RSF Association board considers revising Art Juror qualifications

The Rancho Santa Fe Association's administrative offices.
(Karen Billing)

The Rancho Santa Fe Association board had a lengthy and lively discussion on Sept. 7 centered around how new volunteers are selected to serve on the Art Jury that reviews architectural and development projects in the Covenant.

Director Phil Trubey brought forward a proposal to repeal the board’s current resolution on the Art Jury nomination process, getting rid of some criteria that he said were stringent and limiting. Backed only by President Courtney LeBeau and Vice President Dan Comstock, his motion failed 5-2. With two openings on the Art Jury needing to be filled by the end of the year, the hope is to clean up the language as soon as possible. Director Jeff Simmons, a former Art Juror, volunteered to come up with a new draft resolution.

“I don’t mind fixing it but I don’t think we should just throw out everything,” Simmons said.

With the existing Board Resolution 2017-111, Trubey said “a previous board wanted to constrain the Rancho Santa Fe Association board president and put extra conditions on what kind of Art Jurors the board president can appoint.”

The Protective Covenant (PC) has very simple language regarding the Art Jury selection: the Art Jury is to be composed of five members appointed by the president from a list of members nominated by the board. The list must include at least two names in excess of the number of appointments to be made. The only criteria given for the Art Jury candidate is that they are a member of the Association—there is also no criteria given on how to create a candidate list, no mention of interviews.

The board resolution approved in 2017 includes requirements for Art Jury candidates including that they have no pending projects, that they have been a resident for at least three years, they must have attended at least one prior Art Jury meeting and must “demonstrate knowledge” of the Covenant although it does not describe what that knowledge entails. It spells out a process in which self-nominations are received by September, interviews held in November and appointments are made by the board president in December—the resolution says that the board president shall consult with the president of the Art Jury before appointing anyone.

The language in the resolution is dated and still says Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) and not Art Jury. The board changed the Art Jury name in 2013 in an attempt to soften the group’s perception and more clearly define the experience. The board voted to revert back to the Art Jury name in 2019.

The resolution also references board liaisons which the board no longer has.

Trubey said the main reason he thinks the resolution should be tossed is that the language in the PC is more than sufficient for appointing an Art Juror.

“The PC already lays it out,” agreed Comstock. “It doesn’t need to be so binding.”

Trubey noted that board presidents in the last two years have been “tripped up” by the language because it’s so complicated. In 2021, there was an outcry over former president Bill Weber’s appointee as the candidate had allegedly brought controversial projects before the Art Jury in the past and there were allegations about conflicts of interest. Weber then rescinded his appointment.

This year, there was an objection to former president Comstock’s appointee as the candidate did not meet the three-year residency requirement and was deemed ineligible for not having attended a previous Art Jury meeting despite experience serving on a design review committee.

“It created ill will between the Art Jury and the board president the way it is written,” said LeBeau of the backlash she hopes to avoid with her appointments this year.

After the 2021 incident, former directors Weber and Laurel Lemarie were tasked with updating the resolution but it never was brought back before the board.

With the new or revised resolution, Simmons believes there should be some criteria for candidates. He agrees with candidates attending one prior meeting so they can understand what they are getting into—sometimes meetings can stretch all day long. And he did not agree with a suggestion to lower the residency requirement from three years to one year, which is all that is required by the state to serve on the board of directors.

“If you’re only here a year, you don’t understand Rancho Santa Fe yet,” Simmons said. “(The Art Jury) is the most important committee, it’s more important than us in my opinion and if you don’t have some good connection to the community, I don’t think you’re going to make the best choices.”

As evidenced in that day’s board meeting, serving on the Art Jury is a complicated job. The board heard a homeowner appeal of an Art Jury decision to remove a structure for equestrian and agricultural use that was built within a setback without approval. The board was conflicted but ultimately voted 5-2 to deny the appeal. Director David Gamboa assured the residents that as Covenant members they are family and that the decision wasn’t personal but as Trubey plainly stated: “You cannot do everything you want on all properties.”

In the meeting that day, the Art Jury process was described as both a “gauntlet” and “unfriendly” and the job of an Art Juror as an important one, if not extremely difficult. Past boards have attempted reforms for more oversight, improved consistency in decisions and even tried a rebranding with the name change. This board, like many before it, hopes to make the process the best that it can.

“Every friend that I know in my 23 years of living here always says ‘Why is the Art Jury process so hard?’ Not everybody has the same answer but it’s a good question that maybe after 96 years this board can actually tackle it,” Gamboa said. “There’s got to be a better way to steward our family business.”