Rancho Santa Fe rewind: reflecting on 2015
2015 was a year of efforts to preserve and conserve—from saving the Rancho Santa Fe village to saving water, saving the community’s character with roundabouts instead of traffic signals and debates about how the addition of a pool and health club could bring a community together.
A look back on the year that was:
• New Manager Bill Overton joined the Association on Jan. 28.
• The $2.8 million sale of the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club to resident Bruce Kleege officially closed. To purchase the club, Kleege went through an interview process with the Garden Club board and was selected as the highest and best offer.
Kleege gave the club a makeover with modern new furniture, carpeting, artwork and window coverings.
• Banc of California opens as the sole tenant of Plaza de Acacias, the village’s first new building in 20 years, on the corner of El Tordo and Avenida de Acacias.
• A resolution formalizing the relationship between the Association and the RSF Golf Club board was approved. The resolution included language that the Association manager is allowed to attend board of governor’s meetings and that the club’s general manager reports to the Association manager.
• Association CFO Steve Comstock leaves the organization.
• Some Rancho Santa Fe residents begin to express concerned about a potential step-down housing project on the 29-acre Mabee property on Calzada del Bosque. Called Rancho Librado, the project consists of 55 age-restricted units and four custom estate lots.
Residents came to the board’s Feb. 5 meeting to assert their opposition during public comment although no formal application had been filed and the Association board had not taken a position on the project. The group presented a petition signed by 120 people.
• The Association approved a new sponsored member category for the RSF Tennis Club, allowing non-residents to join as playing partners for members and pay a premium for the privilege of playing at the club. RSF Tennis Club President Dave Van Den Berg said tennis club membership had rallied from a low point of 189 members to 230 members. Later in the year membership would reach nearly 500.
“This is a turn-around that we haven’t seen in 14 years, that’s phenomenal,” Vice President Craig McAllister said.
• R. Roger Rowe School held a forum on the Spanish program after a 2014 parent petition asked the district to consider bringing back foreign language to the elementary school level.
• The Association board voted to take a big step toward speedier wireless connectivity, approving a consultant contract with Magellan Advisors to work on building a fiber-optic network in the Covenant.
“I think everyone can agree that fast, reliable internet connectivity, or broadband, is crucial to the enhancement of this community,” said board member Philip Wilkinson. “We’d love to see the Covenant brought into the 21st century.”
The consultant contract for $100,000 came out of the Community Enhancement Fund.
• Shockwaves were sent through Rancho Santa Fe as Stump’s Village Market announced they would leave by the end of 2015, ending a 21-year run in the village.
According to Susan Woolley, who owns Plaza de Santa Fe that houses the 10,000 square foot market, Stumps’ move will mark the end of a 21-year run in the village.
The move came after years of legal battles between the market and the landlord of Plaza de Santa Fe, Susan Woolley. The market’s departure in October marked the first time there has been available space to rent in Plaza de Santa Fe since 1974.
• Governor Jerry Brown declared mandatory 25 percent water restrictions statewide.
“We’re asking everyone to reduce their water use by 25 percent,” Santa Fe Irrigation District General Manager Michael Bardin said. “That is going to be hard but it’s serious now. It’s time to sacrifice. The next steps are going to be painful—it’s not irrigating your lawn, it’s changing landscaping.”
• The Association hires Don May as their new controller/CPA.
• During a review of the Association’s accounting department, outside consultants found a significant internal reporting error: Both restricted reserves and free reserves for all the entities within the Association appear to have been miscalculated by about $1.6 million.
The error prompts an accounting practice overhaul. Later in the year, May was promoted to finance and operations manager, Matthew Ditonto was named Association controller and Shawn Roberts the assistant controller.
• A group of R. Roger Rowe parents requested that a committee be formed to examine the possibility of bringing a Parent Teacher Organization back to the school, in addition to the existing RSF Education Foundation. The parents wanted to create better collaboration with the school and a forum to discuss school issues.
• The Association approved providing a crucial missing link through Rancho Santa Fe in the San Dieguito River Park’s Coast to Crest Trail, a 70-mile connection between the beaches of Del Mar to Volcan Mountain in Julian. The missing link was a 1,400 feet trail on the Arroyo Property.
