Had I not seen it myself, had I merely stumbled upon its story in a journal, as you have, I never could have imagined the life I found beyond the gates of Fairbanks Ranch. It is true that this place has been well spoken of in the past and that recently it has been a topic of great discussion among gossip-mongers and look-sees and other personages who tend to buzz around properties of value, but do not let the fact that you think yourself familiar with the place lead you to believe that you understand its wellspring. For this place called Fairbanks Ranch is fantastic in the truest sense of the word, and its richness and value can only be fully realized on a more than cursory inspection of its setting, its peoples, its laws, language, and customs.
Lest I jump ahead of myself without properly setting the stage, I should tell you that I stumbled upon this strange and wonderful land as I journeyed from the sea eastward in the flood plain of the long-dry San Dieguito River. The valley is a rapidly developing area footed by the Del Mar fairgrounds, a massive concrete-and-stucco enclave to which residents throughout the county flock annually for festivals and races between great mounted steeds. Much of the land eastward of the primary north-south highway is used for farming and for raising and training equines for competition.
San Dieguito Road, which runs along the south side of the valley and over which I was traveling, leads directly into Fairbanks Ranch, in fact dividing its earliest homesites, north of the road, from “phases 4 and 5“ on the road’s southern side, many of whose homes are still under construction. San Dieguito is a wide, open thoroughfare that encourages drivers to press their vehicles to top speeds, and it shoots almost straight up to Fairbanks Ranch, which sits slightly above the river valley, where the road now ends. Occasionally, a slow-moving pickup is seen stopped along the roadside near where los trabajadores stand waiting, hoping to be picked up for a day’s work in nearby fields.
Nestled in the San Dieguito foothills six miles inland from the Pacific, Fairbanks Ranch is blessed with almost perfect climate throughout the year, and skies are sunny even when they are overcast and grey at the shore. The semitropical weather supports a variety of vegetation, including eucalyptus, fig, plum, pine, and sweet gum trees; wild lilac, bird of paradise, and oleander; and several species of creeping ground cover and vines, such as bougainvillea and wisteria.
Fairbanks Ranch is, indeed, exquisitely carved from the earth, a lush oasis punctuated with lavish homes and beautifully landscaped yards. But it is also much more than that, as you shall see. For this place known as Fairbanks Ranch is a physical manifestation of man’s quest for tranquility in a world that threatens at every turn.
On Fairbanks Ranch and Its History
All of Fairbanks Ranch’s 1237 acres were owned in the 1920s by cinema stars Douglas Fairbanks and his then-wife Mary Pickford. According to local legend, the two had purchased some 3000 acres in and near the San Dieguito River Valley to serve as their homestead while they were not in Hollywood. They engaged architect Wallace Neff to design a home for them, which they dubbed “Casa Zorro,’’ after Fairbanks’ most famous movie role.
It was not surprising that Fairbanks sought to build his estate in the San Dieguito River Valley. Nearby Rancho Santa Fe, covenanted in 1928, already was a popular vacation destination for movie stars of the day because of its climate and its charming village, designed by architect Lillian Rice. Douglas Fairbanks, it seems, was merely staking his claim to a future that his cronies already had deemed was rightfully theirs.
Fairbanks planted thousands of acres of citrus trees, beans, tomatoes, and grains on the once-wild hillside, and in 1928, he installed an extensive irrigation system with a small dam and pumphouse to maintain his crops. But in 1936, before he broke ground on his home, he and Pickford were divorced and their property was abandoned.
Forty-one years later, in 1977, Santa Monica developer Ray Watt purchased the site of Fairbanks Ranch (along with other nearby parcels from some eight different owners), then joined with Home Capital Development Group, a subsidiary of Home Federal Savings, to develop the property. The site was graded, underground utilities were installed, roads were built, and the land was subdivided into 618 lots that today are called home by nearly 1200 residents in 270 houses. About 125 new homes currently are under construction.
