The letter printed in your December 22, 2006, issue regarding the Garambullos Development in near-north San Miguel is rife with misstatements and must be challenged, as will be the opening of a now closed, dead-end street in Barrio del Obraje. Nicholas Gordon tries to make much of the improvements his development is making by way of paving roads, improving water systems and creating "worthwhile jobs so we may house, feed and clothe our families."
Thank you very much, Sr. Gordon, but we already have a paved road and sidewalks, a water system, and those of us willing and able have jobs we consider to be “worthwhile.” We also have a proud neighborhood that has planted trees, not cut them down as you have done (without the appropriate approvals, I hasten to add). We also hold title to our properties and many have addresses on “Cerrada de San Joaquin”—not merely San Joaquin. “Cerrada” means “closed” or “dead-end” and not open to your development whims. We also have a church, families, tiendas and our simple homes. Our paved streets are complete with children playing kickball and old people sitting enjoying the day. We are celebrating the Christmas season with our very own posadas, piñatas and the belief our simple barrio will endure a changing world with our organization and the able legal assistance of our very capable attorney, Napoleón Negrete.
We resist change just as much as anyone, but we accept your development. We accept your ownership of the land and the fact we will no longer be able to hike through its cactus and watch the wildlife. However, we will not accept the use of our neighborhood for your economic advancement. You purchased the floundering Garambullos development along with its main entrance gateway building, which you now state “cannot be altered, is too small and steep for certain public service vehicles such as fire engines.” The fact is this “too steep” entrance of yours is currently being used by extremely large trucks. The Garambullos gatehouse most certainly can be altered and made larger if necessary, for you have much excess land surrounding your gate. It is the economics of your development that dictate opening up our barrio with its equally steep incline for your undesirable traffic ... this, we will not accept.
Mr. Araiza showed his true colors when he used Americans as scapegoats for his allegedly illegal project. When he claims to obey all the laws we all know what that means. The Central de Abastos, which was to be built on the road to Celaya for the shopkeepers of San Miguel, suddenly disappeared and suddenly, practically overnight, we have the hugely overscaled Mega. How did that happen? Who owned that land? Who sold out the shopkeepers? Could it perhaps be Mr. Araiza? I think we need a moratorium on all construction until everything is out in the open and people understand how the system, if there is one, works. I personally went to Desarollo Urbano to find out if one is allowed to open a motorcycle taller in the center of the centro histórico without a permiso, and I was treated as an annoyance and dismissed. I hired a lawyer and have so far spent 3,000 pesos to get answers that should have been given to me by the city authorities as a resident of San Miguel. I understand that this is business as usual. So th
is is my little microcosm of what is happening here. Now, Americans are accused of being “agitators” in a little demonstration. That’s actually funny. Mr. Araiza doesn’t enjoy healthy opposition, but then he hasn't been used to it. His friend Mr. Villarreal is no longer here, so he may have to find someone else to ease his “award-winning” projects through the system.
The spectacular views of the Bahía de Acapulco caused the international press in the 1950s to declare it “The Most Beautiful Bay in the World.” We all know what happened since then. That incomparably scenic view has long since been completely sealed off by buildings, making the gorgeous bay view invisible to all except those who rent space in hotel rooms and office towers. Tragically, Acapulco and its once-pristine waters are now internationally regarded by many as urban planning disasters and an ecological wasteland. Travelers from the world over are regularly advised to steer clear of a ruined Acapulco and visit other places.
Condé Nast Traveler magazine ranks San Miguel de Allende as the No. 1 city in the world for ambiance. Will local government be wise enough to protect and preserve San Miguel’s precious ambiance, or as in Acapulco, will the personal ambitions and financial interests of a few be allowed to deprive countless future generations of visitors and residents of San Miguel’s unique, inspiring, “pueblo mágico” sense of place?
With professional urban planners now meeting to discuss the future of San Miguel’s development, can this critical public issue be addressed with wisdom and with an eye towards achieving the highest good for all?
Or will San Miguel de Allende go the way of Acapulco?
I very much enjoyed reading John Barham’s “Some thoughts on poverty and the Mexican economy” [Dec. 15, p. 69] but detected what might be a wee statistical problem. At the bottom of the first column he talks about a drop in “the extreme poverty rate to 11.7 percent,” then further on talks about “25 million of the extremely poor in Mexico.” If 25 million represents 11.7% of the population, then the population of Mexico must be 214 million ... which it clearly isn’t. On the other hand, 11.7% of the approximately 107 million people in Mexico works out to 12.5 million extremely poor.
What may be more important than nit-picking over numbers is that any figure in the 12.5–25 million range is simply too high, too many people living in grinding poverty. The wealth–poverty gap is huge, and growing since the enactment of NAFTA/TLC. Since the net worth of the 25 richest families in Mexico is equivalent to that of the 25 million poorest people, I suspect that Barham’s later quote from Hector de la Cueva, that the “poverty figures from the government are very questionable and even deceptive,” is probably true.
I would like to present a different perspective to the interview last week with Raúl Araiza, entitled “The developer’s perspective.” I have lived in many countries throughout the world: France, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Costa Rica, Guatamala and, most recently, Poland, where I was assigned with the Peace Corps. I chose to live in San Miguel last year on a permanent basis. I am now one of the 15% of the residents who live full-time at El Encanto. Raúl mentioned that everything he does is here in San Miguel and that he will remain working in San Miguel. What he did not say was that this company is more than a company—they are family. Raúl and Carlos both live in El Encanto.
