Time To Give The RSFA a Piece Of Your Mind

1915

This upcoming Thursday, at their regular board meeting (agenda here), the Association will take up Tennis Club renovations, golf club member status and locker room rule changes, how the Art Jury and Board interact, Art Jury consistency, Residential Design Guidelines, glass as an exterior building material, solar energy systems (fourth time’s the charm?), regulatory code changes about grading, expenditure request to help the building department keep up with all these changes, and new Osuna ranch rules (with that buried fence cost). Among other things.

I hope to be able to get out of that meeting by midnight.

Any one of these items is potentially controversial, jamming ten(!) of them into one meeting makes me wonder if the board is either masochistic or sadist. I’m not sure which.

Anyways, now is the time to weigh in on these items. I shall give my take on many of them here and urge all RSFA members to send in a note to memberinput@rsfassociation.org about the issues you care about. Now is the time to give the Association a piece of your mind!

Osuna Ranch Rules

I wrote about this here. And then I gave more color to the financial situation at Osuna here. This board agenda item is about adopting the rules discussed in the first link in this paragraph. For the very few of you that ride at Osuna, please weigh in about the rules themselves. For the rest of us, the thing I don’t like is that we have been subsidizing Osuna’s operations ever since we bought it fourteen years ago. It isn’t properly financially reserved  (unlike all other RSF assets). Heck, until a few years ago, it didn’t even have proper financials. And the way horse boarding properties work, it will always be a cash drain on the Association’s finances if you take into account proper maintenance unless rates are jacked up a lot (like around 50%).

The only way a horse property owner makes money is when they sell the property due to real estate price appreciation. But the Association has no intention of selling Osuna. 

So, given that only a handful of members ride at Osuna, why are we pouring money into it? 

Proposed Regulation, Grading

It looks like the board will propose a new grading regulation. Maybe we will see it before the board meeting. As I highlighted in my article on the special Art Jury meeting, while we have a current regulation on grading which appears to allow 10′ of cut and 10′ of fill, the reality is that the Art Jury can (and often does) disallow grading changes even if it falls with that 10/10 limit. Basically anything more than 10/10 would necessitate a board level variance to be granted, so that’s the only utility of a 10/10 limit or number. All other grading changes are at the discretion of the Art Jury.

My sense of the board and Art Jury is that neither group likes grading. Various board members through the years have denigrated member’s projects that were in the middle of construction for too much perceived grading. Last week’s special Art Jury meeting had Art Jurors opine that their objective is to minimize the amount of grading on projects.

Indeed, the Association’s latest backgrounder on grading states: “Consider split-level homes that can work across a site; a few feet of vertical change in a home can hide changes in landforms and can be taken up with stairs or well-designed ramps.”

For us older folks, “a few feet of vertical change” is a pain in the rear end, literally. My house was built in the 1980’s when the then Art Jury required builders to have the house religiously follow contours, the end result is that I have three feet of elevation change as you walk through my house – two separate three step staircases. It won’t be long before I will need to install electric assist chairs at each mini staircase just to be able to walk through my house safely (ramps are no better than stairs). All for a measly three feet of elevation change. To his credit, I did hear Art Jury president Bill Danola state last week in the special meeting that the Art Jury currently does not require houses to have such staircases for small grading changes like this – small elevation changes would be required between buildings, but not within a house. But I do not know where the board sits on this issue and the Association’s backgrounder certainly isn’t reassuring. 

It is the perception that new house construction entails large amounts of grading that seems to be driving the animus against grading. Art Juror and former board president Ken Markstein stated at the special meeting last week that it was complaints the board received about a large estate undergoing construction that launched board concern about excessive grading. 

I talked with the owner of that particular estate about his project. What the board apparently does not understand is that a large estate under construction will appear to have large amounts of grading since current county storm water regulations require the construction of bioretention basins (11 on that particular project) and maybe even storm water underground storage tanks (3). Add in that the Art Jury requested certain parts of the estate be built underground, necessitating even more excavation, and that Covid delayed inspections, all this adds up to a construction site that will appear to have huge amounts of grading. In actual fact, the amount of net grading when construction is done will be well within norms. Landscaping (which is just starting now) will make the site look even better.

I remember when I read in the bi-weekly Art Jury summary we all used to get in the mail about a nearby house under construction that had 20,000 cu ft of grading. I freaked out and called the Association. It turned out that the 20,000 cu ft was all for recompaction. In the end the site was going to look more or less the same as it did before. And indeed that is what happened.

So … I have no idea what a proposed new grading regulation will look like. Maybe it’ll just clarify that the 10/10 number isn’t a “good to go” number for homeowners and that the Art Jury has discretion. If so, that will be useful. On the other hand, they may decide to codify more restrictive grading, in a one size fits all regulation (like they did for wood siding). Given that every lot in Rancho is unique, that would be unfortunate in my opinion. The Art Jury has discretion for a reason, let them do their job. 

