RSFA Board Meeting: Can You Hear Me Now?


Update: This article as originally published made a factual error in the commentary with regards to uplighting, see strike throughs and corrected information below.

Your comments to the board about various passed and proposed regulations had an effect. Four agenda items had to do with regulations. None of them passed or even brought up for a vote. The short summary is that the board decided to gather more information from the community before proceeding on anything. However, don’t stop reading now. There were some interesting things that occurred nonetheless.

New Officers

Mike Gallagher was voted in as board president, Sharon Ruhnau as vice president, Bill Weber as treasurer.

Roundabouts Moving Forward

The County approved $3M to acquire land and prepare building plans for three roundabouts. It’s been a while, so to refresh your memory, the planned roundabouts are at Via de la Valle/La Fremontia, El Montevideo/La Valle Plateada, and El Camino del Norte/Del Dios (see nearby map). It is estimated it will take 1-2 years to get past this phase and onto construction. 

Red dots mark the spots of the new roundabouts.

Art Juror Appointed

As his last significant official act as board president, Rick Sapp appointed Jeff Simmons (who most recently served on the trails committee) as the last vacant Art Jury position to be filled. Just a reminder that two positions will be up for grabs this fall to start in January as two members are terming off. Art Jury positions normally last three years (same as board directors).

Art Jury IDR Process Remains Half Baked

Turns out there are procedural problems with the Art Jury IDR process in addition to it just being a bad policy in its entirety. There is a 48 hour deadline in it which can’t practically be met, so Association staff recommended it be slightly modified giving the board a couple of different options. Sharon Ruhnau will work on it and modify the policy to her liking.

I’m being snippy because this is just a bad policy from start to finish in that it makes a mockery of an Art Jury approval. You can be halfway through building a house and any resident can complain that the Art Jury should not have approved your house plans and thus put your project into a holding pattern. I remain surprised the board doesn’t realize the implications of this resolution.

In addition, the board made no mention today of all the other recent resolutions and regulations that need revision or elimination. Like the wood siding restrictions, the Hardie Board prohibition, and this IDR process that makes an Art Jury approval a meaningless piece of paper.

Outdoor Lighting Regulation

Looong discussion. The end result is that new board president Mike Gallagher is going to meet with Association general manager Christy Whalen and put together a discussion document outlining why they are working on this new regulation and gather more community input. Below is a summary of where board directors currently stand on various issues along with my comments in [italics]. For those wanting to follow along, here’s the latest Regulatory Code posted on the Association web site, chapter 14 is the current lighting regulation (note that this copy is missing several significant updates that were passed recently like the Solar regulation, but I guess it takes time for the Association to update their documents??).

Laurel Lemarie: Doesn’t like the proposed regulation since it could allow uplighting [note that uplighting is currently not allowed per the current regulatory code, but see article end for more nuance]. Also doesn’t like allowing landscape lighting on timers until 11pm. Instead landscape lighting should be controlled via a switch for when guests arrive, or by occupancy sensor (eg. like security lights). She thinks that most Rancho light pollution comes from newly built houses and as time goes on you’ll see more and more light pollution as more new houses are built.

Greg Gruzdowich: “Uplighting has been defacto allowed for 27 years” [not true, if a neighbor complains, you’ll have to remove uplighting since it isn’t allowed per the current regulatory code]. The proposed lighting regulation is hard to enforce since it is so technical. Topography is key in landscape lighting design since your house could be in a sheltered valley or on a prominent hill and thus there isn’t a one size fits all solution [this sounds like he is advocating for Art Jury discretion on landscape lighting plans, which is what happens now]. The overall rule is that you shouldn’t be bothering your neighbor with your landscape lighting.

Bill Strong: Wants a lumens/acre one size fits all rule with no topography exceptions. New proposed regulation is far too complex. Doesn’t like giving Art Jury too much discretion since at that point you don’t need a regulation. Wants hard and fast, one size fits all rules so that the board isn’t arbitrating neighbor disputes. Finally, landscape lighting isn’t the big issue, spillover light from inside the house through big doors and windows is the real problem [see below for more on that].

Sharon Ruhnau: Thinks property siting is an important consideration. Thinks overall goal is to have no light pollution onto neighbor’s property. Thinks proposed regulation is way too complicated and should be written for the average homeowner to understand, not aimed at a lighting consultant.

Rick Sapp: A lights out at 7pm rule when it gets dark at 5pm in the winter is not a credible solution. He sees the community divided on various landscape lighting issues.

Gallagher, Gruzdowich, Weber all advocated for gathering more community input.

