The Rancho Santa Fe Association’s new “Governing Documents Committee” has been exploring and proposing ways to make the Covenant’s voting procedures easier and more equitable. To make sure the community is involved in the process, the Committee held a town hall the night of October 22 for Association members to share suggestions with the committee’s legal team.
Committee members in attendance included RSF Association Board Director and committee Chair Fred Wasserman, Judge David Moon, litigator John Blakely, and attorney Kris Charton.
The committee’s information packet outlining proposed changes was mailed out last week and the community is currently in the 45-day review process. Members are encouraged to submit written, faxed, emailed, or online comments to the Governing Documents Committee.
This type of review process has not been done before, Wasserman explained.
“We wanted to be sure that everybody who wants to put forth input and changes would have an opportunity to do so,” he added.
The committee examined all the documents governing the Covenant and came up with a few proposed voting changes to ensure equity and comply with current law:
- All property-owners of a building site shall automatically have two votes, instead of granting only certain owners two votes.
- Owners of multiple properties will still be limited to exercising voting rights on a single property.
- Condominium owners will be granted voting rights.
- Members will no longer be required to separately register to vote. This formality is not required under the Davis-Stirling Act and will now be automatic.
The final versions of proposed changes will be posted on the Rancho Santa Fe Association website by mid-December. The Board will vote on them at the January 7 Board Meeting and then mail out ballots for members to do the same. If approved, changes will take place on July 1, 2016, and will not affect votes on the next Board elections, the Covenant Club, or on the fiber-optic network, should they occur before that time.
“This is being done to ensure fairness, simplicity, and equity,” Wasserman said.
Another reason the modifications are being proposed is to establish a more efficient document, John Blakely said.
“There are sections that contradict one another and do not tie together,” Wasserman added.
“We need to amend the bylaws so they are easy to read and functional for our membership. What is adopted and amended now is a working document that should serve people without a legal education,” Blakely said.
Three predominant concerns emanated from community members at the town hall:
First, why is the Association overriding the one person, one vote rule that is industry standard in all other Homeowner Associations?
Association member John Tanner questioned this decision, “I don’t understand why we would have two votes if one of us dies. There is no other election process that works this way.”
Wasserman responded, “If we would like to change that, it can always be changed. Making that change, the Board felt would be objectionable to the majority of people in the Association. That doesn’t mean it’s right, we don’t think it’s right -- your comments should reflect that and we can give it more consideration."
Secondly, why do multiple property owners, who pay assessments on each of them, have the same vote as those who only pay for one property?
“The multiple properties stipulation was implemented when there was a significant amount of large landowners.” Laurel Lemarié said. “Today, there are only a few members who own multiple properties and they are the ones being discriminated against.”
As you can surmise, the second concern conflicts with the first, demonstrating the complexity of the issue. Advocates for the reform suggest that the new proposal is a good balance between the “one person-one vote” standard that governs public elections and the private right of all property owners to be treated fairly within the Association’s decision-making process.
Lastly, some community members voiced concern over unintended consequences that might arise from altering voting rights and amending the bylaws too quickly.
It was suggested that the committee’s outside counsel take a closer look at the proposed changes. A written opinion from independent counsel was requested by community members.
Currently there are 2,112 total votes in the Covenant. If proposed changes take effect on July 1, 2016, there will be 3,590 votes.
Members are encouraged to offer input through written comments, email, or fax. There will be an online comment form in early November.
No changes to the voting rights of Association members will or can be implemented without a vote, and majority support of, the current 2,112 voting members.