Glass as an Exterior Material

This is an interesting one as it is at the intersection of a dark skies policy as well as allowable architectural style. Let me try to unpack it.

Dark Skies

Apparently there is a member who is trying to sell their empty house and as a result thinks the best thing to do is to leave all the lights on at night as a calling card. Needless to say this is annoying people. I walked out last night (my property is fairly elevated so I can see a lot of properties) and I saw one house, far away, that was lit up. It didn’t bother me, but then it wasn’t that close to me.

Does it bother you when you see the occasional house with a lot of landscape lighting and/or large windows with inside light spilling to the outdoors? 

When I drive around Rancho at night, it is dark. I often turn on my high beams just so I can see better, even at regular road speed limits. I don’t see excessive light from houses as I drive. But that’s just me. I may very well be in the minority here.

What the heck, let’s do a poll. This poll is anonymous, but it does have protections against voting more than once. We all see the poll results, so let us know what you think.

With regard to light emanating from houses at night, which statements do you agree with (can select more than one):

Architectural Style

Large window surfaces are used in a lot of places. You might have a view lot looking towards the ocean or golf course and thus might want large windows. A current popular feature in new house construction is indoor/outdoor living spaces where you’d have a covered patio and the delineation between indoor and outdoor would be large lift and slide doors so that when open, it looks and feels like one large room. Even without a view lot, many people like rooms with lots of natural light which means lots of exterior glass.

The concern is how all this impacts the night sky. During the Art Jury special meeting, a debate was had among Art Jurors about allowing or not allowing a house situated on the golf course to have large windows since houses across the golf course might be able to see light streaming from it. A member attending the meeting asked, what about requiring shades or curtains at night, since you can’t see anything at night on a golf course anyways? The comment was ignored. 

Anyways, again, there appears to be a push towards more regulation against large window surfaces. 

Art Jury

There are two agenda items about the Art Jury in the upcoming meeting.

Consistency

The point of the Art Jury is to make difficult judgement calls on aesthetics. You are necessarily going to get different results with one group of five people over a different group of five people, especially when decisions span over many decades. That is the result of the process as envisioned in our original government document (the Protective Covenant), but I don’t see how this is a problem. Our society judges people on murder charges using a similar system and there are no serious calls for reform of the jury system even though different juries might occasionally rule differently in similar cases. 

Moreover the “solution” to fixing Art Jury consistency would be to codify what should not be codified, witness our arbitrary 25% restriction on wood siding. 

Any attempt to “fix” Art Jury consistency with regulations will end up with arbitrary one size fits all rules that do not work in a decidedly non-uniform place like Rancho Santa Fe. We are not a suburban planned community.

Roles and Responsibilities of Building Commissioner, Art Jury and Board

The board take over of the Art Jury is complete. All current Art Jurors have been appointed by board presidents within the last year. In speaking with the current Art Jury president, he is phlegmatic about regulatory code changes saying that whatever the board comes up with is fine by him. 

Why am I alarmed at this? Because Art Jurors are our experts with regard to regulations. They see dozens of construction projects every three weeks. They routinely wrestle with subtle interpretations of the governing documents. If the Art Jury is not substantially involved with writing new regulations, then it is left to a board that has little knowledge in this area to make regulations. And it isn’t clear that the building department has an independent voice. The building department are employees who work at the pleasure of the board who have the political power to fire employees. They appear cognizant of this as shown in the illuminating exchange that took place when the board was coming up with an expanded lot coverage definition. They asked the building commissioner for her recommendation and her answer was that she was looking to the board for guidance. The more passionate people are about a regulation, the less likely staff members will want to wade into a debate (and who can blame them?).

I’m braying into the wind here. It is what it is. All I can do is pray that the board takes the time to properly study proposed changes rather than push things through quickly. 

What Happened To The Wood Siding Reconsideration?

Speaking of which, the board was supposed to take up Hardie Board as a wood siding material over a year ago. What happened to that?

And The Rest

There isn’t much else I can add about the other items on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting (10:00am via Zoom, here’s the link) since the Association hasn’t posted any material about these other items. 

So this is it. Speak now or forever hold your peace. With ten possibly controversial items on the agenda, this board is charging forward doing things. Express your views on these topics by sending an email to memberinput@rsfassociation.org (here listed in order of the agenda):

  • Expenditure requests for tennis club.
  • Golf club member status and golf club locker room usage new rules.
  • Roles and responsibilities of Building Commissioner, Art Jury and Board.
  • Art Jury consistency.
  • Discussion regarding Residential Design Guidelines
  • Glass as an exterior material.
  • Solar Energy regulation changes.
  • Grading regulation changes.
  • Building department expenditure request for these and other changes.
  • Proposed Osuna ranch rules.