RSFA July Board Meeting: Failure to Cooperate

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The Board apparently couldn’t wait until the weekend to celebrate Independence Day since I saw my fair share of fireworks in the meeting. 

Another One Bites The Dust

On the heels of Jack Queen’s resignation (see his article here), another Art Juror, this time the Art Jury President, resigned. I’ve been talking with him and will hopefully have an article outlining his thoughts in the next while. The Art Jury is now down to three members, just enough for a quorum. 

Covenant Modification Vote: Columbarium

Example of a Columbarium wall.

Election ballots for the Board election were just mailed, look for your packet to arrive soon. I discuss the Board election here

The Board is also asking members to vote YES or NO on whether or not we should modify the Covenant to allow columbariums to be built on class J (religious) properties. I discussed this at length in this article.

Since the Association itself owns 51 individual properties in the Covenant representing 2.5% of all Association properties, and 5.4% of all Covenant acreage, it was incumbent upon the Association itself to vote YES or NO on this issue on behalf of its owned properties. So the Board discussed how they were going to vote.

Laurel Lemarie was the sole director wanting to vote no on the covenant modification. Her arguments were that the Covenant writers could have allowed columbariums, but for some reason chose not to allow them, and thus we should respect this. She also objected to not forcing the Village Church to gather 100 signatures to even make this a ballot item, and she said that this would only benefit Village Church members.

Director Rick Sapp pointed out that the Covenant writers explicitly made provisions for Covenant modifications, and indeed, it has been modified several times in our 90 year history, so there is nothing unusual about modifying it again. He also pointed out that the 100 signature rule is only one way to put a vote to the community. The Covenant also grants the Board to put votes to the community (and indeed the Board did vote to do so back in March on a 6-0 vote, Lemarie abstaining). Director Steve Dunn pointed out that if the Village Church builds this columbarium, it will be available to everyone, not just members of the Village Church.

The Board voted to vote YES on behalf of the Association’s owned properties in a 6-1 vote, Lemarie voting no.

Regulations

What a mess. No less than four different regulatory code sections were discussed with much disagreement among Board members. Both Art Jury and member input was seemingly ignored. 

It didn’t used to be like this. Two years ago, regulatory code changes would start with public meetings where any interested member was invited to attend. A literal round table discussion would take place, often over the course of several meetings on any one topic. Eventually, a new regulation was hashed out, ready for Board approval. The 30 day comment period after that was a formality since all interested parties had weighed in on the regulation before then.

I also remember the process Fred Wasserman spearheaded when he tackled Bylaw changes. That process had two town hall meetings, website articles, draft documents mailed to all members for comments, and even meetings with individual members.

Contrast that with what’s going on now. Art Jurors are complaining that innocuous additions they wanted to add to the (now Board approved) Solar regulation didn’t make it into the regulation. Board members are complaining that they now cannot renovate their house (more on that below).

With little public involvement we’ve very recently:

  • Disallowed homeowners with only wood siding from adding more than 25% square footage to their house unless they reclad the rest of the house as well.
  • Restricted the amount of your property you can build on by including sport courts and swimming pool area to the Covenant definition of 20% lot coverage. 

That’s what the Board has already passed. In the pipeline are things that affect even more of us:

  • Restrictions on how much glass a wall may have which will in many cases effectively ban lift and slide patio doors.
  • Adding driveways and retaining walls to the definition of “structure” such that the Covenant restriction of 20% lot coverage of structures will further restrict the size of new and remodel houses. Perversely this will incentivize people to place their houses closer to the street.

Closed Door Process

And all these changes are being done in a closed door process. Members like you and I cannot provide input into this process until we see the final draft that the Board invariably rubber stamps to go to a 30 day comment period, and then our comments are often ignored.

Enough complaining. Let me try to recap what occurred during the Board meeting. 

