Comments pour in during Rancho Santa Fe town hall session on proposed pool and fitness center

As the Rancho Santa Fe Association continues the professional planning phase on a potential pool and fitness center, some residents worry whether the community can spare the water.

As Rancho Santa Fe weathers the worst drought in California history, RSF Association Manager Bill Overton said several people have written to the Association and requested them to put an immediate halt to the pool project.

At the April 16 pool and fitness town hall meeting, resident Ole Prahm said it is foolish to talk about building a pool that will take 280,000 gallons of water to fill when everyone has been asked to conserve water and he has 2 1/2 acres of lemon trees dying. He referred to how those in Rancho Santa Fe have been “castigated” as water wasters, and said that it’s now up to them to set a good example for the rest of the city.

“Put this on the table and bring it up again when we’ve got water,” Prahm said.

With the drought, some California cities and water districts are banning filling pools or restricting new pool construction, such as in Montecito. However, Overton noted information from experts that says even without a pool cover, which cuts water loss from evaporation, a pool uses less water over three years than a turf lawn of the same size. Pools are significantly less wasteful than grass and about as efficient as drought-tolerant landscaping.

According to pool and fitness committee member Tim Parillo, a four-lane dedicated lap pool plus a generous recreation area for uses such as water aerobics or children’s play equals a total evaporation rate of about 230 gallons a day, which is one-third of the average daily consumption in Rancho Santa Fe.

Resident Sarah Neal offered that a community pool facility might entice people to stop filling their backyard pools or not to build any.

Overton said that the concerns about water are being heard and the Association’s Committee on the Natural Environment (CONE) is working on a task force with members from the Santa Fe Irrigation District and Community Services District.

“The Association has taken the continuing drought very seriously and CONE has been very active on all environmental issues, including water conservation,” Overton said.

As with other concerns about the pool and fitness center, from location to cost, Overton encouraged people to let the planning process play out.

“We’re making an effort to be open and transparent, and we’re going to the community every step of the way,” he said.

As pool and fitness committee member Mike Licosati said, the Association chose to proceed in this effort in an open and transparent way when they could opt do the planning and spending all behind closed doors. The decision to spend $350,000 on this professional planning phase was even taken to a community-wide vote, passing in a narrow 762-713 vote.

“In the past, the Association would have spent $3 (million) to $12 million without any community input,” Licosati said, noting instead they are embracing the divided community. “This is a vastly improved process, and I think the board should be congratulated for that.”

On April 16, the Association held a morning and evening session for the pool and fitness center town hall meeting. About 60 people attended the morning session and 100 were at the evening one.

The next steps will include the design team working with the architect and coming up with a site plan, rendering and elevations. The finance team will work on the development and construction budget as well as the financing plan and operational budget.

Another town hall presentation is expected in August or September, with the community-wide vote expected to take place in early 2016.

At the town hall, Rick Coyne from ClubMark went over the results from the recent survey and focus groups. The group had 557 respondents to the survey on potential amenities for the facility.

The most wanted amenities were cardio equipment (91 percent), free weights (88 percent) and strength training equipment (87 percent). Both a lap pool and cardio classes received 79 percent of the vote.

The least-valued amenities were an enclosed pool (37 percent), spa services (55 percent) and a hot tub (58 percent).

Coyne said the community seems to be split 50-50 on the pool with people “vehemently for it” and “vehemently against it.” He said younger families want to use the facilities, while golfers tend to be more against the project.

Some have opinions that fall somewhere in the middle — that the facility could be a good thing as long as it doesn’t “destroy” the golf and tennis club and what makes Rancho Santa Fe so special.

Some members said they travel to gyms such as LA Fitness to work out, but would prefer to have a place close to home that they could walk or bike to, a place where they could get to know their neighbors.

One Rancho Santa Fe resident of 18 months said it’s important to remember that people moving into the community are younger and younger and want a place to go with their families.

Another resident, Meredith Garner, said, “The beauty of the health club is everyone can use it. It pulls us all together in a positive, community way.”

Through their numerous meetings and focus groups, the committee has heard many concerns about parking as well as soils and the water table at the site.

A soil study is expected to be complete in June or July, and if it is not feasible to build there, the pool effort could end at that point.

Another recurring issue is “keeping the rural nature of Rancho Santa Fe,” Coyne said, referring to the quietness of the golf course and the tennis club. “Once a proposal is developed, it will be more feasible to address these issues.”

Many questioned why the golf and tennis campus is the only possible location for the pool. Board member Heather Slosar said the Osuna Ranch is often brought up as a potential location.

As Slosar explained, the Osuna is zoned residential and the only way to change the zoning is to gather signatures from 68 percent of surrounding residents. In the past, the Association tried to gather that 68 percent for a park and a home for the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol and were unsuccessful.

The only property zoned for recreation is the tennis and golf club campus. In the past, there was an attempt to rezone the soccer fields, which was not possible. Slosar said it was hard enough just to get 68 percent approval for the play structure there, and Overton said they also frequently get complaints about the restroom building on the field property.

“There’s a lot of neighbor sensitivity, which makes it very problematic to pursue rezoning,” Overton said. “We’re going to see if we can make it work on the golf and tennis campus. We may not be able to, but that is the task ahead of us for the next few months.”

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