La Paz, Baja California Sur (BCS). Eighty residents of Todos Santos listened attentively to the two hour orientation of the then Director of Human Settlements of La Paz. That day, September 20, 2007, architect Marco Antonio Dominguez Valles explained the slides containing the final version of an ambitious plan to energize the local economy with the promise of an area wide master plan that would create social cohesion, ecological balance and, above all, provide certainty for investment: The Subregional Urban Development Program Todos Santos-El Pescadero and Las Playitas.
Perhaps none of the listeners at that meeting, which was recorded for the foreign community by the Bajawesternonion.com a local blog, imagined that 8 years later that public servant, would become the shameless protector of private interests. Overnight he went from being a public servant and a teacher at the Technological Institute of La Paz to become a prominent building contractor. As Head Construction Manager (DRO: ACPO123 / 13) he won contracts for multimillion dollar tourist resorts, including the tourism-real estate development Tres Santos, which has been exposed for serious irregularities in environmental and social impact.
MARCO ANTONIO DOMINGUEZ VALLES WAS ALSO DRO MEGAPROJECT MARINA AZUL LA PAZ, LINKED TO PRI POLITICIANS; HERE A PICTURE OF HIM.
To understand Tres Santos, we need to understand who is Marco Antonio Dominguez Valles. He taught at the Technological Institute of La Paz, and also held various positions related to urban development the in PRD municipal administrations, and was the director of Urban Planning and Real Estate Assets Management within the administration of Governor Narciso Agundez Montano (2006- 2011). Thanks to his intimate understanding of internal construction processes, the professor became a master, but at influence peddling. It seems that the same processes are still occurring during the administration of Armando Martinez Vega.
During the government of Victor Castro Cosio, XII mayor of the City of La Paz an Advisory Committee was formed to develop the urban plan for the Pacific coastal region. This committee included civil society, agencies of the three levels of government, professional associations, chambers of commerce, Ejidos and aldermen.
The current mayor Armando Martinez Vega, at that time was the head of the Commission on Human Settlements, Public Works, Public Registry of Property and Commerce and Cadastral joined the worktable; also Isidro Martín Ibarra Morales, then the secretary general for the City, and who is again in the same position with new mayor Martinez Vega, Bertha Cota Montano, former Director General of Municipal Development and, of course, Dominguez Valles then with the Department of Human Settlements .
However, the Subregional Urban Development Program Todos Santos-El Pescadero and Las Playitas did not develop in the way that those most interested would have wanted: Inmobiliaria Punta Lobos SA de CV (legally represented by former sixth district candidate for the PRI, Jorge de Jesus Santana Osuna, now minority partner in Tres Santos ); United Investments SA de CV and Grupo Salas.
Dominguez Valles quickly joined the cabinet of the XIII City of La Paz of Rosa Delia Cota Montaño in the Department of Urban Development and Ecology (2008-2011), it seemed that finally Todos Santos would become a development area; but he had to wait because the Ejido Todos Santos expressed disagreement with the Urban Development plan because some of their properties were listed as flood plains. They demanded an expert assessment and filed a federal injunction, so the plan to promote big development in the area was stopped for six years. The financial crisis in the United States in 2008 stopped the real estate boom in Mexico and curtailed development.
To the detriment of the Ejido, during the fourteenth City of La Paz, the injunction against the City was dismissed; in May 2012, the City Council finally approved the Subregional Urban Development Program Todos Santos-El Pescadero and Las Playitas.
In June 2012, after negotiations and defensive tactics the PRI government of Esther Ponce Beltrán favored Dominguez Valles with the appointment of his business partner and co-alumni of the Technological Institute of La Paz: Fenech Tito Guillermo Cardoza the new Director General of Urban Development, who had left his position at the Department of Public Works and Human Settlement to take the place of Franco Diaz Urnieto, and thereby give more work to their construction company.
In a synchronicity rarely seen in the government bureaucracy, on December 16, 2013, the Delegation of the Secretariat of Environment and Natural Resources (Semarnat), directed by Jose Carlos Cota Osuna, at that time close to the political group of Mayor Esthela Ponce, approved file 03 / MP-0058/05/13, the environmental impact statement of Tourism Development IntegralPlaya Santos, Todos Santos BCS, and authorized what is now Tres Santos.
