San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

New Mayor Takes Stand in San Juan del Sur

IT’S a fairly unusual event in the worldof tourism: when community leadersdecide that for their town, less is more, atleast for the time being.In this case, San Juan del Sur MayorEduardo Holmann, who took office Jan.17, is almost literally drawing a line in thesand – working to put an end to illegalbeach concessions, and attempting to gaincontrol over Holy Week celebrations somesay have spiraled out of control in recentyears.“He’s really trying to do everythingright,” said Marie Mendel, owner of thepopular Ricardo’s Bar on the waterfront, ofthe new mayor. “He listens to people. Butof course it’s hard to please everyone.Impossible, really.”So far, the municipality’s approachtoward complaints residents have voicedwith increasing frequency over recentyears seems to have been successful,although some doubt remains regardinghow the mayor will deal with previousadministrations’ mistakes.FIRST up on the mayoral checklist,according to Holmann, is refusing to issueany more beach concessions that violateNicaraguan law.Lining the beach in this southernPacific town are bars, restaurants and otherbusinesses, one side on the town’s beachroad and the otherpropped up by stiltsabove the sand.Tourists and residentsalike flood these establishmentsfor seafoodand drinks during hot,lazy days and at night,when the strip gears upfor action.The concessionsfor these businesses,handed out during previousadministrations,are “strictly prohibited”by the law, whichstates that 40 meters offirm ground from the water’s edge is publicproperty, said Pedro Solís, secretary ofthe Municipal Council.The central government was simply notaware that the previous municipalitieswere violating the law, he added.“It was a situation where the state didn’trealize what was happening,” he said.“But if the concessions continue, the beachwill be closed off.”Fourteen businesses line the beach,Holmann said. A total of 18 new businessesreceived concessions during the previousmunicipal administration, but onlyfour were built.ACCORDING to Solís, a combinationof increased attention by the central government,particularly the GovernmentAttorney’s Office for the Environment, andresidents’ criticism of the beach concessionshave brought about a change inmunicipal policy, personified by the newadministration.“There are big problems with access tothe sea, and society is denouncing that,” hesaid. “The municipality has the responsibilityto guarantee that access.”The Government Attorney’s Office forthe Environment has also studied the effectof beach concessions on the ecosystem,Solís said.The Nicaraguan Congress is in theprocess of drafting a new Coastal Law toregulate all development along its coasts,including concessions. The bill is in theconsultation stage right now, but the governmenthopes to pass it by the end of theyear (NT, April 22).DAVE Grace, owner of bar and restaurantBig Wave Dave’s near – but not on –the beach, said he thinks the municipality’sgoals go beyond ceasing to issue newconcessions.“He wants to take it as far as getting ridof everything on the beach, but he’s notgoing to get awaywith that,” he said.“There are a lot of old,powerful Nica familieson the beach… If(the municipality)doesn’t remove thebusinesses, they’llhave to renegotiateleases with them” –complicated, since theoriginal leases wereillegal, he added.Holmann said theremoval of existingbusinesses is on thehorizon, but did notdeny that the municipality might eventuallyseek to relocate them.“We’re not thinking about it rightnow,” he said. “There would have to be analternative (site) to offer those businesses.”SAN Juan del Sur residents face problemsrelated not only to lack of beachaccess, but also to the overflow of peopleduring Holy Week.“Things are definitely changing forHoly Week,” Grace said. “It used to be alot of families, but now it’s mostly kids andyahoos. All the Gringos head to the hills.”He said that after harrowing HolyWeeks past, he planned to spend this year’sout of the way.“We’re going to rent the house out andhide,” he said. “I can make more moneyrenting the place out than I could if I werehere.”Both Grace and Mendel said the extrabusiness isn’t worth it. For Mendel, thecost of hiring extra security and other measuresto deal with the crowds nearly cancelout the additional profits. According toGrace, the temporary beachfront businessesoffer such low prices that the permanentbars can’t compete, then pack up at week’send, leaving residents and business ownersto deal with the aftermath.“It takes three or four weeks to cleanup. And for two months, don’t swim in thebay,” Grace advised.While the volume of visitors is difficultto control, the municipality has attemptedto crack down on those who sell food anddrinks from temporary stalls or carts on thebeach road.“There are no bathrooms, no control”for such businesses, Mendel said. “Onewoman sold stew that sat in the sun, slowlycooking for days.”She added that the temporary businessesgenerated trash in past years; sinceambulatory vendors are difficult to monitor,municipal police would hold establishedbusinesses responsible for trash thatwas not theirs.ACCORDING to Holmann, thisyear’s Holy Week was much improved. Ofthe 24 temporary business permits themunicipality meted out, none were allowedin the street, he said, reserving the area forpedestrians.The municipality also made it mandatoryfor tour buses or other collective transportto park in a lot outside the town, ratherthan in the streets – a move that greatlyreduced congestion, Holmann added.Collective transport vehicles werecharged 100 córdobas ($6.25) to enter thetown, and regular vehicles were charged 25córdobas ($1.50). These funds were usedfor security and other Holy Week measures.Finally, the municipality workedwith major vendors such as Coca-Cola tohelp improve controls.“They helped with money, but also bysupporting (municipal) measures” to controlcrowds, Holmann said.Such measures are all part of a largerplan to “decompress San Juan,” Solíssaid. “Both nationals and tourists havecomplained about the lack of space herein the summer.”

Comments are closed.