“This is the single most important parks and recreation initiative in the last 20 years,” said board member Philip Wilkinson. “It is phenomenal and this is really important that we cooperate with (the River Park).”
• The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe opened its new bar The Huntsman, a renovation of the Olde Bar off of the Inn’s main lobby. Guests at the Huntsman can choose from a selection of more than 90 whiskeys and bourbons representing seven countries and 17 states.
• Assistant Manager Ivan Holler leaves the Association after nearly eight years.
• The Association holds a series of town hall meetings on the proposed pool and fitness club.
• Mille Fleurs unveiled a new look.
“Everybody loves it, all the regulars are super excited,” said owner Bertrand Hug. “I try to do a remodel every five or six years because I want to show the customers that I care. There’s nothing worse than staying pat all the time, I’m too eager…When you’ve been here for 30 years, you have to keep people interested.”
• The Association held a town hall for community members to weigh in on their preference between roundabouts or traffic signals on three intersections of Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway. In a non-scientific straw poll taken by Manager Overton, of the 156 people in attendance only 11 were in favor of roundabouts and 26 supported maintaining the status quo. The rest, 76 percent of those in attendance, were in favor of installing traffic signals.
• Neighbors for San Dieguito River Valley gave a presentation on Rancho Librado at the Association meeting after gathering 450 signatures in opposition of the step-down housing project, 364 of which are Covenant members. The board approved sending a letter to the county asserting their displeasure with the developer and the route taken to “bypass” the Association.
The developers were not able to attend the May meeting and asked the board to continue the item to a future meeting but the board did not accommodate the request. The developers, Golden Eagle Land Investment, disagreed with the characterization that were sidestepping the Association and said they were working on with the county to bring the property’s entitlements in line with the existing Covenant entitlements.
• A group of residents sat outside of Stump’s Village Market and collected over 1,000 signatures in an effort to save the store. Michelle Weinger, one of the proponents of saving the market made an emotional plea to the Association at its May 7 meeting.
“Members of this community are extremely upset at the possibility of not having the convenience of a grocery store in the village,” Weinger said, noting over the 18 years she has lived here she has watched as small business owners in the “charming and quaint” town have been replaced with banks and real estate offices. “Let’s not let landlords remove our heart and center our of this wonderful haven we call Rancho Santa Fe.”
• The Association gave the county the green light for traffic signals over roundabouts on Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway.
• Public outreach begins on a proposal for the Village Gateway, a new mixed-use project proposed to replace the existing gas station at the entrance to the village at the intersection of Via de Santa Fe and La Granada.
The Village Gateway will include a mix of office and retail use, an underground parking garage, park and patio space and a monument to welcome people into Rancho Santa Fe.
The project’s three-level parking garage would have 138 full size spaces, a surplus over the 88 spaces they would be required to have. Building Commissioner Robert Green said the project faces some similar challenges with Covenant regulations as the controversial Lilian development did many years back.
• The RSF Education Foundation moves forward with a new organizational structure intended to make it stronger with better efficiency, greater transparency and more parent engagement. The new executive board structure includes chairs and vice chairs of annual giving, finance, leadership team, endowment, communication, two at large members, a secretary, Superintendent Lindy Delaney and a school board representative.
The foundation has also added grade level ambassadors as part of the annual giving team and is seeking to hire a paid foundation development director.
• In May, the Osuna Ranch welcomed its first foal born on the ranch since the Association took ownership in 2006. The filly, appropriately named Osuna, was supposed to be birthed at another facility as is customary but she arrived early after the full moon on May 3.
• The RSF Association welcomes Fred Wasserman and Mike Licosati to the board, replacing outgoing board members Rochelle Putnam and Craig McAllister.
• An application is submitted to the Association including plans to split the existing Stump’s Village Market building into two spaces, demolish the existing post office building and construct two new buildings, one of them two stories and the other over an underground parking garage. The plan included moving the post office into half of the former Stump’s building.
• The RSF School Board approves the return of Spanish to elementary classrooms by replacing ocean science and public speaking, giving students foreign language instruction two times a week for a trimester.
By making the substitution, students would not miss out on those subjects as ocean science will be incorporated into science lab and public speaking would be placed in the library as a mandatory part of the curriculum.
• Teachers and staff at R. Roger Rowe see their first salary increase in seven years as the board approved a retroactive three percent off-schedule raise for the 2014-15 school year and a three percent on-schedule salary increase for 2015-16.