Being a stranger to the community — which, I should add, does not kindly welcome passersby — I naturally sought out other outsiders from whom I hoped to gain my first glimpse of Fairbanks Ranch, which is set off from the main road by six wide, black, iron gates. Yet descriptions of the community and prices of the homes available from local real-estate offices did little to ameliorate my initial impressions.
“Unquestionably, [Fairbanks Ranch] is the most exclusive residential enclave in the country, perhaps the world,” I read in a moss-green and coral- colored promotional brochure I picked up at a local realty office. “The personal discovery of legendary screen idol Douglas Fairbanks, this beautiful valley was destined to serve those of discriminating taste. The movie star’s dream to build the ‘perfect’ home here has been realized by many — in Fairbanks Ranch. And his quest for the ‘good life’ is being carried on by people who share his reverence for exquisite living.” That daunting claim served only as introduction to the price tags of the homes and lots advertised for sale in local publications: a “glorious-view French” offered at $1.4 million, a “dramatic Mexican colonial” at $1.2 million, a “hilltop Mediterranean” at $1.6 million, a “Connecticut country home” at $1.5 million. The price of an empty lot (average size: 1.2 acres) ranged from $400,000 to $650,000, according to Marge Hall- Crawford of Fairbanks Ranch Realty.
As if I did not already lament my fate eking out a meager existence as a teller of tales, I became increasingly tantalized by the suggestions of opulence and wealth. Oh, but for the gate, I would be in heaven!
On the Magistrates
“In a world of continual change and uncertainty, Fairbanks Ranch offers a strong, reassuring environment,” the real-estate brochure told me. “Here, security is an innovative, intricate part of the complete design”
Marvin Levine, second- term president of the Fairbanks Ranch homeowners’ association, agreed upon our subsequent meeting that Fairbanks is, indeed, “a very security-conscious area.” Fairbanks employs seventeen security personnel to staff two of the entrance gates (the other four are used only by residents, who open them with electronic devices similar to garage- door openers) and to patrol the community’s forty-two streets and cul-de-sacs around the clock. All visitors must pass through one of the security checkpoints, at which time they are asked their destinations by the guards, who retain the option of confirming that information by phone.
Residents also may telephone in advance to grant permission to let a visitor pass, or they may place the visitor’s name on what is called the “permanent list,” allowing regular access to specific individuals, such as gardeners, nannies, and friends. There is no mail delivery in Fairbanks Ranch, and parcel delivery trucks are escorted through the streets and then out again by security cars. Because of the number of construction and landscape personnel necessitated by Fairbanks’ growth, a visitor also may secure a temporary one- or six-month pass (one-month passes are given to construction workers, six- month passes to domestics and maintenance people). These passes are issued by the association board upon written request of the homeowner.
In the last year, the county sheriffs department reports only eight burglaries in Fairbanks, three of which were recorded as thefts of materials from construction sites. The other burglaries also may have been committed by persons who gained legitimate entrance to the area as construction workers, according to sheriff department spokesman Chuck Bettencourt. No other serious crimes were reported, he added.
As Fairbanks is built out, one resident said, he expects security to tighten, as the number of entrance passes circulating among outsiders falls. The association also is considering a new gate system and the establishment of an in-house police force (security is now contracted out) to curtail security breaches, such as cars that sneak into the community on the rear bumpers of authorized vehicles in front of them. A sign posted in front of the guarded gate reads, “Singular vehicle access — Damage will occur to tailgating vehicles.” Another high-priority project, according to general manager Bob Mariani, is the installation of a perimeter fence.
I must interject here a confession that I entertained thoughts of trying to challenge the Fairbanks security system, for by the time I had made the above inquiries, I was exhausted. In the end, however, I found this alternative unsatisfactory, when I learned how seriously criminal offenses are punished.
Drivers who exceed the thirty-mile-per-hour speed limit, for example, are warned on the first offense and, if they are residents, are called before management for a reprimand on the second offense. Residents may be fined up to $500 on the third offense. Nonresidents may lose permission to drive inside Fairbanks Ranch for up to one month. According to Mariani, the acquisition of a speed radar gun earlier this year has resulted in 111 speeding citations in the past few months, “most of which were served to construction workers.”
