Nothing to Lose but Everything

by Rachel Laffer

AUG 22, 2018

The RSFA Board’s recent actions force one to question, are they not only deaf to resident concerns, but blind to them too? The unified voice of more than 300 Ranch residents was silenced last week when the Board voted 6-1 in opposition to filing a joint environmental impact lawsuit against the County Board of Supervisors (BOS) for its approval of two developments, Harmony Grove Village South and Valiano, in Escondido. While the RSF Post never received a response from any Board member regarding its letter addressed to them, which included the names of hundreds of RSFA Members in support of joining the lawsuit (while listed in the original letter, for privacy purposes we have not published these names here), the RSFA’s latest press release notes that Member input was “carefully considered.” The release points out that it will “continue to monitor development that may have a negative impact” on the Ranch, but for now, communities “most directly affected” by the projects will likely institute their own litigation, and the RSFA needs to dedicate resources to more pressing issues, like “completing the fiber-optic network.” It’s difficult to understand how the RSFA doesn’t want to hear nor see how our community is “directly affected” by these developments, and the continued use of BOS amendments to change the General Plan. The Board can sit on the sidelines and monitor the situation all it wants, but protecting our community means taking action.

As the RSF Post and its contributors have reiterated several times, the Board of Supervisors new frequent use of “batching” multiple projects under one amendment will enable it to review seven housing projects totaling more than 10,000 units this year alone. Approval of these two recent projects not only has a negative impact in and of itself — greater fire risk, increased traffic congestion, etc. — it sets a precedent. Approval gives the green light to other developers in the area who think they too now have a shot at rezoning and densifying their land.

Applying the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to defend against what will be endless attempts to rezone and densify rural and unincorporated areas like ours, may just be one of the few weapons left in the Ranch’s arsenal. As many know, CEQA is a law that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible. Consulting with a lawyer who specifically specializes in CEQA may have helped in understanding what Rancho Santa Fe can use to help protect itself now and in the future.

In light of CEQA, one would think that state and local government should be particularly sensitive to how their legislation impacts designated California State Historic Landmarks like Rancho Santa Fe. The latter designation was made official in 1989, and in 2004, as described on the RSFA website, the Historic Landmark “was modified to include a Cultural Landscape Amendment, noting the unique character and beauty of the landscape. Both designations were largely due to the Covenant’s role as a model for planned communities, as well as its development of a design tradition as established in the Village and the strict adherence to the plan and theme through the ensuing years.” Rancho Santa Fe is one of the first cultural landscape designations in the state of California, and shares this honor with Will Rogers State Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

It’s extremely disappointing that the RSFA Board did not join Elfin Forest Harmony Grove Town Councils in their CEQA lawsuits, as these developments do affect us, and we’re going to need all the help and support from surrounding communities that we can get. Why? Because we’re next. As the RSF Post wrote about in “Circle the Wagons,” and what was discussed more recently in the article, “Petition to Stop Densification in RSF Covenant and Surrounding Areas,” there are a number of proposed developments and other potential properties in or adjacent to the Covenant where current or future owners plan on rezoning and densifying — at a very large cost to our rural community.

If the RSFA Board is not going take legal action, it should at least put measures in place now to protect itself from being strong-armed by developers who are using County amendments to bypass Covenant restrictions. Specifically, an amendment to Covenant bylaws should be implemented so that any changes to zoning, General Plan amendments, annexation/de-annexation, or cluster housing efforts within the Covenant boundaries must receive the currently required 2/3 approval of 500’ radius neighbors, and additionally to require the approval of at least 2/3 majority of all Covenant members.

With so much at stake, the Ranch should not just “monitor” events or react to them, but be pro-active and prepare for them. We have nothing to lose but everything.

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