RSFA July Board: Like Pulling Teeth

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Three days ago, a Covenant member sent me an email about various topics that had this line buried in it: “As homeowners near the 7th hole, we and trail walkers have noticed the removal of at least 27 golf course trees on the front 9 to date, as well as 9 others tagged for removal by the construction company.”

Wait, back up there a moment! I knew that the golf course master plan had all of one tree identified for removal on holes 2 through 8. How the heck could 26 others be removed? So two days ago, Sally and Chet Koblinsky and I walked the seven eastern holes (holes 2 through 8) that were under active construction, and wow, what an eye opener! Trees were indeed being cut down, and not just ones that no one would miss. Trees that provided trail walkers with shade. Trees that provided golfers on tee boxes with shade. Trees that enhanced the view of the many, many properties that line and can see the golf course. Even trees that were important for golf shot strategy were removed.

Based on these concerns, the only substantive agenda item on the July 1 board meeting was a discussion about these extra tree removals.

Four Members Speak

Declining to give Forest Health and Preservation Committee members the floor during the agenda item on tree removal, new board president Bill Weber asked the committee members to give their thoughts during member input. He then cut them off when they exceeded their three minutes each allotted time. 

Chet Koblinsky spoke first, you can see his full remarks here. He made the point that the golf course master plan had only six tree removals for the full 18 holes and that these had come after an arborist review. If an arborist then had recommended six removals, why did a different arborist during construction recommend many more be removed?

One reason might be what Chet said the golf course pro told him: the reason some trees were being removed was to make it easier to lay new sod. In a subsequent discussion with golf course president Blair Nicholas, he told me that some trees might have been damaged during construction and then removed.

Anthony Alario next spoke and said he, Chet and Bill Beckman had met with Blair Nicholas last fall to raise the alarm over trees that were being cut down even then. Discussions and a course walk was supposed to be scheduled in January, got postponed, and kept getting postponed and never occurred. 

Jeff Simmons and Bill Beckman also spoke and described three places where trail walkers on the front nine will no longer have canopy tree shade. 

The Board Discussion

Weber then introduced the agenda item to discuss the excess tree removals saying that the Forest committee had expressed concerns. He stated that the board needed to hear facts, and needed to hear facts from the golf club and thus wanted to postpone any more discussion until the August meeting while having a moratorium on further tree removals until then.

From the audience, Tom Huesgen, newly hired director of agronomy, objected saying that they are about to start work on the 18th green area and there are three trees slated for removal there (based on the approved plan). He went on to say that there would be other trees that “should” be removed that were not on the plan. 

Weber then suggested that instead of a moratorium, any tree removals should be done with Association approval. Board director Laurel Lemarie pointed out that this was a meaningless approval process since the Association was cutting down the excess trees in the first place. She suggested a member of the Forest committee be part of the approval process.

Lemarie proposed a motion, seconded by Lorraine Kent, that a small committee composed of an independent arborist (not one that would be cutting down the trees, as was currently the case), Tom Huesgen, staff member Arnold Keene, and a member of the Forest committee be charged with approving future tree removals. 

Newly installed director Dan Comstock forcefully opposed this idea on the grounds that this would slow things down too much (the project is already behind schedule). Directors Greg Gruzdowich and Rick Sapp also opposed the motion saying that Forest committee members should not be involved, citing lack of expertise. Both Lemarie and Kent pointed out that the Association has lost the trust of a large part of the community and thus community involvement was now necessary. 

Sapp got argumentative and said that random citizens shouldn’t be part of the decision making process.

At this point, Tom Huesgen spoke up saying “I don’t want to get into an argument”, and then proceeded to do just that by giving a 10 minute powerpoint presentation. This surprised Forest Health committee members who had been told to not prepare a presentation of their own and that substantive discussion would take place during the August meeting.

Huesgen showed 15+ pictures of downed trees and explained the reasons why they were cut down. The reasons he gave included excess deadwood, hollow cores, half dead trees, trees where the top bit was dead, and even that trees were too close together, yet were healthy.