¿Playa Santos or Tres Santos?
To obtain authorization in the Delegation of SEMARNAT, the project initiated the process stipulated in the General Law of Ecological Equilibrium and Protection environments and regulations of environmental impacts. The the environmental impact statement was submitted in May of 2013, under the category of “particular”, and on July 28, 2013 was presented at public hearings.
Mario Sanchez of the Mexican Center of Environmental Law (Cemda), said in the public meeting that the document was entered in the wrong category, that it should have been entered into the “regional” category. And the Environmental attorney was correct. The Regulations of the General Law of Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection in Matters of Environmental Impact, in Article 11, paragraph II, it states that “a project or activities that are part a plan or partial urban development program or ecological program that is submitted for consideration to Semarnat must be done as prescribed in Article 22 of this regulation “.
The representatives of MIRA Companies, a Mexican subsidiary of Black Creek Group, a real estate investment corporation in Denver, Colorado, did not file as required in the regulations. Even they surprised the audience at the public hearings when development figures in their impact statement decreased to half the number of homes to be built, that is, 2100 homes instead of the 4470 that they proposed to distribute over an extension of 414 hectares in 20 lots. In the medium term the project includes a research center linked to the University of Colorado, two “boutique” hotels with 120 rooms, and the water requirement decreased from 2000 liters to only 300 liters per month. In 2014, after its approval, they began construction.
Playa Santos functions thanks to the creation of two companies (FRBC-Todos Santos “, S. de RL de CV,” Dos Santos FRBC-All “, S. de RL de CV), both represented by Francisco Javier Barrios Sánchez CEO of MIRA Companies. Likewise, he also appears as the promoter for HSBC Development Mexico, SA, Multiple Banking Institution, Grupo Financiero HSBC, Division Fiduciaria. Trust F / 306088.
Another ally is Inmobiliaria Punta Lobos SA de CV, represented by Jorge de Jesus Santana Osuna, who in a strange transaction sold several properties, but managed to keep 800 hectares of land called Los Lobos, within which would be the subdivision of the Urban Tourist Development Punta Lobos, and which is contemplated within the Subregional Urban Development Program Todos Santos-Pescadero-Las Playitas thereby fixing the land use of the beach along with two other companies. This designation would have changed upon reaching an agreement with MIRA Companies, however because the land of Playa Santos remained within the property of Los Lobos, conveniently it was designated as an impacted zone.
The 800 hectares served to justify the destruction of a system of three wetlands. The Investors have argued that they had authorizations dating from January 7, 1981. The permit file is known as 23/585, and was granted by the former Ministry of Agriculture and Water Resources through the Forestry Program Headquarters.
On March 2, 2007, José Santana Pineda, president of the Board of Directors of Inmobiliaria Punta Lobos, obtained from the Delegation of SEMARNAT (SEMARNAT BCS.02.02.0255 / 07) there was “no objection” for the approval to install the development he had initially planned, and therefore there was no need to request the change of land use zoning. The injunction of the Ejido delayed the approval of the subregional program and his project was put away in a drawer. In 2007 the work on the development of the subregional plan continued.
In late 2011, patience gave fruit, and one of the first actions of Santana, was to again seek and the ratification of his zoning he was granted in 2007 by the Delegation of SEMARNAT. The federal agency file number SEMARNAT-BCS.02.01.IA.86 / 11 said:
“Regarding the ratification of the provisions initially established in the cited file, because it is a non-application of the general law of Sustainable Forestry Development and Ecological Balance and Environmental Protection (LGEEPA), by having cleared the land and with the authorization of the competent authority at that time and having obtained the change in land use prior to the approval of the second aforementioned law the permit does not expire “.
However, the delegate at that time, Marco Antonio Gonzalez Viscarra, also included at the end of this paragraph the following text:
“In regards to site preparation, construction and preparation of the subdivision, because it is a coastal ecosystem, it must fulfill Article 28 fraction IX and Article 30 of the LGEEPA Ecology Law. ”
The Developers failed to include this last stipulation in the environmental impact statement (EIS), and Playa Santos reported as impacted 172 hectares of the 414 hectare project component, because the area was within the premises of the Los Lobos property.
