Incorporation plans for this rich estate community took a major step forward Wednesday with a decision by Rancho Santa Fe Assn. directors to test public opinion on cityhood.
The board action came after William Zion, a consultant hired to study options for the community, said his findings led "unavoidably to incorporation."
The unincorporated community is seeking control of its roads and its traffic enforcement, exemption from urban standards for street lights that have been imposed by the county, and protection from high-density development encroaching from all directions.
Zion, in his final report, recommended incorporation of the 10-square-mile area covered by a strict protective covenant imposed by founders of the community in the 1930s. Other options studied were annexation of Rancho Santa Fe to neighboring Solana Beach if that community incorporates, strengthening the police powers of the community services district that oversees the community's sewage system, or incorporation of a larger area including neighboring communities like Whispering Palms.
Incorporation drives in five San Dieguito communities to the west and north of Rancho Santa Fe and the approval of major residential projects to the south and east by San Diego city and county officials prompted Rancho Santa Fe directors to seek methods of preventing urbanization from encroaching on the rural village.
Zion recommended that a "sphere of influence" be designated around Rancho Santa Fe to act as a buffer zone protecting the community and to extend the influence of the future city to areas where major roads are planned. Ranch leaders seek construction of two major east-west highways bypassing Rancho Santa Fe instead of widening of current two-lane roads that run through the community.
Board Chairman James Berry predicted that designating the sphere of influence "is going to be one of the stickiest problems we have" because surrounding property owners may not want to be under the control of Rancho Santa Fe officials.
Zion noted that creation of a buffer zone around "the ranch" also would make it possible for residents in the surrounding area to annex to Rancho Santa Fe without permission of the town's residents.
The consultant's study indicates that Rancho Santa Fe could retain its covenant protection and association government after it incorporated. He recommended that the two governments be merged, using the same staff while maintaining a separate board of directors and city council.
The City of Rolling Hills in Los Angeles County operates under a joint covenant-government structure, Zion said. The incorporation, he estimated, is economically feasible for Rancho Santa Fe and would not require an increase in property taxes.
Association directors voiced approval of the incorporation plan but postponed taking a stand on the issue until after an informational letter is sent to the community's 4,200 residents and a public discussion of incorporation is held.