Have we reached critical mass?

Merida officials at downtown residents’ meeting

Yesterday I attended a meeting convened by Merida’s city administration. The officials present were:

  • Guibaldo Vargas Madrazo: Office of the Mayor
  • IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Police
  • Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Director of Urban Development
  • CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Development

A wide cross-section of approximately 80 people showed up – all had an agenda. Private homeowners, assorted business owners, bar and restaurant operators, professionals such as lawyers, an audio engineer, and hotel owners all had their turn speaking. The group included native-born citizens of Merida, Mexican nationals who have moved to Merida from other parts of the country, and foreign residents.

The bar and restaurant owners basically said:

  • We have the right to operate our businesses.
  • We have licenses to stay open late and have live music playing.
  • Bars and restaurants are an important feature of the downtown area.
  • We employ a lot of local people and the lives of our employees matter.
  • It is unfair for the residents of downtown to expect utter silence.
  • It surprised them that only a few native Merida residents were in attendance, and it seemed to them that the complaints are all coming from foreigners.

The homeowners and business people, whether local, national or international:

  • All agreed that bars and restaurants are important to the downtown area.
  • They expressed dubiousness at how the licenses to operate were obtained.
  • All are sympathetic and supportive of the employees – they recognize that everyone needs to work, and they have the right to safe working conditions and salaries that allow them to support themselves and their families.
  • But they want the bars and restaurants to better-manage the noise levels.
  • Many homeowners said they get little sleep because of the noise from the music and revelry.
  • Many business owners said the noise has affected their businesses in a negative way. In fact, several guest houses have closed, or are on the brink of closing, because no one will stay in noisy rooms.
  • Homeowners also object to new bars and restaurants getting permission to operate right beside their already established homes.
  • The homeowners and business owners ask why they have no say in the kind of neighbors they get. They object to having the noisy ones foisted upon them.
  • They say there should be forethought and consultation with all affected parties when a new business opens.

One resident made a very important point. She reminded the Merida authorities that our city enjoys a wonderful reputation as a cultural destination, but if the current situation continues, the international press will learn of it – Merida will get bad publicity – and everyone will lose.

I know I start a lot of posts with, “When I moved to Merida 41 years ago…” but this does give me perspective, and please forgive my repetition of the point. But at the time, the downtown area was a decaying mess – block after block of neglected buildings. Meridanos were moving to the north. As soon as the malls were built, many businesses moved there too.

The renovations and improvements to Merida’s Centro were started 30 years ago, mostly by foreigners who bought the empty, derelict homes. They restored them and once a significant number had been improved, the City and State administrations also began their campaigns, just as the city of Campeche had already done.

The sustained efforts of private homeowners, the city and state governments, laid the groundwork for the beautiful and vibrant downtown area we have today. Then the bars and restaurants started opening (or re-vamped their image)a larger scale.

Now the bars and restaurants say that foreigners are not “respecting local traditions”.  They say that Merida has always had noisy bars and entertainment venues, and this is true. But, but, but– this issue is one of degrees. The sound equipment currently available is much more potent and loud.  The bars and clubs are open late six nights a week. No one would get in a knot over some noise, some of the time. Why don’t the antros behave in a respectful and neighborly way? Why don’t they police themselves?

Now there is even a movement that urges locals to resist the “gentrification” of Merida. That is a broad term. I don’t think improving the aesthetics is gentrification. The antros and clubs charge plenty for their cool hipster atmosphere. That’s gentrification.

Several people at the meeting said that these transgressions happen because bribes to the officials are an accepted modus operandi. The authorities denied this and seemed offended by the allegations.

The authorities asked for our understanding, and gave a lot of excuses as to why they cannot act more forthrightly. They say regulations are not in place. When a resident showed a printout of a federal law pertaining to noise levels, all the officials claimed this law does not apply – that local regulations are necessary.

A lawyer from Merida pointed out that if the laws and statutes do not apply or are outdated and ineffective, they must be changed – the sooner the better.

The lack of native-born Centro residents attending the meeting was mentioned again and again by the bar faction. The person beside me whispered that this was probably because they all knew the meeting would be fruitless and did not want to waste their time.

The discussion got ugly towards the end, and this is when the director of tourism said that there would be another meeting in three months. She promised there would be progress in reviewing the regulation of noise levels.

