Tres Santos Development Picketed

Trouble in the paradise called Todos Santos
BY: SHARON SHELDON

Tres Santos, a new master planned community currently under development in and around the town of Todos Santos, is scaring the beejesus out of the small town’s residents. They say it hogs scarce water, and it is so big that it will overwhelm the current residents, and the current infrastructure.

The developers say, awe, c’mon, it’s not going to be as big as it looks on paper, and we will eventually be using water we have desalinated at our expense, and anyway our new residents will contribute more than their share of taxes to increase the town’s infrastructure.

But the locals point out that so far the developers are taking water from the aquifer, and no matter how much the new residents pay for the new infrastructure, they simply do not want all that growth going on in their sleepy little village.

TresSantos.jpgThe developers shoot back that everything they plan on doing is sustainable, that they are as green as the Jolly Green Giant, and the townsfolk should feel lucky it is Mira backed by Black Creek money that has bought the land and is developing it. Mira is the Mexican builder hired by the Black Creek people who are from Colorado.

Throw in the picketers who have tried to block the construction guys from getting to their job site, and you have the entire controversy in the first 227 words. You may move on to the funnies unless you want another 800 words of he said - she said. (Actually, you might as well read this, as we lied about the funnies: they’re aren’t any in this paper.)

One morning two weeks ago pickup trucks belonging to the pissed off fishermen of Punta Lobos blocked the dirt road leading to one phase of the development, the part that has come along the farthest, the 32 room two story hotel on the beach and the 40 homes. They say the Tres Santos has taken the best part of the beach, pushing them to the far south end, a less desirable place due to terrain and the presence of an arroyo.

Long before Gringos arrived in Todos Santos, Punta Lobos has been the beach where fishermen launch and retrieve their boats. These men have been plying the waters for generations and feel, like most Mexicans, that this beach is part of what they call their patrimony. Generally, most Mexicans feel all of Mexico is for all Mexicans. As the oil in the ground is their patrimony, so are all the beaches. And, by law the beaches are for the public. But the 20 yards inland from the high tide line is open for grabs by anyone who wants to purchase a lease, called in Mexico, a concession. An example of a concession is Medano beach in Cabo. Each of those restaurants/bars on that beach is paying the federal government for leasing the land they are on. The cost is laughable, at less than a few hundred dollars a year.

It appears that these fishermen either didn’t know about the importance of obtaining a concession or thought their generations of use of the land, or their being Mexican, (patrimony), would be enough. But it isn’t enough in these days of foreigners buying up what seems like every square meter of land in Baja. And when their simple way of life collided with the smart Tres Santos developer’s attorneys who snatched up the Punta Lobos concession, the fishermen were goners.

So now the fishermen, along with their extended families and many supporters from town, are sitting in their lawn chairs under shade tarps, trying to draw attention to their displacement with placards.

When this reporter was taken out to the beach by Wayne Trudeau, spokesman for Tress Santos, she was told the fishermen were happy with their slice of the beach just to the south, and anyway they are going to build rest rooms, a fish cleaning palapa, and bring in running water for them. In possibly the worst public relations move in the history of Baja development, they are building their hotel first,, with no fish facilities in site. The prize for the worst engineering advise ever could be blamed on the developer’s alleged engineers. Tress Santos built a concrete seawall to hold back the ocean from their hotel, and then brought in hundreds of truckloads of rocks they dumped in front of the seawall.

The beach has now changed from a gently sloped stretch of sand where it’s easy for the men to mange their fishing boats to a very steep beach with an incline they can’t pull their boats up. Trudeau says this change in the beach is due to the natural ebb and flow of sand, exacerbated by the storms we’ve endured this year. He says his engineers have told him the sand will come back in December, and that the change in the nature of the beach has nothing to do with their seawall and rocks.

Semarnat, the agency that regulates the beaches, also says that Tress Santos is not to blame for the loss of beach, that the unusually large swells we got this year is the culprit. Their representative tells us Tress Santos was not in the Federal zone when they started building, but yes, they are now encroaching.

Semarnat plans to check back in 8 to 12 months and if Tress Santos is still inside the 20 meter limit, they will not be required to tear down their hotel and move back, but to pay additional money for their concession.

The fishermen disagree and throw in their complaint that in addition to losing most of their beach, and being jammed up against the arroyo that floods them out, and up against the nearly sheer rock wall marking the end of that beach, Tress Santos’ seawall is breaking up and washing up on their patch of sand. These rocks have caused damage to their outboard motors, some losing their lower ends, and sometimes if the prop is turning when they hit a rock, the entire engine is kaputt. They produced some of these engines at the site of the pickets.

The fishermen feel frustrated, disrespected, displaced, and ignored and have reacted by publicly protesting in an attempt to draw attention to their concerns.

One observer of the confrontation, Jamie Madrazo, expressed the opinion, “Look, we all know that development will happen, but if you say it will be environmentally sustainable (as the Tres Santos developers promise), then it should truly be sustainable.”  And the first goal of sustainable might be to not lose Todos Santos’ most beautiful beach to the Pacific Ocean adds another picketer.

Tres Santos representatives have agreed to a public meeting with co-op leaders on November 11. Hopefully this will go better than the shouting and sloganeering on the picket line. In fact, Trudeau said the reason they have not held a second town meeting explaining their plans is the first meeting turned into a free for all with booing and cat calls and shouting down anyone who tried to talk. It wasn’t productive,” he said.

Maybe those against the development will be more calm this time, but given the emotional roots of their cause, and the fear they are losing their livelihood and their way of life, that looks doubtful. And maybe every foreigner should be concerned that these locals are treated with respect for their land, and with dignity, or we will all be disrespected ourselves.