RSFA January 2021 Board Mtg: Worth Reading

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This board meeting touched on many diverse topics of interest to most. 

Golf Course Renewal Approved, Member Vote Next

Proposed changes to 2nd green.

The golf course operates on a long term master plan that is renewed every ten years. In between course changes and renewals, the club accrues reserves to pay for major expenditures. The two big maintenance expenses the club knew it needed to spend money on this go around was the irrigation system and the sand bunkers both of which had reached the end of their useful lives. So three years ago, the club started engineering a major update that would not only handle these needed maintenance issues, but also enhance the course itself. The result is contained in the hole-by-hole description of the course update that you can view from the Golf Club home page

The board approved (7-0) the approx. $6.1M expenditure and it now goes in front of the full golf membership for a vote. Assuming the club receives a majority yes on the vote, the renovations will start in early April and continue for about six months. There will be a three week period where the entire course will be closed, but the club has reciprocal rights at many other clubs allowing members to check out greener pastures for a bit.

The club finances continue to be in great shape with 22 new members added in the last six months. Seth Goldman, Association CFO, answered a board question stating that projections are such that the golf club is expected to continue to be cash flow positive throughout this project since existing golf reserves will pay for the project.

Variance Request

The board voted on an interesting variance request. A member wanted to build a new 2,100 sq ft hay barn on their large “L” zoned horse property, but they wanted the new barn to match the three existing wooden barns on the property, and thus wanted to clad the exterior in wood (board and batten to be specific). The size of the barn relative to the size of the stucco house (which is quite isolated from the horse keeping area) is what ran the project afoul of the arbitrary 50% wood coverage rule in the Association’s current wood regulation (if the barn were smaller or the house bigger, this wouldn’t have needed a variance). The Art Jury had seen the project and recommended the board grant the variance, as did the building department. 

One of the existing wood clad barns.

Director Laurel Lemarie asked if the homeowner wouldn’t instead want to use more fire resistant (and longer lasting, and less maintenance) Hardie Board (cement fiber board) instead of wood? It has been about two years now that the board has outright banned Hardie Board as a construction material, even though it is in every way better than allowed wood and looks the same. About 18 months ago, the board teased us with reconsidering this prohibition, but nothing came of it.

Director Greg Gruzdowich agreed with Lemarie and proposed that the board approve the variance, but also give the homeowner the option to use Hardie Board if they so chose. Board president Mike Gallagher did not like that idea and steered a vote back to the original approve/not approve a wooden barn. 

The board voted 6-1 to approve the variance with Bill Strong voting against stating that the barn was very visible from Via de la Valle. He wanted the barn to be built with a different material than all the other barns along that road, perhaps concrete, as that would better appeal to his aesthetic. 

You know, this isn’t my ox that is being gored here since I live in a stucco house. But if you think the current wood regulation is arbitrary, and the current total ban on Hardie Board is wrong, drop your thoughts off to memberinput@rsfassociation.org. It may help you in a couple of years when/if you remodel or sell.

$50K Osuna Fence

Osuna’s western border is very long.

Apparently a few of you gave the Association feedback on the proposed new Osuna regulation (explanatory letter at end of this PDF). During the meeting, Association general manager Christy Whalen expressed annoyed confusion as to where a $50K cost estimate for the fence came from in some of these emails. As readers of the RSF Post know, it came from the December board meeting summary article I wrote where I guessed at the fence cost based on the information the Association provided to us in their letter explaining the proposed Osuna policy (“western perimeter fence” which is very long). In the board meeting, Whalen stated that the Association has not done a cost estimate for the fence. 

So staff is asking the board to vote on a proposed regulation that has an unknown price tag associated with it. Seems kinda dodgy and slight of handish to me. Moreover, staff seems to have neglected to mention whether or not Osuna has reserves to cover these expenses. Based on my knowledge of Osuna finances, I would venture to guess it does not (of course they would say they don’t know since they don’t have a cost estimate yet) and thus these expenses would come out of our pockets from our assessment dues, absent any policy change.

Is it too much to ask that Osuna, which only serves a handful of Association members, including a board member, lives within its own means? If Osuna wants to spend more money than it has, maybe it could do something radical like start charging market rates rather than below market rates for boarders?

Anyways, keep your feedback coming to memberinput@rsfassociation.org. It is making an impact and I am sure it is appreciated.

Columbarium Covenant Amendment

Whalen reported that only 44% of covenant members voted in the columbarium covenant amendment vote. Since 66% of members were needed to vote for the amendment, it failed simply due to lack of turnout. As it happens, only 61% of votes cast approved the amendment anyways, so it is possible the amendment would have failed even with a high turn out.

I was always a bit mystified at how the Village Church approached the vote. It did not appear to me that they had their heart in the effort. Forgive me for the unsolicited advice, but had I been trying to pass a covenant amendment, I would have gathered a bunch of like minded local members to canvass the entire membership. Covenant amendments aren’t like board elections. You are allowed to collect individual signatures on a letter that gives consent to the amendment. I would have had a dedicated group of volunteers calling each and every covenant member informing and persuading them. I would be visiting each member in person collecting signatures. I would have been manning a booth at the post office. You get the idea. In my humble opinion, it’s the only approach that would have had even a chance of succeeding.