If anything goes wrong, they are right there to help. They go far beyond “backing our product.” They are committed to quality not only in concept and construction, but in terms of concern. I feel that I bought more than a condo. I have a Mexican family with Raúl, Carlos and Hector, who truly care about my well-being.
I would like the residents of San Miguel to wake up, take note and respond to what is happening in our fair city. San Miguel, the colonial jewel of Mexico, is in the throes of being continually ravaged by Mexican and American developers, carpetbaggers and speculators, many of whom take advantage of the laxity of building codes or the enforcement thereof—all in the name of progress.
The city is being strangled from within by the ensuing traffic, and it won’t be long if the problem is not solved before we have total gridlock. Draconian measures are going to have to be instituted until viable solutions are put in place, such as reasonably priced parking that even Mexican workers can afford. Despite the best efforts to improve or make better use of the water supply, the cry for water still appears to be a crisis waiting to happen. We have been fortunate to have had bountiful rainfall this year, possibly a result of global warming—however, is it dependable?
A moratorium on building, whether permits were issued or not, or even started, may have to be put in place to halt the rampant and haphazard development until the city can develop a plan for itself. Californians remember the moratoriums limiting coastal and suspending San Francisco Bay development during the 1970s. It resulted in a lot of unhappy faces. Will San Miguel continue to be the charming destination for retirees and tourists, the lifeblood for the local economy?
I have read in the Atención recently arguments by a few individuals espousing their brand of helping to direct progress for our city. One local official, in attempting to promote the positive effect of building high-rise complexes in San Miguel, goes so far as to compare it to Querétaro, London and even Paris!? It is important to have qualified persons on the local building and development commissions who have traveled widely and observed the errors made in the name of progress, so that they are not repeated here. They should have visited beautiful towns and cities where building codes are rigorously enforced. It is important to have experienced and responsible people in these positions. Conflicts of interests must be routed out. The possible employ of outside independent consultants is also strongly recommended.
Progress is important—but it must be made in an orderly fashion to preserve the cultural and historical legacy of San Miguel. The city is growing so fast, frequently in an irresponsible manner, that the local authorities are not able to take notice of the building abuses going on about them; for example, height limitations are being ignored in one form or another and changes made in such a hurried fashion that people are not able to voice their displeasure at them. Efforts should be made to see that these abuses are not only corrected but also penalized. While MEGA and large chain department stores are convenient and provide jobs for some, it is also important to realize that they will also cause a concomitant loss in employment in town as innumerable small businesses will be forced to close—all the while taking money out of San Miguel, rather than contributing to the local economy. These large stores also change the local environment.
Mr. Araiza’s arguments for allowing his condominium project to proceed are also specious. He states that the project will provide jobs for San Miguel, an oft-used refrain. What he neglects to say is that it will provide temporary jobs for San Miguel while causing an irreversible permanent eyesore for the city. He would also have us believe that the density of the area would not be affected since most of the buyers, some of whom are undoubtedly purchasing with an eye toward investment, would be transients, but neglects to mention the likelihood of those units changing hands to permanent residency. He would have us believe that any change in the 36-unit structure would make his investment financially “unrewarding.” Mr. Araiza holds himself as a public-spirited native of San Miguel. If he were, I believe, he would never have entertained and promoted such a project. Money does appear to cloud one’s better moral judgments.
Mexicans and expatriate residents, it is time to show your displeasure at these exacerbating problems for the sake of the town and for those less fortunate locals who would be severely affected by what some would call progress.
Dr. Oscar Lemer
Nicholas Gordon’s response to “Name Withheld” is way too cute to let stand. The road that “Name Withheld” referred to is the road that Mr. Gordon seeks to use as a service road. Mr Gordon states that this is a “small public road.” It is a small public road that dead-ends at what was to be a preserve in perpetuity. Garambullos is attempting to take land belonging to a private individual and create a gated entrance for their construction equipment.
They even went so far as to send a fencing crew in to build the gate while the matter was in legal process. This is typical of the bullying tactics this organization has employed all along. To begin with, they sent a crew in that cut down trees that were not on their property at the point where they wished to place their gate.
Second, one of our older residents was walking up on the Garambullos property that she had walked for decades when one of the foremen told her that she would be arrested and put in jail if he saw her up there again.
Why does this company need this access? Mr. Gordon says the main entrance goes through an existing building that cannot be altered. Garambullos owns substantial amounts of property on either side of this building and can build a service road there.
Mr. Gordon says it is also too small and too steep for certain public service vehicles such as fire engines. The road he is proposing to use is smaller and steeper. His proposed opening is approximately 25 meters higher up than his current entrance, and the angle of approach is more acute.
Mr. Gordon asserts that his firm is making a substantial contribution to the 4-million-peso road improvement, and I know why. He wants to have an attractive approach to his sales pavilion. For the very same reason, he does not want big, noisy, dirty construction equipment driving past it.
I won’t get into the ecological claims being made. That is a whole different issue.
Mr. Gordon was not present when a large group of residents gathered to stop the erection of the gate. As he has done in the past, he sent a shill to face the crowd. This crowd was a mix of gringos like me and our Mexican neighbors. What Mr. Gordon missed by ducking this confrontation was the determination of the mothers, fathers and grandparents of the children that play in this street. They will not allow him to route his big, dangerous trucks through their kids’ playground.
You can try to buff your image with all kinds of talk about sound ecological development, and providing jobs, but I can’t wait to see the public relations beating you will take when these women lie down in the path of your trucks. Believe me, they will not let you pass regardless of your political or judicial connections.