By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club has been called a “community treasure.” It’s a place where activities like Mahjong potlucks are held, where resale steals can be found in the basement Shoppe, and it’s one of the only large enough venues in town for the community’s graduations and meetings.
But the management of the clubhouse has become a problem — there is not enough money or volunteer manpower to manage the clubhouse the way it should be.
About 50 people attended a workshop at the Garden Club on July 21 to discuss possible solutions for the future of the clubhouse. Options initially on the table, according to the club board, included selling the building, leasing unused time to an outside interest, or the club entering a partnership with another organization.
Right away, the group dispelled the idea that they would sell the clubhouse.
“It was never our intention to sell,” said board president Helen Dizio. “This is a very important part of our community, one of the best pieces of property, one of the best buildings and we want to make sure the community realizes that.”
The club board’s intention with the workshop was to see what the interest of the community is regarding the club and what they would like to see it used for. A committee was established on Saturday that will look more thoroughly at the various options and bring their recommendation back to the Garden Club board.
Several people at the meeting remarked on the revitalized club, how Helen Dizio has brought it back to life since she took over in 2010. She and the current board have helped put a social spark back into the club, as well as turn it around financially.
In June of 2010, the club had less than $50,000 in the bank. Now there is almost $400,000. Previously the overhead was $160,225 per year, but Helen Dizio has helped slash it down to $76,000 by trimming paid personnel and various items such as the club’s multiple phone lines.
The club receives a lot of its income from the Upscale Resale Shoppe downstairs, which brings in about $112,000 per year.
“The Shoppe is a real success story,” Steve Dizio said. “We cleaned it up, renovated it and put more standard controls in place.”
Outside events such as bar mitzvahs, weddings, Osher lecture series, Cotillion and other clubhouse rentals bring in about $52,450 per year, while club events like the garden tour generate $20,000 per year. The net income minus the present overhead is $138,450 per year.
A study showed that the building is unused 69 percent of the time— it is used by the community 20 percent of the time, 6 percent by the club itself and 5 percent by rentals.
For now, tireless volunteer hours take care of all the various duties to help the club run like a business. Paid, professional management would require a general manager, a clerical person, an accountant, auditor, someone to open up the building for events or show it to clients, but there isn’t the funding to staff such management.
“The bottom line is we have to find a way to keep this building or find a way to manage it without a board willing to put the time into managing it for free,” Steve Dizio said. “There’s no big line of volunteers coming up behind them. Demographically the world’s changing…Time is not as available to the present younger generation and we have to think about the club not looking backward but looking forward.”
The Garden Club owns the clubhouse and there is no debt and no deed restrictions on selling. A private appraisal done in 2011 valued the building at $2,640,000.
In looking at the possible solutions, selling the club wasn’t deemed a realistic option, as it would mean the Garden Club would lose its building and immeasurable community value.
“I think we can afford the luxury of an empty building,” said one 40-year Garden Club member. “This is the only thing we have for the whole community. So many times when there’s been no other place to hold something, we had it here.”
Many seemed to be in favor of partnering with another group, such as the RSF Association or The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.
In exchange for management, the partnering group could use the facility however they wanted while still giving the Garden Club access.
“The partnership concept is a win-win situation. Someone else maintains the building, we still keep the club and add more membership,” said Camille Zeleny, a Shoppe volunteer. She said it doesn’t make sense to continue on as they have been, “pulling teeth” to get the necessary volunteer hours or spending money they don’t have on a paid manager.
Many liked the idea of the Association as a partner while others saw The Inn as a great potential partner.
“Let them take (the building) on a special events basis,” said Louise Smith-Peters, a member since 1977. “They have their own special events people that know what they’re doing, let them go after the weddings.”
Others were still not sure about partnerships.
“I believe this organization is a cornerstone and landmark for Rancho Santa Fe and I think our independence is important,” said John Peck. “I don’t want to hook up with anyone.”
Peck proposed increasing membership dues (currently dues are $8 a month) and bringing on a paid manager.
Helen Dizio said anytime that they have brought on a paid manager it has gone downhill.
“The best way to run the club is with member volunteers. The success we’ve had the last couple of years has been because of the people at this table,” she said, motioning to the board. “But we’re a very small group. The problem is (the lack of) volunteers.”
Resident Jackie Blank asserted that the “person power” they need is just going to be harder to find. Blank agreed that a paid manager would be more viable because the club is not going to get the volunteers that existed in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
Bill Schlosser, a longtime Rancho Santa Fe resident, said that something also needs to be done about the declining membership. Membership is down to 350 and the club should do more to reach out to new people.
Resident Lois Jones said that one problem is people don’t even know how to become new members, admitting that for a long time she believed you had to be invited.
Jones said so many great things have happened at the club since 2010 and they don’t want to lose that momentum.
“We need to make people aware what a beautiful jewel we have and how they can participate,” Jones said.
For more information on the RSF Garden Club and how to become a member, visit www.rsfgardenclub.org