The alternative of posing as a construction worker intrigued me momentarily, but I dismissed it as well. Dirt and sweat would undoubtedly hinder my prospect of joining the Fairbanks Ranch crowd. I was beginning to be discouraged.
Then I recalled the old English proverb, “Money begets money,” and I knew I had found my way in. I scurried off in search of some rhinestones and called in an IOU from an old friend in the limo business. Before I could say, “There’s no place like home,” I found myself inside.
My first impression of Fairbanks, as I gazed upon its loveliness from beyond smoked-glass windows, was that the homes are remarkably different from one another, despite the fact that they all were approved by the Fairbanks Environmental Control Committee. (Composed of three voting members who live in Fairbanks Ranch and a nonvoting professional architect, the ECC is Fairbanks’ version of Rancho Santa Fe’s Art Jury and grants builders and prospective residents permission to build and landscape within the constraints of the “Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions” of the community.)
From the imposing dark and lofty English Tudor to the stucco, ranch-style architecture known as “early California,” the homes vary greatly in both their presentation to the street and their decor. Some of the houses are modem, incorporating geometric shapes and earth-tone pastels that draw one’s attention to intricate, internal forms. Still others, while majestic on building pads high above street level, resemble the ordinary Williamsburg colonials one sees on the East Coast. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
While I found some individual estates to be imperious, at the same time, many are so close together that they almost invite their neighbors to come inside. Large brick homes fronted by white Doric columns and circular driveways seem almost to beckon children to play whiffle ball on their well-manicured front lawns. Tall, Gothic, castle-like houses flocked by willowy branches and cobblestone walks seem the perfect setting for Halloween haunts. Fairbanks is a place of contrasts.
Fairbanks also is a place of consistency in that, particularly in the newer sections, the houses (or “estates,” as Watt Industries likes to call them) are consistently large, with no limits on floor-area-to-lot- size ratio, such as those in Rancho Santa Fe or Del Mar. In fact, Fairbanks requires a minimum home size of 2500 square feet to assure that adjacent properties retain their values. The larger homes are closer to 20,000 square feet, about one-half the size of a football field.
“The houses are consistent,” said Michele Broekema, whose ultratraditional, ultraspacious Tudor home has almost doubled in value in the last four years. “You can't go in and move into a real dump. Everything is up in that $1 million price range.” Even the empty lots already have proved to be good investments, with prices jumping from about $350,000 late last year to $400,000 to $500,000 today, said real estate agent Marge Hall-Crawford.
Fairbanks Ranch sales agent Gloria McNurlen told the story of a man who wanted to build a large home in the Mission Beach- Pacific Beach area but who couldn’t secure adequate financing because his banker felt that building a new home in that area was not a good investment. “There are very few areas they can build that large and have homes around them to compare,” McNurlen said, adding that home builders in Fairbanks “have no problem with lenders” because the market is strong.
To help maintain their investments, Fairbanks home owners have vested in their association complete responsibility for maintenance of streets, parks, and other common areas. Fourteen people are employed in this capacity. An additional seven employees staff the association offices on the grounds of Fairbanks Ranch and provide support to ten resident committees and a five- member board of directors that governs the community. Participation in self- government is high, with 150 people attending the annual meeting this spring.
Among the other jobs of the association, its board of directors dispenses permission to nonresidents to use the community’s 5100-square-foot clubhouse for charity functions or social occasions. In so doing, the board controls — or at least limits — public access to a private world. “We discourage the use of our clubhouse for functions that are not personally given by property owners or [for] Fairbanks Ranch community uses,” Levine said, choosing his words as carefully as he obviously chose his home. “On occasion the board has permitted charitable organizations to use the facilities, but we are always concerned in terms of giving the community a high profile. When outside groups come into the community, there is some intrusion on our privacy, and this is our community.”