This group of Ash trees was deemed “too close together” and thus several cut down.

These are not great reasons to get rid of trees. Even hollow core trees can live a very long time and aren’t necessarily a danger. The Art Jury, upon approving the golf course remodel plan made sure to lay strict criteria for the removal of trees, and none of the criteria Huesgen used above were on that list. The criteria the Art Jury used was that the tree is completely dead or will certainly be dead in the next few months or the tree presents an imminent danger to a person in close proximity.

One of the trees Huesgen removed showing some dead branches.

Being outnumbered, Lemarie, with Kent concurring, clarified her resolution to state that the proposed Forest committee member would only be an observer and not have decision power. With that clarification, the resolution passed. The Forest committee has given the Association the names of three committee members who will be on call to immediately go on site for any further tree removals. They have also asked that the firm who conducted the 2018 RSF Forest Health Study recommend an independent arborist.

Like Pulling Teeth

The fact that it took an hour of back and forth debate to agree to such an inoffensive resolution is astounding. My diagnosis of the board dynamics is that some board members are not listening to each other. Sapp, Gruzdowich and Comstock simply didn’t address or give credence to Lemarie and Kent’s concerns which were member complaints.  Not allowing a Forest committee member to be part of the process was a slap in the face of not only these volunteers but of all community members.

Update July 4th: The board has been cutting down trees on the golf course and ignoring the Forest committee since last November. See additional info at the end of this article.

Not Getting The Message

This tree removal debate is reminiscent of the fiber boxes in the horse trails problem. Sapp, Gruzdowich and Comstock don’t seem to appreciate that you can have your cake and eat it too if you put forth the effort to manage contractors as opposed to giving them carte blanche to do whatever is easiest for them. Many excess trees were cut down for reasons other than imminent death or disease. Contractors must be managed with policies that address the concerns and priorities of all Rancho members. 

The golf course isn’t just used by golfers. I would estimate that more non golfers enjoy the golf ring trail and views than golfers. 

Unfortunately, this episode will give non golfers yet another reason to cast aspersions on the golf club. And it was entirely avoidable if just a single member of the Forest Health and Preservation committee was invited to be involved.

The Problem With Intransigence

The problem with spending so much time on hammering out one issue is that there is no energy left to discuss other no less worthy and important topics. Please read an associated article about how the Association has been repeatedly violating its own rules during this construction project.

The other issue not discussed has to do with tree planting. During the last golf course master plan in 2014, it was agreed that 26 new Eucalyptus trees would be planted on the front nine. According to Chet Koblinsky, none were. And the current master plan only shows a small handful of new trees to be planted. 

Board Officers

OK, enough of that. The board meeting started with the election of officers and the results were:

  • President: Bill Weber
  • Vice President: Bill Strong
  • Treasurer: Rick Sapp

Ironically, upon the election conclusion, Bill Weber’s opening remarks were to praise community volunteers. I say this is ironic since the majority of the board didn’t want those same volunteers to actually have any involvement regarding tree removal.

Other Member Input

Holly Manion made the case to continue zoom meetings, or at least make the recordings available for members to see.

She also sounded the alarm over the 283 unit Goodson apartment buildings that is working its way through the approval process just outside Rancho. She said that the developers received an exemption allowing them to skip a traffic study since they are offering a small number of affordable housing units. She asked the RSF board to send another letter to Encinitas objecting to the development.

John Engels also added his support for the continuance of zoom meetings.

Add the RSF Post in that category too – meetings should be recorded so that members can view them after they get back from their jobs or recreation activities. All other local communities around us record their board meetings – we are the exception.

July 4th Update

From an email sent by the Forest committee to the RSFA board November 24th 2020:

Despite our request to the Board to cease the removal of the large [healthy] heritage Eucalyptus trees on the golf course until we had a chance to fully review the situation, a large tree was removed near the green on the 5th hole yesterday and the debris is being removed today by Rancho Environmental.  Pictures attached.
 
I was told by the RE staff that this was at the request of the course superintendent, Tim.  This is a clear violation of our request.