The Rancho Santa Fe Post

Keep Rancho Freaky?

Heavens Gate, drivers abandoning telephone-pole-trashed Ferraris, creepy unsolved murders... Welcome to Rancho Santa Fe party people!

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What our residents do personally is beyond our control, but how we govern our little township is not. And last week's unprecedented Telenovela-level RSFA public hearing to consider removing RSF Post columnist Jane van Praag from the CDRC Board, at the request of her fellow CDRC Board Members, didn't help our Phil Spector-weird street cred. Indeed, I'm thinking we steal Portland's thunder and sell our own kitsch bumper stickers outside the post office: KEEP RANCHO FREAKY.

I should have prefaced my intro with another bumper sticker slogan, I HEART RSF. I embrace nearly everything about this gloriously idyllic bubble of natural beauty. I even love the people, young and old from all walks, who end up here because they find it as indulgently blessed as I do.

Hard to stomach

But just like most other towns across the planet, you've got to swallow an unpalatable blob of gnarly with a greater helping of good. And the unsettling and unpleasant nature and details of Jane's considered removal and resignation all in one fell swoop last Monday, was like eating a piece of cake from that scene in "The Help." Since gateau a l'excrement isn't a personal culinary fav, I hope I don't have to stomach anything like this again.

As one can imagine, the RSF Post finds itself in quite an awkward little pickle. Jane has been a well-liked and regular contributor to the Post, with her "CDRC Confidential" column. Phil Trubey, another popular writer on the RSF Post with his common-sense articles and helpful RSF Connect Updates, is married to one of the four current CDRC members. Just like our recent school uproar over teacher layoffs, several fellow residents have submitted articles to the Post about this latest CDRC drama, but do not want to use their names for fear of subsequent treatment.

Where the Handmaid’s Tale and MAGA hat wearers collide

In a small town, it's downright hard to speak your mind freely. Like some dystopian Twilight Zone where the alternate universes of a Handmaid's Tale and MAGA hat wearers collide. We feel your pain, people. It is. We are neighbors and friends, even on the same committees and boards, with people we may not agree with on local issues. So it's much easier to just bury those feelings in that toxic wasteland of one’s psyche and zip it. And, indeed, it's been suggested that the RSF Post not cover the current CDRC controversy, as it just dwells on an issue that makes the Ranch look bad (I have two words for you: Hale-Bopp. No wait, maybe four: No retail. Hold on, maybe six: Leaf blowers.)

We all know what suppressing thought and speech leads to, so we'll choose freedom of expression. And we welcome more of our readers to chime in, as the concept of public healthy debate has become an endangered species as of late. And its imminent extinction is not only sad, it's a constitutional death knell. The more diverse points of view there are on a subject, the more we can understand the issues, the people involved, and draw our own conclusions in an informed manner. Because we all know what happens when we rush to judge: Helloooo? Susan Boyle anyone?

The rule of law

Some are more fearless to speak their mind than others. In her more-than-20-year RSFA Membership, Lisa Bartlett didn't miss many monthly RSFA Board meetings. She also has a 52-year association with the Covenant. As a lawyer and consummate stickler for detail and the rules, Lisa writes in this month's Post about what she argues are the substantive issues at stake surrounding Jane's considered removal. In "What Happened to the Rule of Law?" she writes, "Was Jane guilt-free? No. Could Jane be abrupt and insensitive? Yes. However, certain things relating to the CDRC, the processes followed by the Board and the lack of adequate supervision by the Board were seriously flawed too. This should give all RSFA members reason to be deeply concerned."

Some of the issues Lisa covers do indeed raise an eyebrow or two. First and foremost, why did this very public undressing have to get to this nuclear point of no return? If the level of contention was that acrimonious between Jane and her fellow CDRC Members, there should have been some form of formal mediation orchestrated by the Board to try to pacify the situation and encourage the committee members to find a way to work together. There were lots of ad-hoc conversations/verbal warnings before Jane's considered removal, but nothing to give her a three-strikes-your'e-out, in-writing admonition. Some say it wouldn't have made a difference. While we know it's kind of a hindsight 20/20 type of deal, a more formal, consistent procedure would have made more sense, and may have saved all of us some heartache.

“California Ranch”

Another issue which raises questions is the Board's decision to publish two seemingly conflicting statements: the first in a memorandum emailed to CDRC Board Members and then to all Covenant Members; and the second in a resolution published in the RSFA website's Members section online. The first Feb. 7, 2019, memo details how "It is the responsibility of the Board to ensure that the CDRC enforces the Protective Covenant, Regulatory Code and Residential Design Guidelines on a fair and consistent basis." It goes on to specify that Board Members as well as residents have noticed "excessive grading projects" and "buildings that are inconsistent with Latin-type design," and the CDRC must take great care that their permanent and lasting decisions on our rural community adhere to the PC.

However in a March 7, 2019, resolution not sent out to all members and simply published online, the RSFA Board states "'California Ranch Type' is a type deriving its inspiration directly or indirectly from Latin types, and therefore is permitted..." Huh? As Lisa Bartlett asks, "Where in the PC is there a description of 'California Ranch Type' being acceptable? Why was there such a major change from the notice sent to the full membership on February 11, without a community-wide discussion and vote?...If any given Board can just adopt a Resolution to change the PC, what next?"

Decide for yourself

So, on one side, the Board and the CDRC point to Jane's conduct as the deal breaker, on the other side are procedural and regulatory inconsistencies that may be at fault here too. Because the RSF Post will not publish submissions without authorship, we've had to pass on several that have been sent to us. So in order for us to provide as many angles to this story so our readers can decide for themselves, we've provided links to the following: RSF Review writer Karen Billing's April 2 article; RSFA Board President Ken Markstein's April 1 Public Hearing Opening Statement; Jane van Praag's April 1 Public Hearing Oral Argument.

In addition, the RSF Post made it a point to speak with CDRC Members in order to gain valuable insight into all perspectives. The four remaining CDRC members kindly provided the RSF Post with the following exclusive statement: "The CDRC has been, and remains, committed to following the Protective Covenant. This action was purely due to ongoing conduct that was detrimental to the CDRC process, Association staff and RSF Members."

Reputations at stake

April 1's Public Hearing felt very personal. And why wouldn't it be? Reputations of individuals and the Ranch itself are at stake. When we're passionate about what we do, criticisms can feel like a personal attack. Our fellow neighbors who volunteer (for free!) on our local boards devote endless hours and energy, all for love of the Ranch. It can be deeply rewarding, but equally thankless and divisive. There will always be another view. And that can be super annoying. Kind of like when reality bites and you realize there's always someone smarter, richer and younger. We have to learn to choose our battles, because sometimes it's just not worth it.

One thing's for sure: No one won last week. We all lost. Sadly, the Ranch was the biggest loser. And the last thing this town needs is bad PR.