FIGURE 3. LOCATION OF THE PROPERTY GEOREFERENCED AS LOS LOBOS (BLUE LINES) AND SURFACES TO BE OCCUPIED BY THE PLAYA SANTOS PROJECT, THOSE PARCELS INDICATED IN GREEN AND RED ARE SUBJECT TO FOREST LAND ZONING CHANGE.
Alejandro Olivera, director of civil association Biological Diversity, in his weekly column, said that entire chapters of the current Playa Santos environmental Impact study were copied from Chapters 4, 5, and 6 of another tourism project known as Punta Brava”, promoted by golfer Tiger Woods in Ensenada, Baja California.
Nevertheless, the environmental authority validated the permits. The developers began the first phase in 2014, but they changed the project name to Tres Santos. The real estate firm justified the name change as a marketing issue, and claimed it had nothing to do with the bad image the project had developed.
Violations of Tres Santos
Dominguez Valles seem to have forgotten the contents of the Subregional Urban Development Program Todos Santos-El Pecadero-Las Playitas. In an analysis of a document map, Semanario Zeta confirmed that in the first phase site where Desarrolladora de Obra Integral de Los Cabos, S.A de C.V. is constructing, and which includes the hotel, the containment walls and the land fill, all fall within the area zoned for Fisheries and Maritime Activities. The construction site operates under permit #1085/14, signed by Tito Fenech in spite of the obvious conflict of interest.
COMPARISON OF THE SUBREGIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM TODOS SANTOS-EL PECADERO-LAS PLAYITAS AND THE AREA WHERE DOMINGUEZ VALLE’S COMPANY HAS BEGUN CONSTRUCTION.
The fishermen of Punta Lobos were the first affected by the development. They turned to the public to help resolve the problems. They requested that MIRA Companies reimburse them for damages go their boats caused by the large rocks from the retaining wall that currents scattered along the beach. Punta Lobos Cooperative members demanded compensation; there was no concrete response from Tres Santos.
On October 11, 2015 when the conflict began, Antonio Salvatierra said, “The problem we have here is serious, because all the rocks are spreading, the surf is dragging them down to here, and when we come ashore they are damaging our propellers, engines and transmissions.”
It has been over a month since the protests began and has now led to the closing down of the construction site overseen by Dominguez Valles. In that time, the fishermen resisted, and had no choice but to increase their protest, especially when they realized that they had lost more than 1000 meters of beach where they launch and bring in their boats.
The combination of the wall, and the strength of deep coastal swells, began to produce rapid coastal erosion. The Federal Maritime Zone (Zofemat) in front of the building site disappeared. The sea chewed up the beach just as it has in Cancun, where developers spend millions to recover millions of cubic meters of sand that erodes each season.
The General Law of National Assets, Zofemat defines the Federal Maritime Zone as one that is “constituted by the strip of land twenty meters wide that is firm, passable adjoining land and contiguous to the beach or, if applicable, to the riverbanks, from the mouth to the sea extending one hundred meters upstream.”
Environmental experts, who reviewed the Tres Santos file for Semanario Zeta, say that the building permit does not provide for the sea wall, but they do recognize that the containment wall is on private property, because when the federal zone concession DGZF- 1117-1111 was granted to Todos Santos FRBC-S de RL de CV the highest recorded tide was the same as that recorded in 2002; they never thought beyond the dynamic of the Pacific Ocean.
On 7 December 2011, they were granted a concession measuring 13, 439.93 square meters of the iconic beach Punta Lobos. The Director General of Federal Maritime Zone determined pursuant to the request that was filed on 11 July 2011, that the project does not violate the Urban Development Plan, because at that time it did not exist since it was not published until August 2012, and is therefore consistent with land use file number 706-338 / 2011, issued by the Directorate of Urban Development and Ecology of the City of La Paz XIII, when Dominguez Valles was in charge of that municipal office.
