The Road: Bamboozled or completely lost in translation?
The road goes by many names: the Loma del Mar Road, the road to Nacapuli, etc. Technically, the road is H street. And it is now the easiest road in San Carlos to identify since it is the first and newest intersection as you come in to town that boasts a stop sign. I believe there are only three intersections with stops signs in all of San Carlos. Located right in front of Piccolo’s restaurant, the road will indeed, should you hang a hard right north, lead you to the Loma del Mar development and eventually Nacapuli Canyon. It is a major San Carlos road and anyone who has driven it over the years knows it has been in various states of disrepair and neglect.
Recently the road had a major facelift. The part repaired was by the Tecate Six expendio next to the Bombero station and was one block in length. There was also a large section of Calle I repaired, the road due south of the Loma del Mar development. The repair and specifically those who are complaining about it have generated a lot of rumbling on both the local forums. The controversy really stems from the fact that nothing about how the road would be fixedwas put in writing. All of the alleged promises, agreements or guarantees the contractor, the comisario and even a city councilman might have made were made verbally. The original bid supposedly was in writing (although perhaps the bid was written on a napkin) and the solicitation of funding that was done online via the Viva San Carlos forum. In short, the road repairwas paid for from private donations and with some form of participation from Guaymas.
“The bid to repair the road was 408,000 pesos but we rounded it off to 400,000 pesos,” said Efriam Soto, local comisario for San Carlos.
The comisario first approached Loma del Mar back in November of 2013 with the idea of funding a road repair, and over the years, Loma del Mar has spent a fair amount of time, energy and resources repairing the road. Especially after the torrential downpours of 2009’s Hurricane Jimena. Soto explained to me that he originally conceived of the idea to privately fund the repair of the severely decaying pothole-ridden section not long after the last time that awful section of road was repaired by volunteers back in October of 2013. I wrote a shot blog post on that subject, and many images of gringo volunteers working alongside the comisario and local Mexicans were posted on the blogosphere in Guaymas
and on Facebook. It was the end of September and the beginning of October when the volunteers started filling in potholes, an extremely hot time of year, and one of the volunteers almost got heat stroke while working on the project. The comisario was very concerned over that and stated to me how terrible it would have been if someone had had a heart attack and or died while doing a community service project. After that incident, he decided volunteers should never again work on the road and was determined to get the road fixed once and for all.
If you read the Viva forum post #324 by someone who calls themselves TheBird, it states that it was his or her idea to repair the road and have the city match funds. TheBird also hints on this post from May 3 that the comisario and George Gadsby are no longer speaking with each other, a bit of an understatement and also that the comisario will not answer any questions on the forum. Basically by this post, the pissing match between the comisario and Gadsby had begun, but more on that later.
The road was constructed in 1985 by Ed and Tere Grossman, the developers of the Loma del Mar via a fund that was assessed to members of the Loma del Mar. It was imperative that a paved road lead to the development since it was in the buy/sell contracts at the time that there would be a paved road to the development. Technically, the road belonged to Raphael Caballero, the founder of San Carlos. “The whole thing belonged to Caballero, so we actually had to follow the road that Caballero designed, that is why it is kind of windy, we kind of had to follow his design,” said Tere Grossman.
These days, developers are supposed to put in roads, power and water before they start selling lots. According to some, even back in the day when San Carlos was founded, the developer was required by law to pave roads before selling lots. Then, if the developer no longer wished to deal with the maintenance of said roads, he could give them to the municipio. The municipio would then become responsible for the maintenance of the roads. In the case of San Carlos, none of the roads except the main road were ever paved.
Under past administrations, when you would complain to the municipio of Guaymas about the fact that the roads in San Carlos were not paved or properly maintained, the municipio stated that they would not take over maintenance of all the roads in San Carlos until they had been paved by the developer. I think it is safe to say that Grupo Caballero never intended on paving all the roads in San Carlos so they could then just turn them over to the City of Guaymas.
So there you have one hell of a Catch 22 if ever one existed.
For this reason, in most areas in San Carlos, roads that have been paved or improved have been done so by the home owners themselves or the developers, not the City of Guaymas. Another thing worth mentioning is, as a developer if you have not given the roads back to the municipio then you are supposed to be paying property taxes on them since they are private property. To this day, it is said that the Caballero Group still owns most of the roads in San Carlos.