Homeowner and committee chair Ken Perko recalled one recent incident in which the board was particularly miffed about radio advertisements for a charity function at the clubhouse that enticed listeners to come to the event “and get to see Fairbanks, drive around Fairbanks.” “We talked about that some because it is easy to come across as too aloof, but that is not the flavor we want to bring to the outside world,” he said. “Yet there is a lot of pride in what’s here.” The board took no official action on the incident, but Levine said that future charity groups will be forewarned about limits on the use of the Fairbanks name in advertisements before they are permitted to use the clubhouse.
The incident, although hardly of great consequence, suggests that in addition to exercising control over what goes on inside Fairbanks Ranch, the homeowners’ association also is concerned with and has taken it upon itself to affect the image of the community in the eyes of outsiders.
Of the homeowners who agreed to speak to me — and some elected not to do so because of undue concern about their reputations — many expressed dissatisfaction with print and broadcast depictions of the area’s expensive homes. Of particular distaste have been newspaper stories that centered solely on real estate. One resident pointed with disgust to a segment on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that featured several homes in Fairbanks and touted Rancho Santa Fe as a place “where the hills are alive with the sound of cash registers.”
When posed with the suggestion that the image was, in fact, carefully cultivated by Watt Industries as a means of promoting home sales, association president Marvin Levine said, “That’s what got [buyers] into the community, but once they got here, they saw a different thing.” What you see, evidently, is a lot less than what you get.
On the Residents of Fairbanks Ranch
A controlled environment that relieves its residents of security and landscaping worries and assures that the neighbors are of similar socioeconomic stature — combined with chandeliers, wine cellars, Jacuzzis, and thirty-foot atriums, of course — all have attracted many affluent buyers to Fairbanks Ranch, where the number of building permits issued by the ECC went from about fifty in 1986 to more than a hundred in 1987. The number of permits issued thus far this year is on pace to exceed a hundred again, according to general manager Bob Mariani.
“People move into a community where they think it’s going to be interesting to live,” Marvin Levine said, escorting me onto his patio to let me listen to the majesty of nature in his back yard. “It’s an oasis of tranquility, of visual splendor. It’s the country. It’s nature. It’s horses.... What has snowballed it is that it has become an established community of quality. People felt Fairbanks was a good investment. People don't want to go into this kind of a community without feeling that their money is being invested safely.”
As if their presence has not been touted around town already by real-estate agents who say they don’t divulge residents’ names, Fairbanks has attracted a number of prominent citizens to its walled estates, including San Diego Padres owner and McDonald’s heir Joan Kroc (who is reportedly building an estate on ten adjacent lots); Kroc’s former son-in-law, Ballard Smith; sportscaster Ted Leitner (a recent arrival); Copley Newspapers editor in chief Herb Klein; and former Republican Congressman and recent appointee to the University of California Board of Regents Clair Burgener. Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman once resided in a 2000-square-foot renovated guest house originally built as part of Douglas Fairbanks’ Casa Zorro.
Yet for the most part, the less prominent Fairbanks residents (heretofore known as “lotters” for their penchant for referring to themselves by the lot number of their homes, as in “I’m Lot 93”) are relatively young entrepreneurs and executives with children or teen-agers living at home. The average age is estimated to be forty- four years old for the head of household. Most are white, although there are some lotters who bought with foreign money from places such as Japan and Iran.
Michele Broekema, who initially moved to Fairbanks as a temporary residence almost five years ago while her La Jolla home was being remodeled. said that Ray Watt originally envisioned Fairbanks Ranch as a semiretirement community that would attract empty-nesters aged fifty-five and older who sought an escape from faster-paced city life. But there was a complete reversal. “With the amount of income that most people in their thirties are making today, this place is a real good place to raise kids,” said Broekema.
The attractiveness of Fairbanks to both celebrities and families with young children in part harkens back to the essence of Fairbanks which, as Marvin Levine said, is “a gated community not only because of security, but also because of privacy.”