Everyone dispersed with no sense of consensus. The residents were disappointed with the authorities’ lack of resolve. I think the authorities were surprised that the residents were so vocal and at times, disrespectful. But everyone is angry at the current mess.

To sum it all up, we got the same old run-around as always. All the officials present basically said the same thing:

  • I am sympathetic, but I can do nothing.
  • The appropriate laws are not in place.
  • The guidelines are not current.
  • I cannot act just because I want to.

If you want to contact the city officials who took part in the meeting, here is their contact information:

Lic. Guibaldo Vargas Madrazo:  Office of the Mayor   guibaldo.vargas@merida.gob.mx

IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Policemario.romero@merida.gob.mx

Ing. Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Directo of Urban Developmentaref.karam@merida.gob.mx

CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Developmentcarolina.cardenas@merida.gob.mx

If the authorities do not act, we will have an even bigger mess in Merida’s Centro. I do not think it is too late, but I seriously question whether or not the authorities care to change the status quo.

I think this noise issue has reached critical mass.

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24 thoughts on “Have we reached critical mass?

  1. 80 people need to act, everyday. They must be the squeaky wheel – together. You have given 4 contacts – so if 20 people a day contact each of those people, everyday, by e-mail or phone, it could have the desired result or at least will take up a great deal of their time. Record the noise – construction onwards – and play the tapes back to the 4. Maybe broadcast outside the mayor’s house from plain, unmarked cars. Perhaps whilst he is having a dinner party and late at night at the bar’s closing time. What about the press? A clip on TV evening news showing children crying because they are unable to sleep because of the noise. Take photos – of construction, and if it opens, of patrons going in and out. Fight, fight, fight!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think this course of action would be a big mistake. The role politeness plays in Merida society is huge and this kind of harassment will not achieve your goals but will definitely build resentment. What would work in the U.S. or Canada will not work here. What will work is constant, gentle persuasion and getting close socially to those who have the real power. Forget the chief of police…you want the Mayor or whoever is pulling the strings behind the mayor and the Dir. Of Urban Development. Sound out the Director of Tourism to see if she has any clout but I doubt it , being a woman. Get to know the employees at City Hall and if bribery is necessary to find out who has the power and what their personalities are then do it but very subtly. Find a lawyer who can advise you and possibly speak on your behalf. You’re looking for someone with influence…..definitely not a woman. This will all take time but it is time that will be well spent. And the time to REALLY make yourself heard is just before an election. Find out what kind of electoral system is in place (e.g. members of council elected at large or by the ward system representing specific areas). Though you may not be able to vote you can put forth a subtle media campaign to influence those of your neighbours who can. You can begin talking to your neighbours those of you who can speak the language and ask them their views and build on this initial meeting by following up once or twice to build confidence and trust preparatory to a petition signed by locals. Only the locals can effect real change.
      I cannot emphasize enough that it’s not what you say but to whom you say it, and how and when. You must at least appear to be respectful since that seems to be very important here. Use whomever you know to find out what makes those with the power tick….pick their brains. And remember that it’s not what you know but WHO you know that will work in your favour. Invite public officials to your events and invite them to speak. Flatter them.
      I would hazard a guess that many of the 80 people who attended the meeting are women since the ratio of men to women in the expat community appears to favour the women. Do what you can to get as many men as possible to promote your cause. Women in Mexico are primarily arm candy and are not taken aeriously.
      Do everything you can to appear to be promoting Merida’s interests rather than your own.
      My concern, after voicing all this, is running afoul of the law that prohibits foreigners from getting involved in Mexican politics. I would want to get legal advice before getting too organized and submitting a petition. I think that aspect should appear to be coming from the locals and preferably the male locals.
      I worked in municipal gov’t for 25 years and I think I have some knowledge of how things work. However my observations of Mexican society are purely my own, the result of reading and watching. Unfortunately my inability to speak the language has hampered my ability to get to know the locals and local government.
      Good luck.
      Please send any comments to bundlesvbeatles@hotmail.com. I’ve used a gmail address as Hotmail has been down a lot in the past year.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Marilou, I do appreciate your comment, and normally I would agree with you. But this particular situation is different. The neighbors of the loud bars are not sleeping. The city authority refuses to act and the bars won’t listen to any pleas to lower the volume of the music. People MUST dialogue and resolve this issue

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    2. Going on the attack and ‘fight, fight, fighting” has, through history required leverage which does not exist here. Insulting officials and demeaning their responses is never going to be effective. Remember the difference between persuasion and attacking. One brings the other side around, the other reinforces the opponent. Change is inevitable and very often cannot be contained. At best, with effort, it can be managed.