An excellent example of a private road pissing match that can develop is the road due south of the Marina Terra Hotel. This short road allows access to the parking lot next to the Embarcadero restaurant. It starts right in front of what will be the new Bamboo restaurant and has a gate on it that is perpetually raised so that the road can be used. It is actually the the Marina San Carlos that owns this road and when there was a dispute between the Marina San Carlos and the hotel, the gate was installed and then promptly lowered. Obviously, the Marina Terra capitulated to the Marina San Carlos over whatever the dispute was and gate was lifted again so that the road could be used. But you get the drift.
Now that brings us back to Calle H. The Grossmans paid for the pavement via the real estate development of Loma del Mar but does the Caballero Group still own Calle H or did they give it back to the municipio? The answer to that question seems to depend on who you ask. I first asked Rene Caballero, son of Raphael, if the Caballero Group still owned the road. What Rene told me was essentially that even though the Caballero Group did not formally give back Calle H to the City of Guaymas, the Caballeros were not responsible for its maintenance since it was a public road. And that was confirmed by the office of urban control. To make a long story short, and I suspect there are those out there that would still disagree with the following statement: H street is owned by Guaymas, plain and simple. So if H street is owned by Guaymas as the office of Control Urbano has stated, then logically any maintenance and or repair of the road should technically be the responsibility of the City of Guaymas.
With that in mind, the City of Guaymas has no money in its coffers for road repair projects in San Carlos. Nevertheless, it was stated on the Viva San Carlos forum moderated by George Gadsby that the City of Guaymas was going to offer matching funds for the project. Since the winning bid — remember that is the one most likely written on a napkin but has not been seen other than by the comisario — was 400,000 pesos (about $32,000 U.S.). This meant the donors in San Carlos needed to raise 200,000 pesos so this project could be completed. No one became a bigger cheerleader for this project than the moderator of the Viva Forum, Gadsby. Anyone wishing to read the original thread here . (Be warned you must be a member of the forum to read the post.) The first post in that thread is one of the most important ones and it states in bold red lettering that:
“The Comisario feels very confident that he will be able to get matching funds from Guaymas if the residents of San Carlos are able to raise half of the cost of the project, i.e. 200,000 from the residents who use the road most,” said George Gadsby.
I believe that this is where the real problem begins. What does “matching funds” really mean? If the city does not have any real money for road repair, how are they going to magically come up with 200,000 pesos that they don’t have? The answer is simple. The city of Guaymas never intended on matching the funds in a monetary fashion.
“Guaymas sent us workers, equipment and material.” Said comisario Soto.
Was the term “matching funds” lost in translation between the comisario and Gadsby? Did the comisario purposely try to deceive the donors by making them think they were getting more monetary help than they really were from the city? Since there was no written agreement, it is impossible to say but anyone with a commonsense understanding of how the City of Guaymas works should have understood that matching funds dollar for dollar would have been out of the question. If matching funds, monetarily speaking, was going to be the issue that would break the camel’s back, then Gadsby and anyone else who pushed this project forward should have gotten it in writing. The reality is that Gadsby and Soto were actually kind of buddies before this all happened. Needless to say, the road was not repaired to the likings of Gadsby and others so it is worth going back to the original forum posts to see what was really promised and by whom.
When you read over the forum, no one ever asked for anything in writing. This, of course, would be a recipe for disaster, especially if you thought you were going to get a new road and not just a repaired road and especially if you didn’t know that the real budget for the repair was going to be half of what you thought it was. The fundraising for the road started on the Viva forum Feb. 17. By Feb. 24, it was posted that a meeting was to be held at the El Mar Restaurant on March 7. At this now infamous meeting, Comisario Soto would be present along with contractor Antonio Rivera Romo and a local Guaymas city councilman, who lives in the San Carlos Country Club, Roberto Romano Terrazas. No one at this meeting videotaped or voice recorded anything. In retrospect, that is a shame. But nonetheless, whatever was said at the meeting, the crowd must have liked it. Donations flooded in, especially the owner of Siesta Realty, Phyllis Lilischkies. In one swoop, she became the largest single donor to the project. It appears that only two of the many real estate companies in San Carlos ponied up cash to this project. Phyllis forked over $2,000 at the meeting. She also believes she got what she paid for.