Because of the gates, lotters are able to mingle with their own kind, without intrusion by tour buses full of gawking fans or others of a less benign type who might bring harm to their safe haven. In that sense, I found Fairbanks indeed to be an oasis, a safe harbor, where the worries of the outside world can be left behind.
Ken Perko, an computer-industry entrepreneur who, like many businessmen, finds his job demanding and occasionally stressful, said that he and his wife found a serenity in Fairbanks that they couldn’t find after looking for the better part of a year in other exclusive communities, such as Rancho Santa Fe and La Jolla.
When they discovered Fairbanks, Perko said he concluded negotiations on his home the very next day. “The people we’ve gotten to know, some of the neighbors, there is a vitality here,” he said. “The Rancho [as Rancho Santa Fe is sometimes known] seemed tired.
“I can leave the office with whatever the stress happens to be, and I will frequently stop and walk three holes [of the Fairbanks Ranch Country Club golf course],” added Perko, looking remarkably stress-free on the Saturday afternoon we spoke in his contemporary version of a French cháteau, which served as the “Designer Showcase” house just after it was first built “on spec” in 1984. “When I get here, I just forget about everything more than anyplace else I’ve ever lived.... The gated community is a big draw. There’s a sense of safety.”
There is also safety in numbers, the saying goes, and the influx of wealthy people to Fairbanks drew others to the area from both out of town and from communities around San Diego. It is a lesson Ray Watt certainly understood when he started Fairbanks Ranch Country Club in 1983. According to several sources, Watt solicited the help of a handful of his friends to help promote the club, which is open to residents and nonresidents who wish to pay its $50,000 initiation fee ($10,000 for a social membership). He asked these friends, all of whom were prominent businessmen, to ask their friends to join them in becoming one of thirty-five founding members of the club. Among the founders are Nick Carter of Oak Industries; Foodmaker Inc.'s Jack Goodall; Great American Federal Savings Bank’s Gordon Luce; Moffett Martin, widow of TV producer and Del Mar fair- board member Quinn Martin; former Wicks Corporation chief Ed McNeely; and Robert Payne, owner of Doubletree Hotel and former member of the Super Bowl Task Force. As a limited partnership, these individuals established a base of credibility in the community before the first brick was laid to build the clubhouse.
“If you start with a nucleus of credible people to reach out to their peer group to draw attention to what’s going on, that’s the way it works. And the more it works, the more it works,” one source affiliated with the country club said.
Unlike the rapid cancerous spreading of rumors, popularity oft grows slowly, and in fact, several builders who erected homes in Fairbanks on speculation were forced to unload them at discounted prices only four years ago. Now, however, the market apparently is good, and according to Watt Industries president Joe Davis, the word about Fairbanks is out, particularly among the rich and famous here in San Diego.
“We have our largest source of customers from referrals,” Davis said of the Fairbanks Ranch sales base, estimating that nearly eighty percent of Fairbanks buyers are relocating from neighborhoods in the San Diego area. “People like their friends and neighbors to be associated with them.” As Davis told one reporter earlier this year, “The community is not a pioneering effort anymore. The Who’s Who of San Diego now own property at Fairbanks Ranch.”
While Fairbanks residents merit listing in the Gold Book, the private phone book for Rancho Santa Fe, one might learn whether Davis’s claim bears any true weight by considering the community within the context of the larger social scene in San Diego. Indeed, that kind of comparison is difficult to make, but at least in one instance, Fairbanks’ infancy reveals itself quite clearly. The instance involves polo — the sport of kings — and money.
Polo took root locally in the early 1900s, when sugar baron John Spreckels built a polo field on Coronado Island near Spanish Bight. According to Chukker, the annual publication of the Rancho Santa Fe Polo Club, the sport flourished into the 1930s on the island, San Diego’s first playground for the wealthy. Following World War II, polo was introduced into North County, but it didn’t survive its second season before the sole club in Rancho Santa Fe closed for lack of funds. Then in 1987, the Rancho Santa Fe Polo Club — which plays on fields due west of Fairbanks Ranch — reopened with great fanfare and a summer season that this year features four events being held for charity.
