John Moores
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As California prepares to vote in next week’s presidential primary, one of America's richest residential enclaves is embroiled in a big-money political fight that some fear may finally mark the death of its genteel, semi-rural lifestyle.

Known mostly by outsiders for its prodigious water use, wooded Rancho Santa Fe is in the midst of a bitter struggle for control of its all-powerful association board, along with millions of dollars for a gold-plated, super-speed internet hookup that could turn the horsey suburb into a lucrative high-tech hub.

Ultimately at stake are potentially billions of dollars in future real estate appreciation, with a good-sized chunk directly benefiting mega-millionaire ex–Padres owner John Jay Moores.

Rated by Forbes as the 18th most expensive zip code in the United States, "the Ranch" as the ten-square-mile unincorporated realm is known to its super-rich denizens, once enjoyed a self-enforced veil of privacy.

That was before Moores, a longtime magnet for controversy known for his take-no-prisoners style in both personal and political life, started shaking things up. The well-heeled Houstonian has occupied a sprawling Rancho Santa Fe estate since he bought Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres in 1994.

Valerie Stallings

After persuading San Diego city voters to pay $13 million in yearly debt service on a new $450 million downtown baseball park, Moores became enmeshed in 2001's Valerie Stallings influence-peddling scandal, during which the Democratic city councilwoman was forced to quit the council and plead guilty to charges related to receiving a bevy of gifts and gratuities from Moores.

Then followed the downfall of fraud-tainted Peregrine Systems,the public company that the computer magnate had used to funnel stock to Stallings and others he favored, including San Diego State University.

In 2008, Moores's wife Becky filed for divorce, demanding an accounting of costly gifts he had allegedly been showering on mistress Dianne Rosenberg, a La Jolla gynecologist.

A March 2010 closed-door settlement ended the marriage, and Moores subsequently wed Rosenberg in an elaborate 2013 ceremony at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, which he had purchased the previous year.

In the three years since, the ex-baseball mogul has embarked on a makeover of the historic property, tasking his second-in-command John Kratzer with boosting value by adding multimillion-dollar residential units on adjacent land, still awaiting approval.

Along the way, the venture capitalist has been stepping on the toes of the Ranch's old guard, who accuse him of playing the same kind of cash-infused big-city politics that got him into trouble with Peregrine, the Stallings affair, and his first wife.

After Kratzer took out a full-page April 28, advertisement in the the Rancho Santa Fe Review praising the association’s board, another resident slammed back.

"A principal of The Inn placed a full-page ad as a resident. Mr. Resident/Company who owns The Inn openly supports three candidates who are running as a bloc,” said Dana Falk in a May 12 advertisement.

“The reason is to maintain their control.”

In addition to redeveloping the Inn property, Moores is also building a controversial 49.2-acre residential compound for himself and extended family and guests, including an on-site mini-desalination plant to treat brackish ground water drawn from deep wells on the property, according to those who have seen plans submitted as part of the approval process.

Arguably the most contentious of Moores’s spate of initiatives is a proposal to have the Ranch’s property owners cough up $13.5 million for a state-of-the-art internet system that Moores and his backers hope will prove a draw for the nation’s legions of fast-money Wall Street high-tech players.

“Lately, real estate agents have complained that young tech millionaires back out of purchase deals when they discover they can’t work from home offices,” reported the Union-Tribune’s Dan McSwain in a May 7 column that didn’t mention Moores’s lead role in the deal.

Moores and three friends bankrolled a consultant’s study in 2014 that led to the current proposal, which must ultimately be approved by Rancho Santa Fe property owners. Critics fear the costly installation will inordinately benefit Moores and fellow venture capitalists.

“Our financial interests are the same as yours: our homes,” responded Moores and his associates in a June 2 Review ad.

“As Jason Barry, of Barry Estates, said, ‘It wouldn't surprise me if home prices lift substantially — perhaps 5 or 10% as the Ranch becomes tech-friendly. This is great news for our community.’”

The group denied widely circulated speculation that they would reap outsized personal financial gains from a deal with Pennsylvania-based Hotwire Communications, picked by the association board to operate the fiber-optic system.

“We also want to provide our unequivocal assurance that none of us have any financial interest whatsoever in Hotwire Communications,” said the statement.

Steve Peace

Because the unincorporated Ranch’s association board is a non-governmental entity and operates under state laws regulating homeowners’ associations, none of the campaign expenditures during board elections or the financial interests of boardmembers are required to be made public.

