The Rancho Santa Fe Post

CDRC Confidential: The Ten Commandments

Article IV Section 28 of the Protective Covenant (PC) that runs with property purchased in the Rancho Santa Fe Association (RSFA), contains 10 paragraphs and is entitled, “General Requirements as to Architecture.” These “Ten Commandments” mandate such items as “type of architecture,” “color,” “materials”, etc.  If anyone wants to know what can be built here, they can read them (Section 28 is only about one page long!).  While lengthy RSF Residential Design Guidelines and a Regulatory Code have been written over the years, the PC is the prevailing legal governing document. Article V appears right after the “Ten Commandments” in the PC. Article V describes the method for changing these requirements.  The authority to change them rests solely with the Covenant members by a two-thirds majority vote (PC, Par. 164).

In its effort to welcome applicants, on October 23, 2017, the Covenant Design Review Committee (CDRC/"Art Jury") opened its review of its Guidelines and Regulations Meeting to the public, including applicants and architects to comment on the review. These meetings are normally private and only open to RSFA members. At first, I was surprised how many people there thought the CDRC had the authority to simply “rule” any style of architecture could be built in the Covenant.  Being appointed to the CDRC did not come with a tiara.  Under the PC, we actually are limited to using reasonable discretion to “interpret and enforce,” not change the PC.  As the Calif. Appellate Court said in Ticor Title Insurance Company v. Rancho Santa Fe Association, we do not have “unfettered powers by the process of “interpretation.’” 

Then I recalled, some RSFA Art Juries in the past had abused their discretion, approving projects that violated the “Ten Commandments” and understood the current confusion. Past abuses may have been caused by ignorance, relying on Covenant Guidelines which were inconsistent with or misquoted the PC; Or the abuse was intentional, where members of the Art Jury believed they were autonomous. The “Fifth Commandment” (PC, Par. 157) mandates the type of architecture to “Latin” inspired “. . . developed under. . . climatic conditions along the Mediterranean or. . . in California. . .” Par. 159 lists specific preferred durable materials such as plaster, stucco, stone, etc.  So, if Members want to change the mandated architecture to plexiglass igloos developed under the climatic conditions along the Bering Strait, or wooden New England Clapboard Colonials developed along the North-Eastern seaboard, they can under Par. 164 of the PC; but neither the CDRC, nor the Board has that authority.  If there is one thing of which I am certain: This Board and our new staff are committed to operating lawfully and preventing improprieties. 

The Board, CDRC and RSFA staff do have the authority to revise the Regulations, Guidelines and Procedures to eliminate inconsistencies and vague terms.  Reading these materials or sitting on the CDRC should not be a Rorschach test.  Everyone benefits from clarity, and improving these documents will go a long way to improve the communication of our Protective Covenant.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not the Covenant Design Review Committee.