sábado, 20 de enero de 2007

Digging for answers leaves stones unturned

By Jesus Ibarra, Jan 19, 2007
Atención

The presentation of the municipal development plan by local authorities and guest specialists on January 16 at the Teatro Santa Ana was not well received by the crowd of more than 200. A general mood of disagreement and discontent permeated the crowd, more than half of whom could not be admitted to the 84-seat theater. Members of citizens’ groups positioned in the adjacent café circulated press releases criticizing authorities about the size of the venue, lack of a publicly announced agenda and absence of space for dialog and explained their views on the main problems and irregularities in municipal planning to a sympathetic public.

The two-and-a-half-hour presentation focused on elements of municipal planning without providing specific details of the plan, costs or sources of financing. Discussion by Mexico-city experts in architecture and urban planning was limited to the city’s World Heritage listing bid. The brevity of the 30-minute question period allowed for responses to only 4 questions from a list 16 taken from those submitted to Atención, and only 4 questions from the floor were addressed.

Attempting to appease the dissatisfied crowd, authorities immediately announced that the location for the second presentation, on January 18, would be changed to the 400-seat Teatro Ángela Peralta. As we go to press, no agenda for that meeting was available.

More than 200 people arrived for the presentation by city officials, including Assistant Mayor Rodolfo Jurado; City Secretary Cristóbal Finkelstein; Director of Education and Culture Veronica Agundis; head of Tránsito Samuel Mercadillo; head of Public Works Jorge Zavala; head of City Public Relations Ernesto Herrera; head of Ecology Don Patterson and councilor Gerado Arteaga, among others. Many of those in attendance listened to the presentation in the adjacent café. Also present were ex-mayor and director of SAPASMA (San Miguel Water) Juan Antonio Jaramillo and ex-mayoral candidate Manuel Rosas, as were members of the citizens’ groups Basta Ya and the San Miguel Wide Civic Front (Frente Amplio Cívico Sanmiguelense) and members of local nongovernmental organizations.

Although the crowd was notably diverse in composition, the same concerns that “the presidencia is trying to hide something” and that the city requires a “viable development plan that will not provoke self-destruction because of its own success” were repeated by many in attendance.

The presentation

Veronica Agundis, head of Education and Culture, began the evening by offering an apology for the overcrowded conditions, explaining that attendance had surpassed expectations. She announced the change of venue for the January 18 presentation to the larger Teatro Ángela Peralta. Mayor Jesús Correa then welcomed the public to “this open dialog to respond to citizens’ concerns,” stating that he was pleased to see the level of public interest, but left soon after greeting a few audience members.

Director of Urban Development, and ex-director of Ecology Angél Gastélum, the main exponent of the municipal position, addressed the standing-room-only audience—(M)a mix of approximately 50:50 Mexicans and expats. His PowerPoint presentation on the municipal urban and territorial plan for 2006 to 2025, though well presented, left the audience generally dissatisfied with the information. Notably missing from his presentation were the criteria used to classify municipal territory into sections and divisions; the municipal criteria that permit or prohibit private or commercial construction and the cost of solving problems.

Gastélum explained that the municipal territory is divided into 11 sections and the urban area of San Miguel de Allende (Section 1) is further divided into 12 divisions made up of groups of colonias/fraccionamientos. He identified the main problems of 4 of the sections and the main problems of each of the 12 urban divisions.

The municipality of San Miguel comprises 156,800 hectares (387,461 acres), with a total population of 139,297, the majority of whom are concentrated in the 1,350 hectares (3,336 acres) that represent the urban area. Generally, the parameters of the urban area are Los Frailes, colonias near the new administration building on the Salida a Querétaro, San Miguel El Viejo and colonia San Luis Rey.

According to Gastélum, the main problems of the urban zone are the illegal creation of fringe colonias on ejido land (commonly held rural property). These rapidly emerging new colonias arise without having the necessary services available or even planned by authorities and represent a huge drain on resources of the municipality, which must then provide legal land titles, water, drainage, electricity and roads. He also noted the lack of land for housing developments as another problem without further explanation.

Gastélum went on to elaborate on problems for each of the 12 urban divisions: flow of traffic; parking; unpaved roads in new colonias; public safety; private construction on federal lands in the colonias of San Martín and Las Alemedas; flood risks, illegal new colonias started without municipal authorization; and the need for a feasability study for the installation of a sewage system in Los Frailes to replace septic tanks.

Problems in the rural communities include the of lack sewage treatment facilities in Cruz del Palmar and Cienguita along the Rio Laja.

Although Gastélum noted that irrigation methods are problematic for the entire municipality, citing overuse of water and planting crops that consume large quantities of water but generally result in poor harvests, he failed to explain the municipality’s participation in the solutions he presented.

Three specialists invited to attend gave little variation on the theme of San Miguel’s chances for attaining World Heritage listing.

