Here’s why Rancho Bernardo, San Diego’s northernmost residential community, is fascinating.
It’s really boring.
The potholes aren’t bad. The power lines are already all underground. Sure, the city-run library and rec center have cut their hours way back. But so what? The roughly 40,000 people here live in one of seven planned communities, each with a homeowners’ association providing amenities like park space, pools, meeting rooms, small libraries, computer access, even at one, I’m told, a hot tub.
City government? It’s good for pothole-fixing, police and fire. But up here, the services that other less-affluent neighborhoods solely get from the city — libraries, parks, even landscape maintenance — are often supplanted by HOAs or community groups.
“When the grass goes brown in other median strips because the city’s cutting back on water,” says Marty Judge, a retired local business leader, “they’re lush and green here. It’s a little bit better life here.”
Elsewhere in San Diego, stories of City Hall failing residents are easy to find. But up here, everyone I met seemed pretty content.
Take Nancy Canfield, a two-time honorary mayor of Rancho Bernardo, who moved there on the day Elvis died in 1977 and fell in love. “I feel like I’ve died and gone to heaven,” she says, and pauses. “I didn’t necessarily feel that way in Kearny Mesa.”
I’ve spent the last week in District 5, embedding myself in the district to get to know its residents’ concerns, which I’ll take to Mark Kersey, the lone candidate for the district’s council seat being vacated by Carl DeMaio.
The very lack of problems defines RB. While that may make it boring, it is turning City Council District 5 into a launching pad for politicians running on a city-wide platform, not a district-specific one.
“They don’t have to worry about the neighborhood,” says Janie Ramshaw, a Rancho Bernardo business owner, “because the neighborhood is taken care of.”
While Marti Emerald campaigns through City Heights promising to improve voter registration there, Kersey sounds more like he’s running for mayor. And Carl DeMaio, the current District 5 councilman, is running for mayor.
Kersey’s pitches are modeled after DeMaio’s: jobs, pension reform, balancing the budget, transparency. They aren’t neighborhood-specific. Even his website’s name has a city-wide focus and a DeMaio echo: letsfixsandiego.com.
Which isn’t to say that the neighborhoods in his district are without challenges. I’ve found farmers in San Pasqual Valley who are concerned about road maintenance and say they’re ignored by City Hall.
But with many routine issues sorted out internally, RB residents say their attention naturally drifts to City Hall’s bottom line. Because they say they’re paying more into city coffers than they’re getting back. “So things that affect that bottom line at the city matter to us,” says Valerie Brown, a community volunteer.
RB residents pride themselves on their community support network. When fires tore through there in 2007, hundreds mobilized to help their neighbors. When Chelsea King went missing in 2010, hundreds again turned out to help search.
“If there’s an issue, we all get together and say: ‘What are we going to do about this?’” said Nick Anastasopoulos, a restaurant owner and RB resident. “We can control our own destiny without waiting for City Hall.”
Rancho Bernardo is conservative (up here, you hear labor unions called “the U word”). Its population is more affluent and older than the rest of San Diego. And its eligible voters turn out to vote: 73 percent of them did in November 2010, compared with 63 percent citywide.
“We know we’re a part of the city,” Judge says, “but we think of this as a community that stands alone.”
But it has only been around since 1962. Almost no one I met actually grew up in Rancho Bernardo. Which means that they don’t care where Kersey is from (Ohio, and most recently, Solana Beach).
Barbara Warden says she was the first council member to be elected from Rancho Bernardo in 1993. While on the council, she says she visited each council district and invited other members to tour hers.
After visiting the city’s urban core and southeastern neighborhoods with then-Council Members Christine Kehoe and George Stevens, Warden says she came away stunned by the challenges she saw there.
“I thought: What do they complain about up here? You couldn’t have it any better,” she says. “The place is in good shape, it is.
“It’s really lucky to live here.”
Keegan Kyle contributed to this story.
Rob Davis is a senior reporter at voiceofsandiego.org covering the District 5 City Council race this week and last. Who else should he talk to? What are the big issues? Contact him directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0529.
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