Michele Broekema is the chairperson of Cadillac Celebrity Polo for Multiple Sclerosis, named by Ranch and Coast magazine as one of the summer’s premier social events. “I wanted to create a kind of a garden party [at the polo match] so everybody can eventually get together, so we can get our social circles mixed together,” Broekema said, describing her intent for this year’s event. It didn’t work out that way, however, she said, lamenting the fact that the social circles of Coronado, La Jolla, and Rancho Santa Fe tend to operate independently.
“It’s a question of time and getting the word out and making it as much fun as possible,” Broekema said, noting that the highly successful Jewel Ball in La Jolla is attended by “such a cliquey little group.” “It’s word of mouth, it’s friends telling friends and getting them in.” Broekema also found herself at a disadvantage because Fairbanks Ranch doesn’t have a firmly established network of local residents with whom she could work to promote the event.
When queried about the people of Fairbanks Ranch, Burl Stiff of the San Diego Union and Eileen Jackson of the Tribune echoed Broekema’s suggestion that high society in San Diego seems to take little notice of life in North County, and, in fact, until quite recently, there was very little intersection of social circles anywhere in San Diego. Both Stiff and Jackson also admitted that they have not often written about Fairbanks Ranch charity events or private parties in their social columns, again because the community apparently has yet to come into its own among high society.
“I have been remiss in not being more aggressive in finding out what’s going on up there,” said Stiff, admitting that he has never been certain exactly where Fairbanks Ranch is. “I’m not aware of it being a hotbed of social activity.” Stiff said that he has not purposely excluded events held at Fairbanks and that he has covered several charity events at the country club, as well as the party Broekema held in conjunction with this year’s polo match. But he also said that he has not received that many invitations to events held at Fairbanks. The events he has attended — such as the annual Golden Faire tennis tournament, which moved to Fairbanks country club from Vacation Village — were those that he had attended previously in other locations or for which he knew the hosts prior to their relocation to Fairbanks.
Broekema said one of the attractions of Fairbanks, at least while it was still very young, was that it hadn’t grown roots socially, and like a New World settlement, it lent itself to interaction among neighbors without the hindrance of cliques and a defined pecking order. Las Damas de Fairbanks, the community’s women’s club, came about because “nobody knew anybody,” Broekema said. “One gal just started it, and now it has almost 200 women.”
On the games and amenities of Fairbanks Ranch
There is a park in Fairbanks Ranch that you can’t see from the street. It is tucked away in a ravine, behind the homes, beyond the obvious majesty of the clubhouse and bright reflection off the man-made, eight-acre lake. There, in the park, little children play on a small swing set, while their older brothers and sisters explore in the grass by a lonely Florentine fountain. Couples can stroll among tall trees; scholars can read .on old wooden rockers by the rush of a small fall that carries water from the lake above to a pond near the equestrian center and then back up to the lake through an underground pumping system.
Known as the pumphouse park, this hidden oasis among tons of stucco and marble is a microcosm for the escapist tendencies I found to be prevalent among lotters (who, I feel compelled to add, all were very charming people, once I convinced them that I had not come to threaten their sanctum). The park was built by Watt around the original irrigation building designed by Wallace Neff and built by Douglas Fairbanks in the 1930s. The pumphouse was restored, and the pumps were removed and replaced with a reading room.
“The park gives people an area within the community where they can be at peace,” Marvin Levine said. And over and over in conversations, lotters return to this feeling of peace that they seek at Fairbanks, and they dwell on their preference for rest and relaxation in a safe environment that sets them apart from the worries of the rest of the world. With the exception of adequate shopping and medical facilities, Fairbanks and its immediate environs caters to that preference.
Consider the recreational accommodations available within the gates, which include five tennis courts, forty acres of open space, and a man-made lake (originally built by Douglas Fairbanks and stocked with bass) where fishing is permitted. There is a seventeen-acre equestrian center (membership is open to nonresidents, as well as residents) and more than three miles of fenced-in horse trails. Horses are housed in an 11,000-square- foot barn with twenty-seven stalls and a large paddock area with grooming, tack, and exercise facilities. Lessons are offered by the Fairbanks Ranch Riding Club on individually owned or leased animals.
