The Rancho Santa Fe Post

To Stop SDG&E, the RSFA Must Act ASAP

Preservation of the Ranch's culture and landscape is a common ongoing theme, as it requires constant vigilance. SDG&E's recent maneuvers have caused understandable alarm and raised questions requiring immediate exploration as to how our historic landmark can be defended and what battles we should choose. Time is of the essence.

The County Court of Appeals recent ruling on the Mabee property's Rancho Librado project was a victory for the RSFA and the Ranch. The Mabee trust lost its initial law suit, lost on appeal, and is obligated to reimburse the RSFA (and indirectly its members whose dues were paying for the lawsuit defense) the full cost of its lawsuit. This keeps the floodgates sealed shut (for now) from future projects with similar designs to densify and change our pastoral landscape.

But with this victory comes an unfortunate defeat. Perhaps as a final stick in the eye, the Mabee trust has leased a part of the non-Covenant portion of the estate to SDG&E as a staging and launching site -- kitted out with helicopter pad and all -- for the replacement and installation of 180 new poles in the area.

There has been little time for residents to react to this plan, as, according to a Land Management Representative at Sempra Energy, there was a "snafu" in sending out initial notices to surrounding neighbors because of "last year's fires." Notice or not, this is a big operation that is being rolled out where massive poles and "lots of conductors" will be transported through and flown above our homes and horse properties for at least "a couple of months."

Joe Gibaldn of SDG&E's Regional Affairs department said that they have met with the RSFA regarding how this project could impact surrounding neighbors and the many horses that live in the area that may be negatively affected by such activity. Nevertheless the plan is to have helicopters launching and landing from the Mabee property, making multiple trips for at least "seven to 10 days, no weekends, from 9AM to 3PM." But we were told all these time frames are just estimations and could change. And this time frame may just be for helicopter runs, as the latest SDG&E notice notes that "work will be conducted from 7AM to 7PM, five days a week.

Not only does this operation fly in the face of the Covenant's serene culture, the replacement poles being used may have a serious impact on the Ranch's aesthetic as well. In about a week, SDGE will start permanently replacing old wooden poles with 55-foot steel behemoths. As Holly Manion, an RSF resident since 1954, has passionately written in letters to the RSFA and fellow residents, these poles will be a visual blight on our historic community as they are not made of a natural material like wood and are far taller than the old poles. Undergrounding utilities is the safest least intrusive and most effective way going forward. Because Rancho Santa Fe is a State Historic Landmark designation, Mrs. Manion implores RSFA Members and the Board to get involved and get this installation stopped.

With a victory under the Ranch's belt on the densification issue, it's understandable that the Board wants to pick battles it can win. The RSFA did attempt to stop the SDG&E project on the Mabee property, but the devil was in the non-Covenant detail. But the RSFA should seek legal advice on such matters, especially ones that may impact our community's character and property values like these permanent poles. Just because SDG&E is a quasi-government public utility Goliath doesn't mean we should take its word as gospel, especially since the RSFA has prevailed in the past against public utility companies. And let us not forget that SDG&E is hardly beyond reproach, as it was found to have not used "good utility practice," which in turn caused the 2007 Witch Creek, Guejito, and Rice Canyon fires.

Once RSFA locates competent counsel, the first question to be asked is what rights/remedies does the RSFA have in this matter, if any? Next, what is the RSFA's chance in prevailing? Next, what is the best way to stop SDG&E at least temporarily from proceeding? The filing of a request for an injunction may be most effective in such a limited time frame, because once they get started it will be near impossible to stop them. Finally, if the RSFA chooses to proceed with stopping SDG&E, the test will be to show irreparable damages, such as concrete proof that property values will go down if these 55' poles are installed (realizing that they presumably will be in the County rights-of-way, or where SDG&E has specific easements). I believe proving irreparable damages, in the form of loss of property values, etc. is feasible.

RSFA Board Members and residents have voiced their deep concerns regarding SDG&E's latest project, and President Wasserman has signed and sent a letter to the public utility company as a result. From the RSFA's perspective, time is absolutely of the essence. If we don't explore our legal options and move quickly, it will be too late and SDG&E knows this. To reiterate, preserving the Ranch's rural and historic character demands our unabated attention. Attempts to chip away at what we have here will never ever go away. Let's put a system in place now so we are prepared to protect our community swiftly and effectively in the future.

Click HERE to read the courtesy notice sent by SDG&E.