Update On Moving the Fourlane

The fourlane between San Jose and Cabo San Lucas was built in the early 90’s with funds from local businesses who were required to pitch in 1.3% additional corporate income tax, which paid for a third of the road’s cost. The remaining cost was ponied up by the state and federal government in equal parts. This financial arrangement is one of the reasons, but not the only one, the local residents consider the road theirs. Most of us know the federal police consider it theirs, and charge their private “tolls” accordingly. Unfortunately for us, they do have jurisdiction over traffic on the road.

Within mnths of opening, the El Tule bridge washed out, leaving Cabo and San Jose isolated from each other,,as the fourlane was and still is the only road to get to the international airport. It was then that Eduardo Sanchez Navarro, the biggest, most successful developer in Los Cabos, proposed an alternate road to parallel the fourlane, but running three miles inland, further up the slope. That actually happened, and we now have a second  road, which starts on the road to Todos Santos, runs 19 miles, ending at the toll road to the airport in San Jose. This was recently finished, but has not officially opened. You can drive it, though, and for now it’s free.

Developers, led by Sanchez Navarro, are once again agitating to move a small section of the fourlane inland to make room for more developments south of the highway. Obviously this property would sell for more money if it is on the ocean side of the highway. But Sanchez Navarro tells this paper that is not why he wants to move the road. He says guests of the five hotels that would be impacted by this traveling road would be safer with the whizzing traffic of the fourlane not whizzing so close to the hotels. He also allows that they would enjoy a more tranquil, quiet holiday if they are far from the highway.

 But because the local papers have picked up the story now, opponents have come out of the woodwork. Many locals are against it, as they were also against the Chileno Bay developers moving the road a few hundred yards inland a few years ago. Local people protested that move as they feared that the popular Chileno beach would end up in private hands, but that hasn’t happened: The Chileno Bay developers not only welcome the local Mexicans to the quiet Chileno cove, but they keep it clean and even pay for a security guard in the parking lot. Chris Snell, in charge of marketing Chileno Bay, tells us the reason for the move wasn’t to create more real estate south of the freeway, but to keep the noisy traffic further away from the homes. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, we’re only quoting Chileno Bay’s spokesman.

With this new road move, the developer is saying essentially the same thing; that they want to use the old road as a quiet zone, with bicycle and walking paths, making it into a sort of park. And they want to build a barrier at one end so traffic can’t whiz through. The project includes 22 bus stops, a bike path, access to seven beaches and may attract investment in more hotels and residences.

The opposition is having a heart attack over what they perceive as an excuse to snatch away from the local Mexicans the beaches along that .7 miles of now closed highway. A word about Mexicans and their beaches: All Mexican beaches are public. They are part of what Mexicans call their national patrimony. Every Mexican feels they own every beach, and in fact they do. But in tourist areas of Mexico, the foreigners seem to have established exclusive rights to many of them. Or more accurately, in tourist areas such as Los Cabos, Mexican developers try to keep Mexicans off their beaches because they perceive that foreign tourists don’t want to spread their beach blanket out next to a Mexican family. It is invariably a Mexican who puts up barriers to Mexicans enjoying their beaches. But this is the issue with the moving road: the fear that the Mexican developers moving the road will keep their pisanos from getting to the beaches.

There is some justification for this fear, as most of the Palmilla beaches and all of the beaches at Cabo del Sol have been blocked off with guard shacks staffed with men who will not let Mexicans driving jalopies filled with families and buckets of fried chicken into these developments. This history has created a Mexican standoff, with the protestors not trusting the road movers to not block off the beaches.

Last week Eleazar Gutierrez, the delegate from the state ministry of communications and transport (SCT) leaked the news that the fourlane was on the move again, funded 100% by local resort developers, at a cost of $6 million. The news even named names, saying who was behind it: Eduardo Sanchez Navarro of Grupo Questro, Ruben Coppel of the Sheraton Hacienda del Mar and the new Solaz resort, the Lomeli brothers of Villa Neptuno, Casa Mexicana, Puerta de Hierro residential developments and the upcoming LeBlanc resort, and Owen Perry and partners from the Villa Group.

Last week’s SCT leak caused an immediate reaction, the first on the scene being an open letter published by the association of architects, which said the new road was not part of the urban plan and would have to be reviewed by everyone on the committee before it would be approval. What, you didn’t know we have an urban plan? Yes, we do, and it’s rather intricate, but of course it’s always subject to “suggestions” involving “donations”. Others less kind than we might say adherence to it is a joke and easily breached by anyone with money to spread around.

A few days after the SCT and the architects weighed in on the subject, representatives of the road movers attended a meeting with the Madrugadores group, an influential old boys’ network of business owners. The developers made their pitch on the project and its benefits, promising that the current fourlane would remain open to the public, but with controlled access and stoplights to make the area and road safer.

A day after that presentation appeared in the local media, the associations of architects and engineers, as well as several non governmental organizations, (NGOs) met with lame duck Mayor Tony Agundez to express their opposition to the project. (It does need the blessing of they city council to move forward.) Agúndez dodged that hot potato, saying “I do not know the project in depth; I did attend a meeting on it that the city council’s urban planning committee called, but the project was explained in only a very general form.” Sounds like he napped through this thing for the second time.

Fernando Garcia, president of the association of tourist developments, said, “The project can bring benefits to all but must be studied carefully and the final decision taken according to the law.” 

Gonzalo Franyutti, who is the road movers’ lobbyist, said the new road would be, “Like the Par Vial (downtown) in Cabo San Lucas, a safe and pretty boulevard.” But remember, he’s paid big bucks to say that.

Rubén Coppel, one of the road moving developers, said, “This is fine. The people are asking questions and getting answers. We will work with the community on this project. The existing road will become a pretty boulevard, and only the private properties will have gates.” Of course he did not say exactly where those private properties are and where the gates would be exactly.

Carlos Moreno, president of the local Architect Association, said, “The most important thing here is that the developers and the city council open the door to debate and analysis before approving it. (A guarantee of) public access is definitely the key.”

Gianmarco Vela, president of the Restaurants Ass. said, “We are in favor of development but we are also concerned about access to the public. We already have controlled access to Cabo del Sol and some local residents are not allowed in to go to the beaches, which are public. Plus, we don’t want to lose that beautiful ocean view drive.”

Heriberto Anaya, president of the local Engineers Ass., said, “ I’m glad they have chosen to present the project to the public. It is obviously not part of the current, revised urban plan… I don’t see the need to move the road other than to reduce the number of accidents in that area.”

So let’s talk about timing. And transparency. When the original Chileno Bay chunk of road moved, there wasn’t this much transparancy, it just up and moved. This time the developers seem to have shot themselves in the foot by showing their cards before rolling out the bulldozers. Or have they?

Remember, the city council needs to approve it, and the current mayor, who leaves office next month, would surely have been an obstacle to this, as his greed is legendary. He would no doubt obstruct it until he got everything he wanted for his retirement. And the developers’ candidate for mayor, Alberto Trevino, was just defeated at the polls, a big setback for them.  Also, 2015 is a new era in social movement in Mexico and in Los Cabos. Activists are paying closer attention now, so this road move is going to be a more delicate and tricky negotiation.

It will be interesting to see who gets what they want and how much they have to compromise to get it.