By Karen Billing
The Rancho Santa Fe Association board may have shot down a proposal for a children’s play structure at the Arroyo property, but the board said it is not against spending the money or finding a more appropriate place for a playground. In an unanimous vote, the board approved a $25,000 expenditure for play equipment and asked the trails and recreation committee, and the Association staff, to come up with an alternate location for the playground within the next 60 days.
They may be facing an uphill battle, one that Heather Slosar encountered on her quest for the playground at Arroyo. Several people stood to speak at the meeting, saying that they have tried to establish a playground in the Covenant for the last eight years.
“It’s a subject that keeps coming up,” said Dick Brockett, director of field operations. “The problem is no area in the Covenant is zoned for a playground.”
The stumbling block is not only the zoning, but that any such structure has to receive approval from the neighbors, which has never been accomplished.
“We’ve never been this close, “ said resident Glenn Oratz, one of those who had tried for a playground before. “Rambla De Las Flores is the natural recreation corridor but we get lost in NIMBY (not in my backyard).”
The Arroyo property seemed like the perfect fit for Slosar because while it is Association-owned, it is located outside the Covenant and is county-zoned. The 88-acre lot, purchased by the Association for $1.8 million in the late 1990s, is located about three miles from the village, on a long dirt road off Las Colinas after it turns into El Vuelo.
Slosar said a playground is needed for the 28 percent of families in the Ranch with children under 10 who have no place for their children to go, for moms to meet and to create a sense of community in a place where you can go months without seeing a neighbor.
The Association seemed to point toward the Village Presbyterian Church playground as the community playground. Some mothers expressed feeling uncomfortable going where they are not members.
“We can’t represent the Village Church structure as ours,” Slosar said.
RSF Association director Larry Spitcaufsky said he understands the sentiment of ownership and said that in listening to people’s concerns he wants to find a way to say “yes” and not “no.”
“We need to do whatever we can do to get it done,” Spitcaufsky said, coming up with the motion to direct staff to look at alternate locations for the park.
None of the board members had a problem with the concept. Board president Jack Queen said the issue is not money, it is location.
“We’re in favor of what you’re trying to do, but it should be done at a place more appropriate and that would provide better use,” Queen said.
“I think the community should have a play structure, I think it’s really important and we do need to have more of a sense of community,” director Eamon Callahan said. “I’m not sure about Arroyo as a location…I’m not sure if we built something down there it would get the use.”
Slosar, a mother to five young children between the ages of 1 and 10, took on the playground project by herself, meeting with staff and parks and recreation committee. She submitted plans to Bears Playground Company in New York, who liked the design so much that they built the structure on spec (doing a job without any guarantee of being paid, in the hope of winning future business). Slosar had a photo of the structure sitting in the warehouse waiting to be shipped. If the Association had ordered it by Nov. 9, Slosar discovered they could have received a $2,000 off-season discount.
It could have been up for play by Dec. 15, she said.
“I fully support Heather’s efforts, I love what she’s doing,” said Linda Leong at last week’s board meeting, which was a packed house. “I started on this effort eight years ago and I have an 8 year old now…I think Arroyo is a perfect place and this is, at least, a great start to make it a destination point. It needs a stimulus and what Heather’s proposing will be a catalyst.”
People in attendance at the meeting viewed the Arroyo as open space in different ways.
Bill Hinchy, a 35-year resident who raised three children in the Ranch, said they have heard proposals for swimming pools, soccer fields and more over the years.
“Open space, since I’ve been here, is a passive space. What you’re considering moves well beyond passive use,” Hinchy said, noting that allowing a playground may become a slippery slope for more requests to use the land.
Resident Rochelle Putnam disagreed with Hinchy. She said Arroyo is a beautiful property and she is passionate about preserving it, but considers the playground to be very low impact. She said she understands the argument about slippery slopes but said they would just rely on boards to fully review subsequent proposals.
“I don’t think you need to just blanket say, ‘nothing ever’,” Putnam said.
As Slosar said, a play structure would’ve gotten people out to the Arroyo, making an investment in their land to make it better.
“I love the fact that we have so much open space in the community,” said resident Kathi Mallick. “ It’s disappointing that we don’t have anything to draw people to those properties.”