Pointing out the white New England Clapboard Colonial being built right above the Rancho Santa Fe Golf Course, the long-time resident leaned down from atop her horse, and asked me, like so many others: “How did that get approved?!!!” I knew the answer.
The homeowner continued, “The Art Jury has gotten too liberal.” The New England Clapboard at issue was approved by a prior Art Jury than the one to which I was appointed. Partly in an effort to combat criticism of being difficult, the Art Jury, now called the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC), has permitted construction of buildings which do not adhere to the Protective Covenant (PC) that applies to all property in the Rancho Santa Fe Association (RSFA). While I can do nothing about prior violations, I can help enforce our covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R’s) with totally new construction, which is only about 14 per year.
Article IV, Section 29, of the PC mandates five “General Requirements as to Architecture,” including that the architecture’s “chief inspiration” be “from Latin types, which developed . . . along the Mediterranean or . . . in California,” [Par. 157] with the “preferred” “Materials: Plaster, adobe or stucco exterior wall surfaces of a durable construction or concrete, stone . . . ” [Par. 159] The purpose of these specs is “to insure a uniform and reasonably high standard of artistic result and attractiveness” [Par. 46]. The New England Clapboard causing disturbance among residents does not “conform to” these requirements [Par. 156], along with its non-recessed and palladium style windows and colonial brick facade. Fine in Connecticut, perhaps Fairbanks, not Rancho.
The CDRC reasonably permits matching existing materials and style to those homes already built including wood board and batten. I support this because to do otherwise would be an undue hardship. But, for completely new projects, the CDRC is legally obligated to follow our CC&R’s. I used to joke I was the Antonin Scalia, a strict constructionist, of the PC. But after a year on the CDRC, I now realize Martin Luther is a better analogy, as I too have faced threats of being "excommunicated" for saying the PC is the fundamental governing document RSFA management and residents are obligated to follow. The personal feelings/interests of CDRC appointees, staff, and consultants, or the guidelines, procedures and regulations containing the misstatements of prior management are never to take precedence over the PC. Period.
Conforming residences do not have to be all Spanish Revival. Reference books like Mexican Architects New Millennium by Fernando de Haro and Omar Fuentes provide illustrations of some modern architecture conforming to existing PC specs of Latin inspired and Preferred Materials. Their photographs show how creative architects using traditional colors and durable materials such as tile, plaster/ stucco, can design a modern/contemporary residence that would “harmonize with its surroundings” in the Covenant [Par.155] and “that distinctive type of architecture” called out in Par. 157. Adhering to the PC encourages the transformation of uninspired modern or contemporary "International Style/Early Office Park," into a “high standard of artistic result and attractiveness,” [Par. 46] reflecting our unique California location and heritage.
It’s like Korean Mexican fusion cuisine. It’s not just Korean food out of the trunk of a car in LA. Many of the delicacies of this combination use Korean filling wrapped in a Mexican taco or burrito, creating a distinctive type of Southern California cuisine. The brilliance lies in using elements of one culture with the indigenous foundation of another to design something harmonious and new.
So, too, conforming to the PC specs keeps the banality of HGTV-style New England cottages and Farmhouse Glam from invading our landscape. While occasional existing residences in that style might be said to add character, to make them predominate would diminish the “high standard” required by the PC and destroy the architectural narrative of RSFA.
Some RSFA staff members and CDRC appointees adamantly insist prior Art Jury approvals of non-conforming projects mean these violations are acceptable forevermore. They are spending my and other members’ hard-earned HOA fees with lengthy programs arguing specifications of “high class” (PC Preamble) durable California Mediterraneans have “evolved” into wooden New England houses. The right to “evolve” (I.e.: change) the specs rests solely with the written agreement of two-thirds of RSFA property owners under Par. 164 -- not the CDRC.
The CDRC currently does not reveal if decisions were made by a 3-to-2 vote. This gives the misleading appearance that everyone approves the project when they do not. The present CDRC officers want unanimity. This is not possible when some members of the CDRC propose to exceed their authority to reasonably interpret the CC &R’s resulting in an abuse of their “discretion” under Par.156.
At the end of this month, two of the current CDRC members are being replaced by new appointees. Because the current RSFA Board and Management understand the importance of the PC and are dedicated to following the rule of law in revising our regulations and guidelines, I am confident the CDRC will continue to improve its procedures and regulations. That way, we can prevent the answer of “That was approved because the majority of the CDRC ignored our Protective Covenant.” RSFA members will feel secure their property is being properly protected under our CC&R’s.
The statements made in this column are the opinions of the author and not those of the Rancho Santa Fe Association Covenant Design Review Committee.