The concession document that was issued by the General Directorate of Federal Maritime Zone, the Zofemat is destined “exclusively for the use of protection, which only allows concession to perform physical acts and /or legal actions necessary to maintain the natural state of the beach surface as when concessioned, as well as maintain free transit through it; not authorized to install any elements; perform construction; or carrying out any activity; or provide services of any kind, whether or not for profit”.
The project Three Saints did not meet these requirements. Instead, they undertook the construction project in the midst of a wetland system some of which was within the Federal Maritime Zone, Zofemat. In fact, on November 8, 2008, a document was prepared by the Department of Ecology, Education and Environmental Management for XIII City of La Paz , named mangrove ecosystems-wetlands from the La Paz municipal perspective, in which they lament the delicate status of these ecosystems, which “are severely threatened by the growth of urban sprawl and real estate development along the coastal strip.”
Therefore, in order to avoid future complications, it was proposed that the City develop a Local Ecological Zoning Program (POEL) for La Paz. The POEL is an environmental policy instrument that regulates or induces land use and productive activities within the municipality, and prohibits activities that alter the natural ebb and flow of water into mangrove or not allow harvesting, cutting or filling of mangrove areas. The final document was stalled by the strong investment interests that exist along the coasts of BCS.
Even in the government of Esther Ponce Beltrán the idea of completing the POEL was discarded by the municipal authority in order to protect real estate developers and mining interests (Los Cardones). Nevertheless, the Subregional Urban Development Program of Todos Santos did move forward.
The MIA of the Integral Tourism Development Playa ¬Santos, on page 453, shows the results of a17-point Vegetation Survey. In the northern zone of the project there are 22 families and 47 species identified within a total of 1,226 individuals.
In the Estimate of Abundance, sweet mangrove ( Maytenus phylanthoides) is mentioned. The plant density within one hectare was an abundance of 380 individual plants, and now part of it does not exist; in addition they destroyed Palo Verde trees and Biznaga cactus.
Although this type of mangrove is not listed in the Norma Official Mexicana (NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2010), Rafael Riosmena Rodríguez, from the Botanical Research Program of the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) , said that these species do stabilize area dunes, “if you remove them, you lose.”
Article 68 of The Sustainable Forestry Law for the State of BCS, tacitly that states that to “distort information that threatens the ecological balance of ecosystems, biodiversity and sustainability thereof, will be subject to civil, administrative and criminal sanctions, as established in current legislation.”
Does the authority not know anything?
The conflict between fishermen and investors had to reach a critical point before Jose Carlos Cota Osuna, Semarnat delegate, deigned to take a position, but in his statement to media he dismissed what was happening in Punta Lobos, and used the same talking points that Tres Santos articulated in their press releases: “is a natural phenomenon.” Similarly, the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) made an inspection. Both agencies suggested waiting 180 days to determine whether they must redefine the beach concession or just leave it in the same place.
For his part, the head of Urban Development and Ecology in the Armando Martinez municipal government, Armando Anaya, explained that he had made a “thorough search” of the Tres Samtos files; “I can not say this is wrong or that is wrong. There is a master land use plan filed with the state and the municipality. We have to make a detailed review of the situation; it is still premature to determine anything.”
The municipal official admitted the existence of a specific license for the first phase of the project, “which relates to all that is the side and front platform, we are reviewing what this license covers. Since the license does not cover specific concepts but rather the overall construction, we are seeing what the license related to; “I do not want to pass judgment until the matter is clear. They have the right to present their case. But the permit is global and comes as an urbanization package; I cannot tell you that it does not exist. ”
Perhaps the officer could ask the extravagant municipal director of Building Permits: René Fernando Castro Terrazas who is linked to Dominguez Valles since the time of the XIII City government of La Paz, when Castro Terrazas was in the same office, and the DRO of Tres Santos was head of Urban Development and Ecology. Perhaps the Secretary General Isidro Ibarra could also help to dispel some of these doubts or maybe even the head of the municipal government.