Socially, the lotters have a variety of options for amusement, including their own ski club, tennis club, women’s group, polo club, and bridge club. There is a teen group called the Zorro Club, a preteen group for “Tweens,” and a young adults’ club. Young children can attend “Tot Lot Story Hour,” Camp Fairbanks for two-week sessions in the summer, and Camp Creative, which is advertised on hand-painted signs posted near the pumphouse park. There are close to 350 children living in Fairbanks.
The homeowners’ association also sponsors “Men’s Night Out” once a month, in which men are invited to the clubhouse for cards, conversation, and a barbecue. And Fairbanks Ranch has its own investment club, which meets monthly to listen to expert advice on such topics as investing in precious metals.
This year marked the fourth annual Fairbanks Ranch picnic and softball game, which pitted the homeowners of even- numbered lots (the Even Betters) against the odd numbers (Odd Lots). Watt Industries sponsored the event this year, and the picnic was fully catered.
“You come into your own little world here. Fairbanks is really like a world unto itself. It seems almost perfect. You get away from the hustle-bustle. It’s quiet, not like the Ranch, where you always get traffic,” said Broekema, who proved herself to be quite outspoken, despite her admission that she considers herself among “the right groups” in San Diego society. “I also like the youthfulness. It provides places to walk. It calls you out of the house. And there are such health-oriented neighbors, Gene Klein [whose horse farm is just outside Fairbanks on San Dieguito Road] and the country club. It sounds like it’s so hotsy-totsy. Well, I guess it is.”
If a shopping center can call itself hotsy-totsy, Fairbanks Village — a few feet outside the gates — may stake claim to that description, for it is unburdened by fast-food outlets, coin- operated laundries, and other stores that cater to the mass market. Instead, one finds a choice of three banks (including National Bank of Fairbanks Ranch), a hair salon, a small grocery, a restaurant, a health club, and some small boutiques. Mailboxes also are at the village. Other conveniences planned for the area include an elementary school on the corner of San Dieguito Drive and El Apajo, across from the village (imagine it as a suitable site for busing!), a Catholic church and a synagogue just down the road.
Not to pass unnoticed, the amenities Fairbanks Ranch residents can afford include the most exclusive of personal services, including teams of people to wash cars, care for children, clean homes, and prune trees, even hairdressers who make house calls.
David Friedmann, for example, is in a unique position of both living in Fairbanks Ranch and owning a company that residents can call upon for that most frustrating problem — a broken gate-opener. According to the community newsletter, Friedmann has been repairing Fairbanks transmitters since 1981 at David and David Automotive in Sorrento Valley. “David has other custom automotive electrical services available, such as incorporating all your transmitters in one unit and wiring them into your vehicle dashboard,” the newsletter states.
Scott Sandgren, known as “the Detail Doctor,” is on many Fairbanks residents’ “permanent lists” because he takes care of their cars — mostly BMWs, Mercedes, and Range Rovers, he said. Sandgren explained that most homes have “guaranteed two, if not more” cars. “Some houses out there, we do six [cars] for only two people.” He knows one young family that recently purchased two matching BMW 735s on the same day, “black for him and white for her.” The couple owns a Mercedes station wagon “for their maid to drive.”
As if to prove that people are molded by their environment, even some of the people who are employed in Fairbanks are aware of their different relationships with outsiders. One women who works as a domestic in Fairbanks was overheard talking to her employer about a recent visitor to the home.
“He was dressed in these ugly blue shorts and one of those shirts with no sleeves,” she said, discouraging the employer from returning the apparent suitor’s call. “Even I wouldn't be caught dead with him.”
No matter what walls a man erects, he is not an island, and even Fairbanks Ranch has not sealed itself from any and all conflicts. Among the most notable has struck at the very heart of the community, both literally and figuratively, and it has become known in the local press as “the tale of two cities.”