      We in Merida are fortunate to have officials who will meet with foreigners, police who will respond to our complaints and concerns, health officials who will manage mosquitos and the illnesses they cause, available and competent health care, low cost of living, freedom from incursions into our personal lives and a generally cordial approach to new businesses and immigrants regardless of the ugly attacks on all of them (and many of us) by the US president and Congress.

      Aggressive conduct like that proposed by Alice may very well constitute the very intrusion of foreign residents into Mexican government and politics prohibited by Mexican law. We are green card holders. We can be removed just as the US government has removed green card holders from the US. Many of us are not even legal residents, proud of our violation of the rules of Mexico, the US and Canada to enjoy the benefits of living here peaceably.

      There are properties perfect for guest houses outside of Centro. They have not been developed as such because visitors want to be near the center of the Merida action, not shopping centers, ball fields or great hospitals. It is unfortunate but if you speculate by the sword, you may die by the sword. I suggest that folks who feel so impacted, Insulate, provide white noise generators, and adapt while gently persuading the government for change.

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      1. I am a Mexican citizen. I’ve lived here a long time… my children were born here, my career has been here. Merida is my home and I know what you mean about being respectful and tactful. I wrote a book about that. But the way of life in Merida has changed in the past 10 years – as it has all over the world.. Those who endure the noise from bars night after night are worn out. I have not had too much of that. For me it was my school. We had a “down and out” bar right next door. They had loud music, prostitution, gambling and other “activities” going on there from 8 pm onwards. Finally we were able to buy the building and then it took us more than 2 years to evict them. It cost a lot of money.to get them out but that’s what “talks”. As an educational institution we have to conform to a myriad of regulations. I’m sorry, I wish that genteel manners still worked – but sadly they don’t.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. We DO have a 10 PM curfew for loud noise except when it is a city sanctioned festival such as Christmas, New Years etc. No loud music after 10PM in centro or in the colonias…….a call to police stops it as they arrive to get your complaint and go take care of it in less then 1/2 hour! Thankfully. OUR biggest problem here in SMA is the traffic on the weekends. – especially when there is a Monday holiday thrown into the mix. Last weekend it was nearly impossible to get from one side of town to the other since we have only two through streets, basically. Our town is being loved to death!

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  3. You summed up this meeting well. Sadly, the “noise and alcohol” side (NA’s) immediately jumped to the conclusion that the “sane residents” (SR’s) wanted them to close. No – the SR’s just want the NA’s to keep the noise down to a less than earsplitting level and control their clientele, who are over-served to the point of vomiting and urinating on our sidewalks. It is this behavior that is threatening the livelihood of hotel workers and owners by alienating the tour groups they depend on.

    After the meeting, I asked the Chief of Police to advise me what I should do when noise levels exceed the posted limits by 30 or more decibels, or when large groups of rowdy patrons stagger down the street at 3 am, pounding on doors and propping each other up, while police just sit inside their cars. He shrugged his shoulders.

    Three months of deliberation aren’t necessary. The solution is simple and rests in the hands of law enforcement: lower the illegal excess noise and be there when the bars close to shepherd the intoxicated patrons safely home.

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  4. I was curious about the current noise regulations in the municipio of Mérida (which do exist) and found them summarized in articles 49-60 of the municipal environmental regulations (link is here: http://cicyucatan.mx/pdf2016/proteccion_ambiente.pdf). They deal with construction noise, as well as noise from amplified speakers, etc. Did anyone at the meeting ask for clarification of the existing regulations, and what the enforcement mechanism is?

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    1. I know… one of the people who came to the meeting had a printout of those articles but the City authorities replied that they were not valid in this case. That is what frustrated everyone the most – the authorities showed no authority – just passing the buck.

