Illegal action tends to happen when people aren’t looking. In Baja Sur, that can mean the off-season when fewer people are in town.
Not so fast say the residents of Todos Santos. They are paying attention no matter the time of year.
A few dozen concerned citizens (Mexican nationals, and ex-pats) gathered Sept. 9 at the site of another illegal build on the dunes. This time the location was along Vista Ballenas at the end of Camino Internacional in the Las Tunas area.
John Moreno, a local attorney who has been active in multiple environmental issues, is at the forefront of the struggle to preserve the town he grew up in.
Moreno has been hired by Protect Todos Santos, a nonprofit made up of concerned citizens and others who care about the area. It was founded to “stop illegal development and to protect our coastal dunes and scarce water resources.”
At the protest this month, Moreno said as he pointed to the disturbed land behind him: “I know this is front and center, but the most important thing right now is they are changing the PDU. And the current proposal for changing the PDU makes all of this permissible. Not only that, it is quadrupling our density.”
He explained the current rules say houses may be built on lots that are 2,000 square meters. The proposed changes would allow a dwelling of 500 square meters. Construction could also take up the bulk of the lot, whereas today only 25 percent can be developed.
The PDU, or Program for Urban Development, for Todos Santos, El Pescadero, and Las Playitas was published in 2012. It covers more than 30 miles from Elias Calles on the south to Agua Blanca north of Todos Santos.
The PDU prohibits any development on primary and secondary dunes. That is what gives credence to protests like the one this month. People want authorities to stop developers from violating the law.
But it’s this type of development that government officials want to change in order to make it permissible.
IMPLAN, the government agency in La Paz (the state capital of Baja Sur) handles development permits and is in charge of approving any PDU. All PDUs can be modified, extinguished or updated once created. That is what’s happening now.
Iván Enrique Valencia Duarte with IMPLAN did not respond to an email inquiry from the Gringo Gazette.
Embattled developer Eddie Ogden also did not respond to an email from this publication. He owns a large swath of land that is supposed to be unbuildable including the property where the protest took place.
A Protect Todos Santos official said, “In the first (PDU revision) meeting we asked if they would be changing the density of zoning. They said no. And they said they would protect the dunes. On Aug. 8, Eddie Ogden got a permit to destroy them.”
The contradictory statements and actions of the government are adding more frustration to the contentious situation. The lack of enforcement of established local, regional, and federal laws has eroded any trust locals may have had in the government.
Moreno told the crowd they need to be involved, attend meetings, and submit letters to local authorities as well as those in La Paz whether it’s via pen and paper or electronically.
He also stressed participating in the process is legal, and it’s not politics but about environmental protection and development.
“Even if you are a foreigner, you have freedom of speech. It is a constitutional guarantee,” he said.
For his part, Moreno on behalf of Protect Todos Santos is filing lawsuits and criminal complaints.
He has petitioned the government to extend the comment period on the revised PDU to the end of November. However, he is not confident that is going to happen, which means the comment period for this third and what is expected to be the final draft would be over at the end of September.
“It’s really crazy what they are proposing. It’s basically going to turn us into Cabo. It’s going to allow all kinds of egregious construction. And it’s going to alter the identity of our town,” Moreno said.