One family that has benefited financially from the internet project is that of Steve Peace, a former Democratic state senator and longtime Moores executive, whose sons Chad and Breton have worked as consultants on the project.

An association billing statement dated May 16 shows that the law firm of Peace & Shea, run by Chad Peace and Pat Shea, a registered lobbyist for Moores in the city of San Diego, along with Breton Peace, has been paid a total of $90,000 during 2015 and 2016.

Another Peace-run company, San Diego–based IVC Media, has done campaign work for Rancho Santa Fe association board president Ann Boon, who said in an online testimonial regarding IVC, “I trusted them with running my campaign, and now their communications efforts allow me to be a more effective leader in our community."

Ballots are due June 13, to be tallied the next day.

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Comments

AlexClarke June 4, 2016 @ 6:57 a.m.

LMAO! All condo boards are about power and influence. There is always a group of owners who want to control everything about their condo project. While "The Ranch" is not condos it operates the same with the same type of people who want to maintain control and resent anyone trying to upset the status quo. I belong to three associations and they are all the same control, control, control. Welcome to the real world oh ye of The Ranch.

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Visduh June 4, 2016 @ 8:48 a.m.

I'd guess that there is, or at least was, a nearly unanimous agreement among those who live in The Ranch, and those nearby, to keep the place low-key, rural in appearance, and of low density. Maybe fifteen years ago, the folks there managed to keep a traffic light from being installed along Via de La Valle because that would have damaged the ambience. (All the traffic that passes through there daily doesn't?)

If the residents of the covenanted area of Rancho Santa Fe get in bed with sleazeballs like Moores and Steve Peace, they will have only themselves to blame when the place changes forever, and not for the better.

What this could easily allow is mansions to be surreptitiously converted into high-tech workplaces, where upwards of a dozen workers show up daily, and work "from home". Not their own home(s) of course, but the big bucks owner's home. At the present time, the peninsula south of San Francisco is just booming with Facebook and Google, among others, building big campuses and employing legions of workers. There's little or no housing growth on the peninsula (think Palo Alto) to accommodate all the high-paid employees, and there's big stress in the disconnect. What nicer spot to house your boutique tech operation than right in RSF? They better watch it, and thiink a few years down the road.

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seriouslycommon June 4, 2016 @ 1:40 p.m.

So sad to see this ridiculous talk from people who have no idea what they are talking about. Peddling rumors long discredited and attacking people who are the only reason things like Petco Park and a community-owned Fiber network ever get built.

Easy to sit at a computer and peddle conspiracies. Harder to be someone who actually makes things happen and have to ignore the BS that is fed by the inhibitors of progress.

Just FYI. the City of San Diego made something like 7 times more than the projected return on Petco Park. Been to downtown and seen the change Petco Park had? And you sit behind a computer and trash the guy who personally financially guaranteed it.

You should be ashamed of yourselves. Go to bed and think about what its like to accomplish something big against well funded political opposition that use tabloids and people susceptible to conspiracy to inhibit progress. Then dream about one day not being a pawn.

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Visduh June 4, 2016 @ 8:14 p.m.

So sayeth "seriouslycommon" who just joined the Reader as a commenter today. Au contraire, sir or madam, we do know what we are talking about. We know the sordid histories of Moores and Peace and a host of others who, in the guise of accomplishing things, have picked the public pocket, avoided prosecution, and skated free.

Is that you Moores? Peace? Seems that way.

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Fred Williams June 5, 2016 @ 12:34 a.m.

Attn ADMIN: This is a strawman account.

Most likely paid for by Moores, organized by Peace, or their spineless greedy minions.

John Moores' long history of fraud, theft, bribery, lies, and blantant abuse of public trust is well documented. Only similarly craven cowards take his filthy money, such as the author of the above straw man comment.

No, don't delete it. Just please have a look at the IP address, and see if it correlates with any of the corrupt entities associated with Peace and Moores. Then turn loose a reporter on the story.

Only salt and sunlight damage slugs like these. I urge the Reader to add more of both, and again commend Don Bauder and Matt Potter for their many decades chronicling the abuses of serial criminals like John Moores.

Now they've set their predatory sights on the Rancho, perhaps the wealthy and powerful oligarchs of San Diego will turn against these scum, instead of abetting their careers in theft from the public, investors, and now the home owners of such an exclusive community.

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oskidoll June 5, 2016 @ 1:15 p.m.

WHOA! THAT Steve Peace (Mr. Electric Deregulation, remember?) !!!

If Peace is involved, can David Malcolm be far behind?

Does not bode well for the folks at RSF...better hold onto your wallets.

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