Solar Regulation

The current solar regulation was put in place two months ago. But it had flaws, so it was reworked and an update was presented at this board meeting. Click here to see the redlined changes. This new version would have fixed a bunch of problems, but when Gallagher asked for a motion to approve the changes, no one put the motion forward. So it died.

So, don’t ever tell me again that the board can pass regulations and then fix things after the fact

In a nutshell, here’s the fundamental problem with Rancho’s solar regulation and indeed, any solar regulation. CA law says you can install solar panels pretty much any damn place you want (including within three feet of property lines!), and an HOA can only request a change if it would cost less than $1,000. Which in practice means HOAs have almost zero ability to change your solar project.

This means that the best an HOA can do is to offer suggestions, point out problems and appeal to the good nature of applicants. This is what this change would have allowed the Art Jury to do, along with a few other things like requiring story poles for ground mount systems so at least the neighbors could be warned. 

Sapp tried to point this out but Ruhnau, with Strong concurring, couldn’t get past the point where the Art Jury could “allow” HOA setbacks to be violated. Hello! CA law says they can! End of story. 

Gruzdowich, with Lemarie agreeing, said that the new regulation should require story poles for ground mount applications. Did anyone on the board actually read the redline? That was part of the new regulation modification that no one brought up for a vote. 

One last thing. Lemarie lamented CA law that allows ground mount systems to be placed within three feet of a property line stating that you can’t screen that. Well, actually, yes you can. Here, again (I’ve published this photo at least three times now in this newspaper), is a ground mount system I actually designed and built that was specifically designed to be screenable. Even though it is a healthy 40 panels in size, it is only 30 inches tall, and can’t be seen by any neighbor. Ironically, this was built in an area that has no HOA, so the owner could have built it much more prominently, but he cared about his neighbors, so spent the slight bit of extra money to make it unobtrusive. 

30″ high, 40 panel system that is easily screenable. This property owner cared about his neighbor’s views.

The board needs to realize that they aren’t all powerful, and social coercion, education, and offers of help are often the best way to solve problems. If they care so much about solar panel aesthetics, why not hire consultants that can go out to property owners and suggest neighbor friendly ways to install solar panels systems. Same for lighting. Maybe have Association vetted consultants? 

Architectural Styles

Sapp, Ruhnau, Weber and Gallagher all agreed that this document needed to be better explained and shown to the community before more action be taken on it. I won’t bother saying much more, but I would like to highlight a Trojan horse contained in it. A one liner that says:

5.3 Number and size of glazed and other openings subordinate to area of wall surface; wall surface areas predominate.

This is a prohibition against large windows and patio doors. In particular, indoor/outdoor rooms that are all the rage right now in new home construction wouldn’t be allowed if this line were left in. This would be a property value disaster if this were actually turned into a regulation.

Solar Project Approvals

And then, somehow, the meeting became even more surreal. Two residents had applied for Art Jury approval to build solar panel systems, but they fell afoul to the existing, flawed, solar regulation, so the Art Jury dutifully passed them up to the board to grant variances. This was a formality since as I mentioned above, the homeowners can simply ignore the board/Art Jury and do whatever they want after, I think, 45 days. Nonetheless, Strong, Ruhnau and Lemarie voted against what should have been a rubber stamp formality. I say it should have been a formality because it would have been ridiculous for the board to deny the variances when the homeowners didn’t need the variances in the first place. The board barely saved face by approving the variances 4-3. 

Here We Go Again

It didn’t take long for the lone new board member to take a potshot at the Art Jury. This has become a theme for board members to snipe at fellow volunteers. Volunteers, I might add, that work much harder than board members. During the lighting regulation discussion Gruzdowich stated “The Art Jury has been consistently inconsistent for the 27 years I’ve lived here”. And the board hasn’t been??? Maybe I’m too sensitive, but board members sniping at other volunteers is never a good look.

What The Current Regulatory Code Says About Lighting

Since this is a point of confusion for many people, myself included, here are the relevant parts of the current regulatory code with regards to uplighting:

14.0401 Uplighting Prohibited. Except as otherwise provided herein, Uplighting for any purpose is prohibited.

14.0404.02 Low Wattage Exception. As Minor Construction, Low-Wattage Systems consisting of twelve or fewer light fixtures per site are exempted from the restrictions in Code §§14.0401, 14.0404 and 14.0502 …

In practice, this means that while the Art Jury isn’t allowed to approve a lighting plan that includes uplighting, residents are allowed to modify their landscape lighting after construction (or anytime) to include up to twelve uplights as this is deemed “minor construction” and does not need Art Jury approval. The entire current regulatory code can be found here.