Rancho Santa Fe Association board authorizes funding for Osuna adobe renovations


By Joe Tash

The RSF Association board approved spending $55,000 on renovations and construction plans for the Osuna adobe at its meeting on Thursday, June 7, but some board members questioned whether all of the expenditures are necessary right now.

The board considered the expenditures on two separate votes: in the first, the panel unanimously approved spending $23,595 to remove concrete stucco from the exterior walls of the historic adobe and replace it with adobe plaster, which would then be white-washed. According to a staff report, the work is needed to protect the building and improve its appearance.

However, the board was not unanimous on a proposal to spend $31,405 on construction documents for planned renovations to the adobe. While the proposal was approved with directors Jack Queen, Dick Doughty, Larry Spitcaufsky and Eamon Callahan voting in favor of the expenditure, directors Anne Feighner, Roxana Foxx and Ann Boon did not support it.

Among the concerns expressed by board members was whether the Association should spend money on construction plans before the funding for the renovation work has been secured.

Before the board’s discussion and vote, the entire group took a field trip to the adobe site, where Ron McMahon, chairman of the Association’s Osuna Committee, gave a presentation about planned improvements to the property.

“This adobe really represents the core of the history of the Ranch from the 1830s,” McMahon told the board during his presentation at the adobe on Thursday.

The Association purchased the 27-acre Osuna Ranch property at 16332 Via de Santa Fe for $12 million in 2006, with the goals of preserving the historic adobe ranch house that dates back to 1831, and to preserve open space within the Covenant, said Pete Smith, Association manager.

Along with the adobe, which was once occupied by Juan Maria Osuna, the first “alcalde” or mayor of what is today San Diego County, the property includes several working horse barns, a 5,700-square-foot house built in 1982, and other buildings.

Since the Association bought the property, it has spent about $200,000 so far on various improvements, reports and plans, McMahon told the board Thursday. Much of the money has been spent on work related to a lot split on the property, which will allow the Association to sell the 1982 house. That work has included electrical and water service upgrades, as well as construction of a driveway.

On May 24, the Association put the house on the market with an asking price of $2 million, and as of Thursday, 12 prospective buyers had viewed it, Smith said.

The Association board has not yet decided what to do with the money from the sale, but McMahon said the Osuna Committee is hoping at least some of it can be allocated to improvements at the Osuna Ranch, including planned renovations to the adobe itself.

In response to questions by the board, McMahon said the next phase of planned work would involve renovations to the adobe, to restore it to its condition during the Rancho days of the 1800s. That work is estimated to cost $300,000 to $350,000, including the work approved by the board Thursday.

A final phase would be moving some of the horse barns, renovating the landscaping and constructing new caretaker quarters, and is estimated to cost $500,000, McMahon said.

The committee has raised about $50,000 in donations so far and anticipates further fundraising efforts to help defray costs of the renovation work.

The abode was renovated in the 1920s by famed architect Lilian Rice, who is known for designing many buildings in Rancho Santa Fe. Some of the elements added by Rice, such as a low wall outside the building, would be removed during the renovation, along with a kitchen built in the 1960s that has no historical significance, said Association officials.

Among the improvements made by Rice, McMahon said, was rebuilding the roof, adding a large fireplace, and installing a concrete beam around the base of the foundation to reinforce the adobe structure.

“The best thing she did for us is really stabilizing the structure,” he said. “The adobe is in good shape from a structural standpoint.”

Future plans include moving the barns to open up views of nearby rolling hills from the adobe, making the landscaping more representative of the 1800s, and adding “interpretive” features such as an outdoor cooking area, to demonstrate how the Rancho families lived, McMahon said.

In the future, the Osuna rancho could host arts and crafts shows, or occasional musical concerts, he said.

While the full board supported the plaster work needed to preserve the adobe, some members questioned whether the construction documents should be prepared now. They also questioned whether enough community input had been received, regarding renovation plans.

“I’m all about the historic preservation of this building. It’s wonderful,” said director Anne Feighner. But she added, “We need to do it with maximum community support and input.”

She and other board members also questioned whether money should be spent on construction documents before money has been set aside to do the work.

Those who supported moving forward with the construction documents, however, said that process will help specify just how much money is needed for the renovation work, information that is needed to move forward.

Board members also pointed out that extensive community discussions were held both at the time of the Osuna Ranch purchase, and subsequently on related issues.

“To say that the community was not involved with this is not true,” said board president Jack Queen.