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  5. Try to get as much support as you can from people who are living in Merida legally. Non-citizens who are proud to defy the laws of Mexico, Canada, and the United States, are part of the problem and no help to you. Those who publicly announce that they are not residing legally, or if citizens, not paying taxes, or obeying the local regulations, are not being respectful to the country in which they live nor their neighbours, they are not being responsible citizens, nor are they being ‘smart’. Sure, we have Americans living on Salt Spring Island longer than the legal 6 months a year, but they are very quiet about being here, pay their property taxes and utilities promptly, and generally lie low. We also have our share of draft dodgers who arrived in the 1960s with their avocado and orange VW campers and just stayed (the campers, too). They settled in and were accepted as part of the artsy community. In time, they gained resident status and then citizenship so that they could send their resulting children to school and enjoy health care for their families.

    In this case, you cannot struggle for as long as it took to get rid of the lurid pink bar. You need a win-win solution now.

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  6. For anyone who considers purchasing a home – the biggest expense a person will ever undertake – there should be a law that the prospective buyer be allowed a grace period of living in the residence for one or two nights, especially on a weekend when noise levels are usually at their highest, before signing the papers of commitment. I am personally acquainted with homeowners who were bothered by noise, went the legal route to do what they could with no favourable result and finally gave up and sold the property. Big cities have noise such as heavy traffic, construction, kids playing, church bells ringing, etc. That is the noise of life and progress. Unnecessary noise such as loud music – except on special occasions such as a city-wide celebration – loud cars, rowdiness, blaring car horns and any other forced racket should be declared illegal beyond a specific hour. Remember, a law can be made but is effective only when it can be enforced. It may be of interest to know that in Tokyo it is illegal for residents to blow their car horn except in cases of emergency.

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    1. Yes, the enforcement of the law is vital. But here the police just shrug their shoulders. “Live and let live” is one thing but what we see in Merida goes too far. I think we need clear statements about what is permitted and what not. Then everyone must live with it. Let’s hope there is more action this week

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  7. Thanks for a very reasoned and balanced report from the meeting Joanna! A possible way forward at these meetings is to appoint a spokesperson or persons to speak on behalf of the centro community, and have a lawyer to advise the spokesperson on legal matters. If multiple points made at these meetings become repetitious, full of personal accounts and descend into insult and argument, then those in centro have little chance of ever improving noise levels — and the bar owners will have won. Every time a meeting becomes acrimonious, the bar owners win again (they can ‘salt the meetings’ to ensure that happens). If everyone concerned put $200 pesos into a kitty, at least you will be able to compensate the lawyer, perhaps set up a webpage. If there are more of these argumentative, accusatory confrontations, the fall out will affect all expats, not just those complaining in centro.

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    1. Thank you for your comment. A spokeperson at future meetings is a good idea but to have this, organization would be needed, and I think this would be a red flag for the bar owners. Not be good.

      If we all get active – emailing the authorities with personal messages, attending the “Citizens’ Day” at City Hall every Wednesday, and keeping the issue alive on social media, I think it will have a greater impact.

      A lawyer is also a good idea, but at this point it would also antagonize the bar owners. I for one, do not want that. They need to understand that we do not want them to close. A well-run club adds so much to Merida’s night scene. There are ways to contain the noise and while expensive for the owners, it is only fair to the residents.

      Maybe the authorities could give some kind of financial incentive to the bars that comply with noise regulations?

      I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that the authorities are the only ones who can change this situation. The residents have to keep after them. Be active – but respectful.

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      1. Thanks. However, if centro residence approach to the authorities remains undisciplined and insulting, no progress will be made, and ugly scenes in meetings will continue as residents vent their frustration. As far as bar owners and police are concerned, the principle remains that reasoned, well informed points will do far more than individual complaints. And if residents do not get advice on the law, you cannot assess the validity of statements from the authorities.

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      2. When I advocate personal communication with the officials, I should have said, private.

        Attending the City Citizens’ Day but remaining silent unless asked to speak is also good because a constant presence and concern is shown.

        Knowledge of the law is important… if there is one. Right now, the regulations (made for a much smaller city, when old-fashined sound systems were all there was to be had) need to be updated.

        will will be no easy compromise, and Centro residents cannot expect zero noise – they live in the heart of a city with a warm climate where outdoors late night life is traditional – But if the sound levels are low enough that they can be muffled within the houses, that would be good. That is what I do when I am getting a lot of noise (it happens in Garcia Gineres too) I play my own music, turn on the splashing fountain, and sometimes I wear ear plugs…

        Control is as good as it will ever be

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      3. I didn’t realise you lived in Garcia Generes. So close! I will try to keep our noise down, I promise.

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