Todos Santos Residents Take Protest To La Paz

They’re trying to stop the construction of an illegal cell tower
BY: JUSTIN CASE

Residents of the Las Brisas neighborhood in Todos Santos descended on La Paz recently. It was standing room only as the group, calling themselves the Concerned Citizens of Todos Santos, carried a petition to the office of municipal president Martinez Vega.

The petition contained the names of Todos Santos residents who want to stop the construction of a cell phone tower, one they say is illegal at the federal level because of its proximity to coastal eco systems.

This isn’t the first time residents of Todos Santos have protested against a cell phone tower going up. But this newest conflict is more heated than the last, partially because of when the construction started. Neighbors were upset construction of the tower began in August and September, when many local expats left for the summer and weren’t aware of what was happening. Construction was met with strong opposition from remaining people.

celltower.JPGThe owner of the land where the cell tower is being constructed has had several heated exchanges with nearby residents, according to the citizens group (whose members asked to be quoted anonymously because they are a bunch of weenies). The owner of the property, a Mexican woman, even put up a banner that said, “Don’t trust the Gringos, this is the future of Todos Santos.”

But the group that delivered the petition to La Paz wasn’t just Gringos; it was a combination of roughly 60 percent expatriates and 40 percent Mexicans. One Mexican resident spoke out against the perception that the cell phone tower is just a Gringo problem. “We need to get our neighbors to stand up,” she said. “I’m a Mexican, but most of us don’t have enough power.”

“They’re (the property owners) are getting paid by TelMex to put up a tower at our expense,” said another member of the group.

The contractor, Tower Partners, has already completed the base for the 130-foot, palm tree style cell tower and began prefabricating sections of the tower on site. A fence was constructed around the adjacent property and construction materials were placed underneath tarps behind a fence. A black screen woven into the fence prevents anyone from seeing inside the lot.

Construction of the TelMex tower started despite the refusal to issue a building permit by the Todos Santos’ building inspector, and earlier rulings that the site is zoned commercial and would not be legal for a cell tower’s use, which is industrial. But the construction continued to progress, until residents realized federal law also prohibits the construction due to its proximity to a coastal eco system.

Local police have attempted on several occasions to enforce the rulings, but they routinely arrived to find the construction site sealed up. Residents say they have witnessed construction activities, but when the authorities go out to the site, the woman hides construction workers in her home.

And so, the Concerned Citizens of Todos Santos made the trip to La Paz to present the petition in person, looking to get written acknowledgment that the cell phone tower is illegal. A representative from the municipal president’s office reviewed the petition and reaffirmed a written order that the tower is indeed illegal.

The group’s attorney, environmental lawyer Manuel Barajas, also provided evidence that the cell tower violates coastal eco system law. Barajas’ chief concern is heavy radio frequency traffic. “The towers are not silent. They make noise. They emit radiation,” he says.

The reaffirmed order makes further construction of the tower a federal offense punishable with a prison sentence. Ongoing inspections will take place to assure no further construction of the tower occurs.

This is the second Todos Santos cell tower to be overruled for zoning violations this year, the first was in the suburb called Las Tunas. A petition was also circulated against that tower, and construction was shut down. However, the citizens group says there are already third and fourth backup locations in the works. Whether those locations will be accepted by residents of Todos Santos remains to be seen.