Homeowners take control of Cielo association board

A few days before Americans celebrated the Fourth of July to mark the nation’s birthday, homeowners in the Rancho Santa Fe community of Cielo Estates marked their own independence, as they elected a homeowners association board on which they hold the majority.

The June 29 board election came after three members of the association board appointed by the community’s developer, Rancho Cielo Estates Ltd., stepped down from their seats, in the wake of a settlement of a lawsuit filed by homeowners against the developer.

The settlement of the 2013 lawsuit was reached in February. Among the points of the settlement was that homeowners would be able to elect all five members of the homeowners association board, and that the developer would sign a contract within 90 days to build a secondary access road into the community.

“This is historic,” said Mike Noorani, one of the homeowners who sued the developer, of the board election. “For the first time in the community, the homeowners have taken charge of the homeowners association. That’s why June 29 is Cielo Independence Day.”

Efforts to contact representatives of the developer for comment were unsuccessful.

In the June 29 election, five people ran for four open seats on the board. The winners, in order, were Harlan Reese, Richard Brown, Sam Chebeir and Jeff Schwall. Schwall, an incumbent, won a one-year term, while the other three won two-year terms. The fifth board member, Ralph Genovese, comes up for election next year. Homeowners said Schwall is a developer representative on the board.

The HOA board is set to meet for an orientation session on July 20, said Chebeir, a businessman who is one of the new board members.

Chebeir, who owns a lot in Cielo and is building a home there, said residents have been unhappy with the homeowners association for a number of reasons.

“The HOA was going the wrong direction, it was here to serve the developer,” said Chebeir. “Going forward, we’re going to see where things went wrong and correct them.”

One example, he said, was an architectural review committee that allowed construction that violated the terms of the covenants, conditions and restrictions, or CC&Rs, of the community.

“We need to enforce the guidelines,” said Chebeir. In the past, he said, the committee “basically waived the guidelines and allowed substandard construction.”

Another area the board will look at, he said, is the day-to-day operation of the homeowners association by the association’s management company.

“The expenses (of the HOA) are on the high side,” he said.

Chebeir said he would like the board to look at the management of the HOA to determine if any changes should be made.

“I’m looking forward to working with the board and making a difference,” Chebeir said. “Hopefully we can make positive changes and put things in the right direction.”

According to Noorani, about two-thirds of the eligible homeowners voted in the election, and 94 percent of them voted for new board members.

“That shows total unity,” he said.