“The first thread in the Viva forum says repair the road, and that is what they did, repair only, not rebuilt, not a new road, there was never that kind of money, think about it,” said Lilischkies.
By March 12, the work began on the road and one forum contributor name Cisco posted: “The Guaymas officials are probably starting to sweat, wondering where they will get their half of the money.”
Guaymas officials certainly were not sweating in any way, shape or form. Guaymas officials don’t sweat much over San Carlos and they never will. I suspect most “Guaymas officials” probably didn’t even know what was going down in San Carlos. On March 27, post #250, the comisario makes his one and only post on the forum. He very interestingly claims that the City of Guaymas put in 75,000 pesos and matched what was delivered to the contractor. He clearly states money. That is in direct conflict with what he told me during our interview. I have my doubts that the city put hard cash into the project.
There are now comments on the Viva forum that accuse the comisario of skimming money off this project. The reality is that in Mexico this is a common occurrence. Kickbacks and skimming happen all the time. Did it take place on this project? That is impossible to confirm or deny. What the comisario said to me regarding that delicate subject when I asked was that this was a very low budget project to skim and why would he destroy his reputation for such a tiny amount of money that could be skimmed. Considering I personally saw the comisario working last year in the heat patching the road and knowing that he lives very close to where the road was repaired, I don’t think he skimmed any money from this project, but until the comisario comes clean and at least publishes the bid and shows everyone some form of accounting (Guaymas put in 75,000 cash right?) even if it was written on a napkin there will always be doubt for some. There is little doubt though that he wanted a fixed road; He has, after all, lived in the same house in San Carlos for 22 years.
“I have been here 22 years, I ask you, do you think I have not noticed whether the road does or doesn’t work? It is not just because I am the comisario, it is an important theme, it is a highly transited road and it was necessary to fix it.” Said Soto.
I did ask If he would give me a copy of the 400,000 pesos bid so that it could be published but he refused. His reasoning for a lack of transparency was interesting but in the end not tenable. He blames his lack of transparency on Geroge Gadsby and became quite upset the moment Gadsby started complaining about the quality of the work. It irked the comisario to no end when Gadsby started making demands to see a contract and see the bid. If Gadsby and everyone else was happy with a handshake deal at the beginning of this project, then they shouldn’t be surprised at the end when the handshake is still all they have.
“This was a meeting of residents who wanted to cooperate and help repair a road that we use every day, a meeting was never solicited where people where summoned and asked if they wanted this project, we didn’t do anything formal. Now George wants to see a contract, but there never was a contract.” Said Soto.
The comisario also implored me to print that he was very grateful to all those who donated and for all the fundraising efforts that Gadsby did on the Viva forum.
Could the road have ever been repaired if it hadn’t been done under the table? I doubt it. What is clear, though, is that there could have been far more transparency built into this project. How so? Well, considering the donations were private, many restrictions could have been placed on payment of funds. For those who are complaining the most, and it is unclear how many are complaining, precise definitions could have been agreed upon on how the road would be repaired and exactly how much of it would be repaired, pretty much the way houses are built here in town. Contractors don’t get the final payment if they don’t finish the job. The donors actually held all the cards in this game and could have dictated exactly how this job could have been done. In the end, that was obviously too much work for everyone, especially the major cheerleaders for the project. I have heard that Gadsby has been quoted over the years as saying he doesn’t do any work himself, he finds others to do the work. I don’t know if he has truly made that statement but if he has then he should have found someone to put in place a mechanism that would have ensured that the work that was done was what was promised. That was the true challenge of the whole project. The goodwill of the people of San Carlos was never in question. Just look at the number of charities that abound in this little town. Raising the funds was never going to be the difficult part of a project of this kind. People know that Guaymas has limited funds and limited abilities to get things done, especially road paving.
Well, more than 100 people contributed to the road fund. Two major contributors donated 38 percent of the total amount of cash from San Carlos: Loma del Mar contributed 54,700 pesos and Lilischkies from Siesta Realty contributed 25,000 pesos. How many of those who donated and are unsatisfied with the work is unknown. I did a very informal poll at this link and there were at least a couple dozen not happy with the repair. I am sure there are hundreds who are happy with it. I suspect that anyone who uses the road can agree that it is in better shape than it was. What is also undeniable is that the road is still a mess. Piles of old asphalt still lay next to the road. To this day, Vanessa’s Vet Clinic still has a mound of dirt sitting at its turnoff. For almost a month, you couldn’t even turn into the vet clinic. Several potholes still have not been filled. Within the original bid that was never seen by anyone a guarantee of five years against pot holes was included into the project. Will the pot hole guarantee be respected? That is anyone’s guess, since there was nothing in writing.