A detail rarely mentioned is that Martinez Vega was about to leave Jorge Alejandro Dominguez Valles, the brother of the former official, in a key position as the head of the office of Planning and Urban Regularization, but Citizens demanded the mayor remove him, because Marco Antonio Dominguez Valles was involved in the controversial Los Cardones mining project; the mayor had to accept, and sent the young man to another office.
The theme of Tres Santos is delicate or at least that is what the Secretary General, Isidro Ibarra, would have us believe. He has called meetings on the subject and also with other municipal agencies, including the Municipal Potable Water and Wastewater System Operating Agency. The director Hector Garcia Gonzalez, confirmed that in those meetings he told the company that they will have to become current in their accounts and obtain the “missing documents and approvals”.
“Regarding the issue of water or precisely the lack of a water contract; they have a water connection but no Contract. Article 83 of the Water Law of the State of Baja California Sur says that use of this vital liquid is by contract. They have made a commitment to meet with all municipal agencies where it has been determined that they are in violation and have demonstrated a willingness to become current in all of their permits and paperwork”, said García González in an interview with the media, on November 30, 2015.
In this regard, the company issued a press release: “Tres Santos paid a fee for 72 water connections. However, Tres Santos received only one connection from the Oomsapas (potable water company). From that one connection, Tres Santos used its own infrastructure to transport water. This complies with the regulations in the municipality of La Paz”.
The mayor Estela Ponce Beltran revealed that González García, made an agreement whereby the company would absorb a debt of $1,800,000 pesos that his administration had with Oomsapas workers, in exchange for granting potable water to the development. Tres Santos calculated the use of 300 liters per month per residential unit.
On December 4, 2015, after Tres Santos failed to show up for a public meeting in Todos Santos, they did finally meet with government authorities, the fishing cooperative and company representatives. The press was not allowed in the closed door meeting, which lasted nearly four hours. Javier Barrios general director Mira Companies, tried to avoid the media after the meeting ended, but a fisherman stood in front of him, and he had no choice but to say that they wanted to dialogue and find a solution.
“Yes, sir, but you are talking and are telling outright lies, we are natives from here and know the whole story about what you are saying. That is precisely why we are affected, and we are here to expose the subterfuge they have used to take advantage of us: you are abusing a group of working people. You talk about work, but we also talk about work,” said Rosario Salvatierra, partner of the Punta Lobos Cooperativa.
Amid shouts of “No! Tres Santos” investors retreated out the back door.
Later, Javier Barrios said that “he made the effort to talk to them, but obviously there is a division among them.” Because of the fishermen blockade he reported the loss of 120 jobs. He said he did not know whether or not the project would continue. “We are working in eight states of the Mexican Republic, and this is the state where we are in this position, we regret it, because we have acted in good faith and with transparency: Let’s see how it plays out.”
The legal adviser of the cooperative, John Moreno, noted that the three levels of government seek to favor investors. The slowness with which they have acted, raises suspicion for the attorney because “as residents of Todos Santos, as the affected, we could consider ecological, social and sundry damages, which would be punishable offenses.”
“As local people we can cite, extra judicially, destruction of protected species, illegal unauthorized forest land use zoning, nonfulfillment and breaches of the the conditions and guidelines, if they were even authorized. For example, the fill and disappearance of the wetland system, that should have been protected,” added John.
The truth is that MIRA Companies has an authorization that has been conditioned by the environmental authorities (SEMARNAT-BCS.01.02.IA.788 / 13). Specifically, in the condition number nine it indicates the obligation of the petitioner to coordinate with “local social groups, who share the use of coastal natural resources, in order to ensure the conservation and development of these, particularly in regard to the beach area and the wetland in Punta Lobos.”
And Recommendation No. 10 reads: “The construction of hotel, pool, beach club and other provided components that make up the work and activities of the Project, which will be done within the coastal ecosystem, must comply with each and every one the criteria of the Subregional Urban Development Plan Todos Santos-Pescadero-Las Playitas “.
Should they be in violation of the Plan, Semarnat may withdraw the authorization.
The controversy surrounding Playa Santos is a clear example of the use of government agencies to benefit a few in the private sector. The voracity of the economic system is represented in the frustration of those men who raise their voices every day to defend themselves. They want one thing: return of their beach … return to fishing.