Horsepark Letter

My article describing how the 22nd DAA is shutting down Horsepark is the most widely read article on the Post by a looong shot. Local community members are very engaged in this issue. Member Rochelle Putnam made a plea to the Association to help out in some way to pressure the 22nd DAA to reconsider their ban, and/or force them to explain to us what the heck they are doing with Horsepark.

As Putnam explained, Rancho Santa Fe is the largest and most prominent equestrian community in Southern California. Our home values are held aloft to some degree due to equestrians looking to live here. 

The board voted 7-0 to work with Putnam to send a letter to the 22nd DAA ahead of their next Tuesday’s public board meeting. Also check out our new article about Horsepark where we question the 22nd DAA’s statements about water quality.

RSF Connect

Seems that both Race Communications and the Association have realized that getting more subscribers will help both their bottom lines. As such, Race will extend their construction services until March 31 at the subsidized rate of $6.25/ft to build lateral connections. Similarly, the Association will extend their lateral subsidy, capping at $500/homeowner, until March 31st. Both subsidies had been halted as of January 1st, but are now back on.

It’s kinda complicated to explain these subsidies, suffice it to say that it is a good deal and I would urge fence sitters to order service.

By the way, I have found RSF Connect to be highly reliable (and I have been running connectivity monitoring software to prove it). I do hear about an occasional problem from members from time to time, but these isolated problems get ironed out fairly quickly. I continue to recommend sending an email to support@race.com if you do encounter problems, and if that doesn’t work, please let me know directly. 

Free Money

The federal government, in their infinite wisdom, has forgiven the Association’s $1.5M PPP loan. In practical terms, this means the Association had to allocate $1.5M into various fund buckets. Following government rules, this is what each fund bucket got:

General Services $598K
Tennis $101K
Osuna $28K
RSF Connect $1K
Golf $525K
Food & Beverage $288K

While the Association lost significant revenue and thus profit during the shutdown (mostly in food and beverage), in aggregate I do not think it lost $1.5M, meaning the forgiven PPP loan has overall improved the Association finances. Meaning it should have extra money in the budget this year to play with.

Residential Design Guidelines

Director Laurel Lemarie tried to propose that going forward the Association convene an ad-hoc committee composed of Art Jurors, former Art Jurors, Board members and ordinary members to hash through changes to the Regulatory Code. It didn’t go anywhere, just like a different proposal didn’t go anywhere last month, mostly because the board had just adopted a new process two months ago. Board president Gallagher also didn’t seem to like the idea of random members nor former Art Jurors having a seat at such a meeting. 

A discussion then ensued about the desirability of converting the Residential Design Guidelines into Regulatory Code chapters with many board members wanting to do just that.

Converting the Residential Design Guidelines into Regulatory Code chapters is a nice soundbite, but there are stark differences between our Regulatory Code and the Guidelines. 

Regulations are rigidly adhered to. This very meeting saw a homeowner having to obtain a regulation variance because their wood siding went over a 50% limit. By contrast, the Design Guidelines usually do not contain hard and fast rules. Here are some random sentences from the Design Guidelines:

  • solid barrier fencing is undesirable
  • turn-arounds may be required at entries
  • walls, fences and pilasters should be adequately landscaped and screened
  • Not This … Site Which Will Not Support Reasonable Square Footage or Accessory Uses
  • Not This … Overly Manicured and Formalized Landscape Plan

How can you make a black and white regulation out of that? You can’t. And shouldn’t. These are aesthetic judgements that the Art Jury opines on. Some board members appear to want to emasculate the Art Jury and leave it with nothing to do. Everything is a regulation. Everything is black and white. No judgement calls. All close calls must be taken to the Board for a variance. 

How can this be turned into a black and white regulation?

This is insane. This might work for a cookie cutter suburban HOA, but not for our highly diverse and irregular land plots and uses. And this is not what our Protective Covenant says how we should be governed. 

Activism Works

No, I don’t mean members with pitchforks protesting inside the Association offices. I mean that expressing your views either in person one on one with a board director, or via email to memberinput@rsfassociation.org (all directors read these emails) can indeed work. You might not think that one person’s views mean a lot, but I assure you it does. On a really big hot button topic, the Association might get 20 or 30 emails. If they’re overwhelmingly on one side of an issue, the board will take note since they know that 30 emails means 600 or more other members think the same way, since most people don’t bother writing.

Here are some tips to writing an effective email:

  • Keep to a single topic. Short and sweet and to the point works a lot better than a long rambling diatribe.
  • Write your email, and then leave it for 6+ hours or even better, overnight. When you go back and read it, try to pretend you are someone who knows very little about the issue. Unless you are a better writer than me, you’ll find that the email doesn’t make a lot of sense – it’ll assume you have context that you don’t have. You’ll have missed an important word or sentence. Editing something with fresh eyes is key.
  • Include concrete personal examples.

I’m not saying that you can for sure effect change by providing feedback. But I am saying that there’s a good chance you can. It doesn’t take long, just do it!