Pepe Cellis, brother of Tere Grossman and also someone who was busy helping with the development of the road when it was originally constructed, believes that San Carlos needs to have a formal agreement signed with the City of Guaymas to deal with paving of roads and other issues that should be rightfully funded by San Carlos tax dollars.
“There should be a meeting with the City of Guaymas and the comisaría of San Carlos in which an agreement (convenio, in Spanish) is signed what would guarantee that a certain amount of San Carlos tax dollars are returned to San Carlos and spent on the paving of roads. One percent, 2 percent, 20 percent…. I don’t know but a certain percentage should be returned,” said Cellis.
San Carlos is an interesting case in point. San Carlos is a comisaría, and if you check a Spanish dictionary, it translates roughly to a police precinct. Most of the time, a comisaría is small in nature and does not generate much in form of property taxes for a municipio. That is certainly not the case in San Carlos. With the large number of high dollar homes and real estate, San Carlos is not your ordinary run of the mill comisaría.
Cellis contends, and rightly so I believe, that only when San Carlos begins to pressure Guaymas will a percentage of the property taxes generated here be returned, and it is not even the percentage that counts as much as the fact the Guaymas would acknowledge that San Carlos tax dollars should be spent in San Carlos. Even if the agreement was for 1 or 2 percent, it wouldn’t matter since that signed agreement between San Carlos and Guaymas would be worth more than the money that would actually be returned. If, for instance, you got a signed agreement to return 1 percent of the tax money, it is not a far stretch that sometime later, you could start to demand more than just 1 percent. Realistically, San Carlos should get half or more of its tax dollars returned to it for infrastructure. Cellis also believes that a study should be done and then presented to Guaymas to show the city how much money the American sector generates.
“It is time that Guaymas stopped treating the gringos like they were ghosts,” said Cellis.
Show them, the city and state governments how much money comes in and start demanding that they give back to the infrastructure of San Carlos.
There is a way to virtually guarantee that Guaymas would come to the bargaining table with San Carlos and sign such an agreement. And that would be the threat of San Carlos breaking away from Guaymas to form its own municipio. I have written on the subject frequently and the reality is that San Carlos fulfills all the requirements to be its own municipio right now. The biggest legal hurdle for San Carlos to become its own municipality is that 22 out of the 33 state legislators would have to vote yes to San Carlos breaking away from Guaymas. Another obstacle is lack of leadership.
For now, the sad fact of the matter is that San Carlos is owned by Guaymas and as long as that goes on, don’t expect too much from the local Guaymas government. Even though San Carlos generates a large amount of tax revenues that never come back to San Carlos for infrastructure, one thing should be understood. The majority of infrastructure money comes from the federal and state governments. If San Carlos were its own municipality, it would then be able to petition the state and the federal government directly for the funding needed to truly make San Carlos a first class tourist destination.
Cellis was clear on one point: San Carlos needs to be saved from Guaymas. In spite of all that Guaymas has done to screw up San Carlos, it is still a beautiful place to live and we only have ourselves to blame for not organizing and demanding that San Carlos be properly developed and organized. I couldn’t agree with him more and the road project that was just funded and completed is a perfect example of how Guaymas completely ignores San Carlos. Could you imagine the backlash if residents in Guaymas were forced to pay extra on top of their property taxes to have a road fixed? It would be political suicide for anyone in Guaymas to even mention the idea. But San Carlos only generates perhaps 1,500 to 2,000 Mexican voters compared to perhaps 100,000 or so in Guaymas. Guaymas doesn’t have to care about much in San Carlos and only will start to care when San Carlos demands it. Americans, while not voters, are still paying property taxes and do count as inhabitants. It is not political in any way, shape or form for any of the many gringo associations and or clubs to ask the state government to pay more attention to San Carlos and please return some of our tax dollars so we can make our town better.
San Carlos needs to get the proverbial chip off of its shoulder and start demanding some respect. Until that happens don’t expect much from the local city government.