Solar Regulation

The Board passed the new solar regulation 5-2, even though the language had been modified since the it had been last posted for public review. The change between the two version was slight, but apparently controversial since three Board members had problems with it. Let me try to unpack it for you. 

Example ground mount solar system that is less than 3 feet high

The draft solar regulation said that ground mount solar systems could only be five feet high. Director Mike Gallagher had strongly objected to this during a previous Board meeting, and did so again in this one, wanting the height restriction to either be absent or higher (he never said which). Building Commissioner Maryam Babaki said the reason for the five foot restriction was for aesthetics such that a five foot high fence or landscape screening could hide the structure. Gallagher ignored the aesthetics argument and instead pushed his idea that solar panel efficiency could be compromised with a five foot restriction. In my humble opinion, this is a specious argument, not the least reason being that you can’t ignore aesthetics. That’s most of the point of CC&Rs. And efficiency is not compromised with a height restriction, the worst it would do is require slightly more land for a solar array. It’s a minor price to pay for not having to see these ugly black arrays all over the place.

At any rate, since a Board director complained about it, the Building Commission modified the solar regulation slightly to allow the Art Jury, at its discretion, to allow ground mount solar panels higher than five feet should the situation call for it.

That didn’t satisfy director Gallagher, and it really annoyed directors Bill Strong and Sharon Ruhnau, the two Art Jury liaisons, who both didn’t like that the Art Jury could grant such a variance to the regulation without Board approval. These directors are truly on a mission to clip the Art Jury’s wings. They’ve already lost one good Art Juror over a similar issue

In the end Board President Rick Sapp calmly but forcefully cut off debate by saying that any regulation can further be modified and called for the vote. Directors Gallagher and Ruhnau both voted against the regulation, everyone else for.

Exterior Materials

All wood building in the Village

The Exterior Siding regulation is still out for public comment. I wrote about it here. Director Laurel Lemarie tried to discuss it during this meeting by pointing out that her own house has exclusively or mostly wood siding, and thus, by this regulation, she wouldn’t be able to add more than 25% square footage to it in remodels. Director Rick Sapp replied that you could seek a variance from the Board. And the unasked/unanswered question would be, what then? The Board would then grant or not grant the variance based on what? Political donations? Charity causes you support? Personal friendship?

That in a nutshell is the problem of taking decisions away from the Art Jury and placing them into the Board. The Art Jury are the experts in architectural design in Rancho, the Board are politicians. Who would you rather want to make aesthetic decisions? 

Sapp tabled discussion on the Exterior Siding regulation until the next meeting. If you live in a wood house, I would recommend talking to the building commissioner or a Board member.

Covenant Interpretations

There is a rather major regulation the Board is working on right now regarding architectural styles. This will codify what the Covenant meant when it says subjective things like architectural styles should be “Latin inspired”. 

Rick Sapp also tabled discussion about this but not before director Bill Strong, twice, tried to talk about section 5.4 of this unpublished (to us) draft. As near as I can tell, Strong wants to limit the amount of glass a wall may have, and if this were modified the way he’d like it to be modified, it would effectively eliminate the ability to have large patio doors and create an indoor/outdoor room where the patio doors disappear between an inside room and a covered patio. This is a very desirable and sought after feature for new house construction in our climate. 

Exterior Lighting

Work is also ongoing on a new Exterior Lighting regulation. Here some directors would like the new regulation not only limit the amount of exterior landscape lighting you may have, but also limit the amount of light emitted through exterior windows. 

Since nothing has been published for these last two regulation sections, I am going out on a limb and trying to read the tea leaves. I could be wrong in my guesses about what might come down the pipe, but since they could significantly affect all of us, I wanted to get some information out there.

Lot Split

Back in February, a member stood up and objected to a proposed lot split that the Art Jury was hearing. At the time, I wondered what the Board would do should it clear the Art Jury. Well, after several revisions, it did finally clear the Art Jury, and the Board voted 7-0 to allow the lot split. So, question answered.