• The National Marine Educators Association honored Rowe’s ocean literacy specialist Roberta Dean as its Marine Educator of Year.
• A group of residents concerned about the proposed Covenant Club pool and fitness facility created an independent steering committee, the RSF Homeowners Group. The group says their goals are to ensure that any pool/fitness center is designed in keeping with the “unique ambiance” of the Ranch, is financially sustainable and does not jeopardize the golf and tennis clubs.
• The Association hosted a community drought response meeting featuring conservation alternatives such as the use of drip irrigation and complete overhauls of water-guzzling green lawns.
“Embrace the new Rancho Santa Fe and the changes in our natural landscape,” said Kelly Fore Dixon of Nature. “The days of tropical plants are fading, we’re getting back to a natural plant palette for all of us.”
• Village merchants and representatives from local law enforcement agencies met to discuss how a lack of parking is hurting village businesses. Business owners were requesting more enforcement of parking violators, particularly everyday repeat offenders, in an effort to help what few of them remain keep their doors open.
• The RSF School District hires Barbara Edwards as its new development director.
• The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe discussed plans to build step-down housing in the village by demolishing and redeveloping some existing buildings and adding 13 total dwelling units in several different neighborhood “pods” across the 21 acres they own.
The Inn is subject to a specific plan, approved in 1988 and amended in 2001, which provides for 134 dwelling units. Today they have 99 dwelling units and can add as many as 35.
Residents expressed concerns about the project’s density.
• Communications Manager Christy Whalen joins the Association staff.
• A community-wide meeting was held to hear details on Rancho Librado, the step-down housing project. No project has been submitted to the Association yet but developers Golden Eagle Land Investment felt the need to address the community as an opposition effort has grown as they continue to move through the county process. Neighbors for San Dieguito River Valley Preservation group announced they have gathered 865 signatures against the project. Of the 865, 535 are Covenant members, 125 live in Fairbanks Ranch, 55 live in Whispering Palms and 150 live in other parts of Rancho Santa Fe.
• The Association board approved an additional 42 two-hour timed parking spaces to increase visits to village retail and restaurants and ease potential customers’ frustration in having to endlessly circle to find a spot.
• The Association approved an architectural contract for the newly named Covenant Club as the potential pool and fitness center facility moves through the voter-approved professional planning phase.
Some residents oppose the contract and the location of the club on the golf and tennis club campus.
• The RSF Library unveiled the new Nan Werner Patio and Garden. The library added five benches, two picnic tables and large green umbrellas to the patio to provide seating and shade and a perfect spot to read a book or enjoy a cup of coffee.
A plaque for the Werners was placed at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the patio and garden in October.
• The RSF School Board declined to approve a new policy that would’ve allowed non-enrolled district students to participate in school programs.
• The Association’s new Village Revitalization Task Force begins its work studying long-term solutions and ways to activate the center of town. In the short-term, the task force’s Village Vibrance Committee developed a series of fun community events to bring people out to the village on Saturday mornings, coinciding with the Secret Car Club’s weekend car show. The Village Vibe events include food trucks, lawn games and an informal way to gather input. The Vibe’s first event was an Oktoberfest.
• The Association seeks proposals for broadband connectivity in the Covenant. The Association hopes to enter a partnership model with the selected company, a co-investment in the network and sharing of returns. Beyond phone and internet, the network could bring value-added services like security and smart home technology.
• A lawsuit was filed on Sept. 1 against the Association by Golden Eagle Land Investment, developers of Rancho Librado, alleging numerous complaints including that the Association violated the Common Interest Development Open Meeting Act and took action on an item that was not on the agenda. In December, the court dismissed eight of the nine causes—they did not dismiss the cause that the Association violated the Open Meeting Act. The Association believes the entire complaint should have been dismissed and is evaluating its options for resolving the suit.
• Chief Matt Wellhouser celebrates 35 with the Rancho Santa Fe Patrol on Sept. 2.
“I thought I would stay here for a couple of years,” Wellhouser said. “But this turned out to be a really good place to work, it kind of grows on you.”
• Traffic signal and roundabout proponents and opponents intersected once more for a town hall meeting on Sept. 16. Nearly 50 people showed up for the meeting at the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club, the last public meeting before the issue was taken to a Covenant-wide survey.
