The Covenant Needs a National Historic Designation

By Holly Manion

 September 7, 2021

As surrounding communities allow high-density development to encroach on the roads and vistas of Rancho Santa Fe, residents are calling for more protection for the Covenant.

There is an urgent need for the Rancho Santa Fe Association to obtain a designation with the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), which would give the Covenant more power to protect itself. Such a designation would provide a legal boundary to trigger an environmental impact review of almost any project that could negatively impact the Covenant.

One example of a negative impact on the Covenant is ever-growing rush hour traffic through the Ranch, making thoroughfares of roads like Linea del Cielo, Via de la Valle, La Noria/El Camino Real, El Camino del Norte, and La Granada/Los Morros/La Bajada to name a few corridors.

The traffic is caused by the high-density developments in Escondido, Harmony Grove, and those along Del Dios Highway. The proposed Goodson apartment complex for Olivenhain, if allowed to continue, may lead to Covenant roads being widened and straightened by the County. In 2011, County staff recommended widening and or straightening the five Covenant corridors mentioned above. If roads are widened and straightened, more and faster traffic will flow through the Ranch.

The huge Olivenhain apartment building bordering the Covenant is getting close to being permitted. It envisions 283 units with underground parking for 490 cars. The Fire Evacuation Plan Analysis Report recently done by J. Charles Weber, a fire and life safety consultant, indicated that in case of a wildfire, the additional cars on Rancho Santa Fe Road could turn our Ranch roads into a death trap.

The Covenant has already been awarded two designations to protect its historic standing in California: California State Historic Landmark #982 in 1989, and a Cultural Landscape Amendment in 2004. As significant as those designations are, they are still not enough!

We must set up a framework for the Covenant to remain a unique and historic community for the next 100 years. We should seek to limit development by surrounding communities that feed off our amenities. Obtaining an NHRP designation must happen soon. The more San Diego County is allowed to widen our roads and make other incremental changes, the less the chance will be to obtain the designation.

Other changes that an NHRP designation could protect against are construction not in keeping with the community character as laid out in the Covenant of 1928; installations of landscape lighting that defy the Dark Skies policy; and changing the vistas, views, and cultural landscape from the past.

Additional benefits of an NHRP designation include strengthening the Covenant brand, increasing property values, as well as giving the Art Jury, the Association Board, and all members of the community a deeper understanding of the history of the Covenant. The Ranch was carefully designed by its planners during the 1920s to be unique among developments in California. It was originally meant to be populated by “gentleman farmers,” each having their own orchard, who would grow fruit harvested for the Santa Fe Railroad to haul to the East Coast.

Each curve in every road was designed to complement the landscape it traversed; each plot was drawn to maximize the charm of every vista it could offer. The Covenant boasted the finest work of some of the most accomplished American architects. In later years, open space was acquired, and forests of original eucalyptus were protected.

No ranch resident is alive today who saw the founding of Rancho Santa Fe, but there are second-generation members of the original community who remember and lived the founder’s vision in the 50s and 60s – kids riding their horses to the village to eat at Bill and Emma’s; hanging out on the weekends at the Rancho Riding Club; a thriving tennis club with a Wimbledon winner teaching and playing; movie stars meeting at the local coffee shop, Quimby’s round table, to discuss global events; golfers accompanied by their dogs as they played the golf course; children riding their horses to school; and miles of trails, open space, vistas, and native beauty. At that time, nearby land consisted of large farms and ranches. Our hope is that subsequent generations will have the benefit of living their lives in this well-designed and planned community, where people want acres instead of lots, and value quiet, dignity, history and space.

A National Register of Historic Places designation is needed to guard against the incremental changes that would further urbanize the Ranch character that has attracted people from all over. We can no longer sit back and accept what is happening around us without taking a proactive stance. We need to come together as a community and take action to protect and preserve the essential qualities that still exist on the Ranch today.

Please contact the RSF Association Board and ask them to protect our RSF heritage with a National Register of Historic Places designation before it is too late. Provide your comments to (copying if you’d like).

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