Inn issue raises questions of Rancho Santa Fe Association process, staff

At the Rancho Santa Fe Association board’s April 7 meeting, Rancho Santa Fe Association President Ann Boon addressed an issue raised by the public regarding the process surrounding a proposed condominium project at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.

Boon said the board wanted to thank the members who expressed concerns about the subdivision and related boundary adjustment submitted by Inn owner JMI — a petition signed by 200 residents requested that the item be placed on the agenda.

The item was not on the agenda but Boon gave a statement on the topic and the reasons why it wasn’t an agenda item during her president’s report.

“This presents the perfect opportunity for your board to demonstrate the transparency we promised when we took office,” Boon said.

Boon explained that staff began a review of all relevant minutes and agendas two weeks ago after a member reported hearing that approval of the project had not been processed as the Association’s documents require.

“It appears that the concerns may have been well-founded and I emphasis ‘may’ because the investigation is not complete and because in follow-up questioning different committee and staff members have differing recollections of what transpired,” Boon said.

JMI submitted two projects around the same time in the spring of 2015. One was a subdivision for 13 condo units, which included a boundary adjustment related to The Inn, and the other was a different boundary adjustment that related to a private residence.

Boon said the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC) considered both projects but the identifying information for the parcels was not consistent and materials pertaining to one project were “intermingled” with materials pertaining to the other.

The Association’s regulatory code calls for individual notice and a public hearing — Boon said it may well be that the notices were sent out on the subdivision application but the file doesn’t contain the necessary documentary evidence.

“Because of this, the board has reached out to JMI and explained the problem and secured their very willing agreement to turn the clock back and resume consideration of their application,” Boon said.

The submittal process has essentially been “recreated” – individual notices went out last week and the project will be discussed at the April 26 CDRC meeting. It is anticipated that the public hearing will occur at the May 5 board meeting.

The San Dieguito Planning Group is expected to hear the project at its May 12 meeting.

“We want to emphasize that JMI is not at fault here and we very much appreciate their cooperation and willingness to reset the clock on the project,” Boon said

Boon said at issue is the matter of Association record-keeping. Once alerted to the problem, the board and staff have undertaken an effort to review all applications submitted in spring 2015. Boon said research is ongoing but at present there is no indication of a widespread problem, “rather this appears to be an isolated incident, likely arising from confusion regarding inconsistent identification of the project.”

If the in-house investigation indicates multiple problems Boon said the board will consider appointing an independent investigator as some residents have suggested.

At least one resident, Michael Magerman, said he felt that the Association’s error could not be corrected. He said that while he is a new Covenant resident, he would not be a resident for long.

“It’s disappointing to me and almost unbelievable that you could have a project of this magnitude with this level of visibility and it’s the only one that somehow snuck between the cracks,” Magerman said. “I think that whatever the reason, poor operational control or being complicit in some sort of relationship with JMI or The Inn I don’t care, I’m listing the house.”

Magerman said if the sale of his home is negatively impacted because of the “overhang” of a potential condo development next door, he would pursue legal action with the Association and the board.

“It’s really upsetting to me and I don’t want to be a member of the community anymore,” Magerman said.

Before Boon began her report, RSF resident Bill Hinchy interrupted her and questioned whether she was out of order in discussing a matter that was not on the agenda as the petition group had requested.

Boon told Hinchy he was out of order to question the president and there was a shouting match between some members of board and Hinchy. Hinchy requested RSF Association counsel Mary Howell’s opinion; Howell agreed with Boon that Hinchy was out of order.

During public comment, RSF resident Deb Plummer reiterated the petition’s request that an independent commission made of past presidents and CDRC members look at the project in an attempt to rebuild trust in the Association, especially following the cell towers incident ?(members were concerned when a draft of a cell tower agreement with potential tower locations was leaked to the public. After concerns raised at a town hall meeting, the board sent their technology committee back to the drawing board to explore other alternatives)?.

“I want to be really clear this is not a referendum on The Inn or the project, however, it is a referendum about the Covenant process, the rules and therefore the board,” Plummer said. “It’s strictly about everyone having to follow the same rules and go through the same process.”

RSF resident Lisa Bartlett spoke up on behalf of the board noting that every volunteer committee and board member in the community has to rely on staff. She said no one would have expected to receive information that may have been inaccurate or incomplete.

“If there was an error by staff who is no longer even employed by the Association then I would say that perhaps it was an error but let’s give our board — past and future — a little bit of a break,” Bartlett said.

Marie Addario, a past president of the Association board, said she agreed with Bartlett that the board does rely on staff for accurate information.

“The board is responsible for the staff, for firing and hiring staff, and I think this problem runs deeper than a mistake made by one employee perhaps allegedly. This has to do with the fact that we’re running this organization with a skeletal crew in that office, that we have virtually an Association that is not working and functioning representing the membership due to the poor administration of this board,” Addario said. “ I think this is not merely a surface problem, this runs much deeper and I hope that we will find solutions to this. I don’t know who is going to be running the election…I have no idea who will be doing that in the office because everybody’s gone.”

As Addario referenced, both Manager Bill Overton and Administrator Daria Quay were not in attendance on April 7. According to Communications Manager Christy Whalen, both remain on leave.

In response to the comments about a “skeletal staff,” Director Philip Wilkinson pointed out that the Association has hired three new staff members, including Tom Farrar, the new director of planning who has 40 years of experience in land planning.

Brooke Nichols, the new operation and finance administrative assistant, has stepped up in the absence of Quay and Liza Pasko has been hired as a full-time human resources director. Wilkinson said the Association is fully staffed except for the new vacancy just announced the day before — Kirk Dakan, a senior building official who has been with the Association for 16 years. Dakan is retiring to Salem, Ore., to be closer to his grandchildren.

“I wouldn’t call it a skeleton, I would actually say it’s the opposite,” said Matthew Ditonto, Association controller of the staff. “We’re finally operating as a business where we have the staff abilities to handle the membership demands.”

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