Francisco López Morales, an urban architect with extensive experience with national projects and a consultant for the Mexican government on the UNESCO World Heritage Committee from 1995 to 1999, said that modern constructions such as the shopping centers or multistory residential projects would not affect San Miguel’s chances for listing because they are outside the historic center and UNESCO does not review such areas.

Salvador Estéban Urrieta García, an engineer and architect, commented that even a city seeking World Heritage status cannot limit its view to its history but must also have a modern perspective on development.

Edgar Enrique Urbán Marínez, also an engineer and architect, who specializes in restoration of historic cities around the country, explained some of the steps needed to preserve a historical area, though without using examples from San Miguel itself.

Citizens’ groups offer alternative information

During the presentation, various members of the citizens’ groups Basta Ya and Frente Amplio Cívico Sanmiguelense remained in the Café Santa Ana to provide information to the public who could not find room in the theater (see sidebar).

The January 18 meeting and presentation will be covered in the January 26 issue of Atención.

Information from dissident groups

Arturo Morales displayed and gave out copies of the municipal map showing modifications to the use of land and the population center, identifying 18 different residential projects.

He spoke extensively of the problems he sees facing San Miguel, including population growth and residential zones and overexploitation of natural resources and pollution, stating that according to state statistics the population of San Miguel has doubled in the past 30 years, placing an enormous strain on the environment and natural resources. He emphasized the necessity for city planning—but informed planning based on criteria that include how many inhabitants can live a quality life per determined area with the natural resources available. He opined that the model of sustainable development for cities in the United States is not applicable here.

Members of the group Basta Ya circulated press releases stating the group’s disagreement with the municipal presentation. Their main points included dissatisfaction with authorities’ responses on issues of private residential projects and the absence of a publicly announced agenda for the forum. They also accused authorities of holding an elitist and exclusive attitude by staging the presentation in a small theater favored by the expat community and not providing space for citizens to express their opinions and hold a dialog with authorities, ending with the request for greater and constant responsible citizen participation with authorities. Basta Ya seeks to offer a space for sanmiguelenses that allows for a more equitable and sustainable dialog on local development.

Questions and answers

(Editor’s note: the answers by government officials to these specific questions were vague and unclear.)

Traffic

What are the short-term plans to handle the overflow traffic in the city? What action is the municipality taking to phase out the large diesel buses and replace them with smaller buses?

Samuel Mercadillo, head of Municipal Traffic: We plan to introduce medium-size minibuses and create alternative routes; studies on the flow of traffic will allow us to deal with this issue.

Construction

How is it that commercial construction can break municipal laws regarding height and design without consequences, yet individuals who build private homes are forced to comply precisely with municipal regulations?

Ángel Gastélum: Urban Development will be watching that the laws are obeyed. Those responsible for following the rules are not the owners but the architects or builders.

What is the fine for building without a permit?

AG: The fine is from 100 to 500 minimum salaries, depending on the damage the work may have caused.

Under what conditions may Urban Development require that a building be modified, assuming that it was built in violation of construction regulations?

AG: If the building has been modified the Urban Development Department must be advised and a construction change will be made at the appropriate time.

What will happen with El Caracol condos?

AG: Work is temporarily suspended. The Architects Association has approached the developers and is making a new proposal according to the city’s architectural style.

Why did you approve the project?

AG: It was not under my administration. The previous director must have had his own criteria. The license was given on June 6, 2006. I was in the Ecology Department.

Why does the urban development plan reduce the ecological preservation zone of El Charco del Ingenio?

Gerardo Arteaga (City Hall member and former head of Ecology): There has been a misunderstanding that City Hall changed the ecological zone in El Charco del Ingenio. I reviewed the decree with César Arias (president of El Charco), who agreed to the condition of limiting the ecological area, due to the amount of private property surrounding the gardens. We, the authorities, cannot expropriate and force the owners to do what we want. According to the decree, the owners could do certain things, construction among them. The restriction was the building be limited to 1,000 square meters, have a maximum height of six meters and be painted certain colors. When El Deseo was authorized, it was done according to the decree. The authorization granted by City Hall lacked some formal aspects, so we rectified and revoked the authorization. City Hall is not destroying the ecological zone; on the other hand, in some areas the ecological zone does not comply with all regulations. It was not under my administration. The previous director must have had his own criteria.

Response from César Arias, head of El Charco del Ingenio: The old urban development plan established the ecological zone as extending to the old road to Querétaro, and the new plan reduces it drastically. We demand the government modify the plan.

If the highest part of the city does not have water, why are some projects being developed in that area?

SAPASMA staff: There are two developments in El Atascadero. We evaluated the water supply and in this case the specialists considered it adequate to supply these developments, which are providing some infrastructure to benefit the supply. The new plan establishes a low-density development, and this project fulfills that criterion.

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