By Joe Tash
The proposed sale of the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club building to the Rancho Santa Fe Association for $2.4 million still has a number of hurdles to clear before it goes through, club members were told at an informational session on Feb. 26.
“We’re not halfway there yet,” RSF Garden Club Executive Vice President Steve DiZio told the group of about 30 people who turned out for the meeting at the club building.
Among the approvals still needed are a second vote by the Association membership, another vote by Garden Club members, and a sign-off by the state Attorney General’s office.
Although Association members voted overwhelmingly in favor of the purchase agreement last year, a petition turned in on Thursday, Feb. 27, has triggered a vote on whether to overturn the Association board’s 4-3 approval of the deal on Feb. 6. The RSF Association has verified that the 100-signature threshold has been met, so a vote of the membership will be held. Date is still to be determined.
Lisa Bartlett, who turned in the petition to the Association and helped gather signatures, said she voted for the proposal last year and has not decided if she would support it again. But she said members should make the final decision about the purchase once all the information is in, including an updated appraisal, which should be completed within the next couple of weeks.
“When we’re talking multi-million-dollar deals, the membership should have a vote, rather than it be decided by the board of directors,” she said.
Some of the 170 members who signed the petition actually favor the deal, some want more facts and some are opposed, Bartlett said. “I believe it’s a very mixed bag.” She noted that three of the seven Association board members also favored a vote by the Association members on the final outline of the deal.
RSF Garden Club officials said they also must allow their members to vote on the proposal again, due to changes in the agreement since the last vote, when 92 percent supported the deal.
“We want this to be transparent,” said Garden Club board member Fred Wasserman.
The proposed purchase price was established following two independent appraisals. The third appraisal, now underway, will both assess the overall fairness of the deal and update the earlier appraisals.
Supporters of the deal, including Garden Club officials, said the sale to the Association of the 6,000-square-foot building, located directly across the street from the Association office, would preserve the building for community use, allow the club to focus on philanthropy instead of managing the property, and create a “Community Enhancement Fund” that could make grants to worthy causes.
But some in the community have questioned whether the Association should spend its money on the purchase.
Last April, 667 of 785 votes — or 85 percent — supported the deal. A new vote by Association members will cost about $7,000.
Rich Cusack, who attended the Garden Club meeting, said the proposed deal is a “community win” because it allows local residents to have use of the Garden Club facility, provides additional parking for Association use and creates the charitable fund.
“I think this is a critical asset, uniquely located, right in the heart of the village,” Cusack said.
DiZio said he is disappointed by the opposition that has come up, but acknowledged that Association members must approve of the deal.
“If the community doesn’t want it, we can’t force them to take it,” he said.
Under the terms of the proposed deal, the Garden Club would have priority use of the building for 14 days each year, and could hold additional events if space is available. The group would lease a basement area that houses its resale shop, and also be able to use upstairs office and storage space.
A recently added provision would allow the Association to terminate the agreement with a majority vote of the membership.
Proceeds of the sale would establish the “Garden Club Community Enhancement Fund” with the Rancho Santa Fe Foundation, and a committee of Association, Garden Club and Foundation members would review grant requests.
According to the presentation by DiZio on Feb. 26, if the deal goes through, the Garden Club would be able to spend between $80,000 and $300,000 per year on charitable causes.
Bartlett said Association members need to weigh in on whether the money should be spent on the Garden Club, or other projects that have been discussed in the community such as a pool and exercise center, bringing recycled water to the golf course, or purchasing open space.
She said she hopes that if the vote goes forward, members will receive a neutral analysis from the Association, along with pro and con statements by supporters and opponents.
If the deal with the Association does not go through, DiZio said, the club could end up putting the building on the market, with the potential that it could come under private ownership, and cease to be available to the community. The club would also have fewer restrictions on using proceeds from the sale, he said.