years I still get a little thrill seeing the horses grazing there as I drive by and that I live in such a beautiful and unique landscape.”