• The Association celebrated a trail dedication on Sept. 29 for 800 new feet of trail along Las Colinas near the Rancho Santa Fe Village Church. The trail eliminates the need for pedestrians and equestrians to cross Las Colinas.
• The Santa Fe Irrigation District approves raising rates by nine percent, to generate enough revenue to cover expenses in a time when demand for water is at its lowest in nearly 40 years. A public hearing on the rate increase is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 21 and it would become effective Feb. 1, 2016.
• The Covenant Club design subcommittee voted on a design program for the proposed health club and pool facility, opting for a 12,200 square foot facility between the Rancho Santa Fe Golf and Tennis Clubs. The facility will include combined resort and lap pools and two new tennis courts with construction phased so that their will always be 12 active courts at the club.
Golf club liaisons on the committee issued no votes on the design program as a golf club survey showed 75 percent voted that they did not want a health club to be located on the golf and tennis campus.
• The Association begins the process of potentially amending its bylaws and articles of incorporation. A six-member committee looked at how to make the voting process more equitable to all homeowners. A town hall meeting was held on Oct. 22 and the amendments are planned to go for a community-wide vote in 2016. If approved, the changes would not go into effect until July 2016.
• The R. Roger Rowe Halloween parade marches once more and the Village Vibe’s Halloween event features pumpkin carving and trick or treating at village businesses.
• Roundabouts were the overwhelming pick as the preferred traffic solution for the Paseo Delicias/Del Dios Highway thoroughfare in the community-wide survey. Of those surveyed, 817 people cast their votes for roundabouts and 272 voted in favor of traffic signals for three intersections on the highway.
• The CDRC held a workshop to hear the latest plans for Plaza de Santa Fe, site of the former Stump’s. The plans include one two-story building with an expansion of the existing underground parking structure. The underground structure will include 65 parking spaces and the surface lot will have 54. There will be space designated for a 4,000 to 5,000 square foot market.
• Delicias Restaurant closes after 25 years in the village. The building owners seek to bring in another iconic tenant.
• The last three undeveloped parcels in the village are listed for sale, with potential for the construction of mixed-use developments and underground parking.
“This is a rare development opportunity located in the heart of the Village where properties rarely become available,” said Bill Shrader of Colliers International’s Urban Property Group. “As a longtime resident of Rancho Santa Fe and most recently the Village, I am personally excited to see this prime location be developed to its highest potential.”
• The Association approved additional funding for both the Village Revitalization Task Force and the Village Vibe committee. The board pledged $40,000 to the task force, $20,000 of which will be used on a new traffic study and $77,550 toward continuing the efforts of the Vibe, which hosted a holiday gathering in December.
“I think the village revitalization efforts are critically important to the future viability of our village and it is, in my opinion, the responsibility of our Association to lead this effort,” said board member Jerry Yahr.
• The Association board approved a one-year allocation of all 14 cents of Association assessment into the general services fund. The one-time transfer of about $1.1 million of assessment revenue will help bolster the fund balance, allowing for an independent auditor’s recommended three-month reserve. Rather than a portion of the assessment going to the Community Enhancement Fund, all of the 2015-16 assessments will go into general services.
• The RSF School Board approved the district’s Master Plan, which details what the district would like to do if they are able to acquire adjacent properties and expand the school site, as well as options for a modernized or new gym building.
• Tyler Seltzer was named the new president of the RSF School Board.
• The San Dieguito Union High School District approved a 12.5 percent raise for teachers and administration, the first master contract raise since 2007.
• The Association received 11 letters of intent for its broadband contract and have narrowed it down to the final two vendors. The board approved two $60,000 contracts with Magellan and Peace & Shea law firm to get to the “goal line” on the broadband project—the next steps will be to pick a vendor, negotiate a deal and write a contract.
At December’s meeting, residents encouraged the Association to move quickly so they won’t spend 2016 in the dark ages of internet service, noting that the lack of reliable connectivity is “debilitating” and “embarrassing” and that it’s as important as electricity and indoor plumbing these days.
“The necessity of broadband in our community in 2016 is not about Netflix, it’s about having the ability to run a business out of my home and communicate with people in the Ranch,” said a resident.