At stake in the battle between Fairbanks and neighboring Rancho Santa Fe has been a decision by the county as to which community will play the role of reluctant host to the increasing number of cars traveling to and from Escondido and communities inland. Presently, the only road that runs east-west from 1-15 to 1-5 between La Jolla and Oceanside is Del Dios Highway, known as Paseo Delicias, as it passes through Rancho Santa Fe. Del Dios often is clogged with cars, particularly in the Ranch, where drivers are halted by a blinking red stop light a; the intersection of Paseo Delicias and La Valle Plateada.
Tensions began to mount between Rancho Santa Fe and its new stepsister late last year, when the county board of supervisors acquiesced to a demand by the Rancho Santa Fe homeowners’ association to delay what is called the “circulation element” of the updated San Diegilito Community Plan. The circulation element pertains to traffic flow and includes options for proposed new roads, road realignment and reclassification.
According to minutes of a May 26, 1988 meeting of the county planning commission, the county originally was considering upgrading Del Dios Highway from a two-lane to a four-lane, thus accommodating more cars and further disrupting the serenity that Rancho Santa Fe residents covet and for which they pay a high price.
In response to the board’s agreement to postpone a decision, Rancho Santa Fe proposed an alternative plan, which called for preserving Del Dios as a two-lane road and, instead, extending and expanding San Dieguito Road (Route 728) such that it bisects Fairbanks Ranch, joins with a proposed Route 680 (which is slated to run north-south on the east side of Fairbanks), and finally hooks up with Del Dios Highway east of Rancho Santa Fe. The proposal also called for San Dieguito Road to be widened to four lanes. (Route 728, four lanes in parts, already bisects Fairbanks, but it ends at the east side of the community and currently is used only by residents.)
Both the county planning staff and Marvin Levine of the Fairbanks Ranch homeowners’ association spoke before the planning commission, in opposition to the Rancho Santa Fe option, and in the minutes of the May meeting, Levine is reported to have said that “decisions of traffic would best be served if Rancho Santa Fe would start to think in terms of the large ‘us,’ rather than the small ‘we.’ ”
Regardless of their objections, however, the planning commission voted to recommend that the county board of supervisors adopt the Rancho Santa Fe option, and the board itself concurred with that proposal last Wednesday.
Association president Levine insists that for the most part, however, Fairbanks and Rancho Santa Fe are amicable neighbors. “The newspapers have exacerbated the issue,’’ he said. “I feel that the newspapers have tried to portray a rivalry between the communities because it makes for interesting press.’’
Rivalry or not, I still found myself asking, as I worked my way from Fairbanks’ streets back to civilization, why someone would choose to live in Fairbanks over other exclusive communities north of the city. The answer, I must resolve, lies in the uniqueness of the Fairbanks experience — a gated community that offers impressive, new homes in a secure, private, and relatively worry-free environment, while also encouraging social interaction among its residents. Neither La Jolla nor Rancho Santa Fe can pledge to do the same.
The distinction between Fairbanks and the other places reminds me of that made between sleep-away camp, where children are escorted in groups through a daily routine and eat and play and sleep en masse, and a summer camping trip, in which campers may hike together and share a compass but pitch their own tents in seclusion for the night.
When asked to compare his neighborhood to the Ranch, Fairbanks resident Ken Perko said, “The Ranch sprawls all over. There’s no sense of it being an island. Here it’s gated, and the homes are close enough together to have some camaraderie, a sense of neighborhood.”
I have described to you as truthfully as I could this place called Fairbanks Ranch, which I judge to be not only an exclusive enclave of splendid homes and moneyed people but also an attempt to establish a modem island of tranquility and peace amid a frightening and tumultuous world. The isolation of the people of Fairbanks Ranch may not be admirable, if they are not encouraged to reach out to those less fortunate than themselves. But the life they are seeking cannot be faulted. We live in difficult times. I only find it sad that the world has become such a desperate place that those who have the means seek to escape it.