Cinder block by cinder block the coastline of the greater Todos Santos area is changing. But not for long if a group of residents has its way.
For several years people have been struggling to stop development on the dunes that in some cases are literally a stone’s throw from the waves crashing in from the Pacific Ocean.
A website created by a group called Protect Todos Santos was launched in May to bring awareness to people who are not intimately involved in the fight. The site is more of an educational resource than an emotional plea for change. Documents from the Mexican government are provided to substantiate the group’s beliefs.
Information is provided in English and Spanish, with the official documents also in both languages.
The site says Protect Todos Santos is an “organization of Mexican and foreign residents working together to preserve and protect the beautiful Todos Santos region from the environmental threats our community faces due to the rapid growth we are now experiencing.”
It further states, “Many battles have been waged over the years, and are currently being waged to prevent overdevelopment, destruction of our coastal dunes, and to ensure we wisely use our scarce water resources. Our success depends on all of us becoming more educated about the threats we face and working together to remediate them.”
The Program for Urban Development for Todos Santos, El Pescadero, and Las Playitas was published in 2012. It covers more than 30 miles from Elias Calles on the south to Agua Blanca north of Todos Santos. The PDU prohibits any development on primary and secondary dunes.
The problem is regulations outlined in this document are not being enforced. Protect Todos Santos is determined to be proactive and diligent to get officials in La Paz to pay attention.
One of the problems throughout Mexico, though, is government officials are not afraid to take a bribe and then turn the other way. This is often how building permits are issued when the law says they shouldn’t be.
Degradation of the environment is the No. 1 reason people want to stop this development. Protect Todos Santos has environmental experts on board to help with the cause. Leading the legal fight is local attorney John Moreno who was successful several years ago in getting the Tres Santos project in Todos Santos to be scrapped.
The law states native vegetation cannot be removed without prior consent. The citizens’ group says construction crews do what the developer says, not what the law dictates. This is how houses on the dunes have come into being.
Building on this dune in the Las Tunas area of Todos Santos, Mexico, has been stopped. The hope is the owner will have to restore it. (Image: Cien Palmas Photograhy)
While several environmental studies have been conducted in this region, the last was completed in 2021. The findings are posted on Protect Todos Santos’ website. In part, it found sand lacking cohesion, making it not suitable to be built upon.
The report also found these impacts:
Fragmentation of the system due to construction on dunes.
Agriculture, behind the coastal dune.
Fragmentation by accesses (sidewalks, paths, vehicle access).
Vehicle traffic on the beach, embryonic dunes.
Infrastructure (houses on and behind the dunes; and in stream beds).
Leveling and filling of dunes.
Loss of landscape quality (the houses on the coastal dunes prevent the view towards the sea).
Environmental degradation, loss of habitat.
The report further states, “Floristically the dune cord has not changed in the almost 50 years that it was sampled for the first time (1972), neither in its topography nor in its floristic diversity. This indicates that the conservation measures that have been carried out have managed to maintain the floristic biodiversity and the geomorphology of the dune cord. This has been achieved, despite the hurricanes that have occurred and the constructions (houses and roads) behind the dune cordon. This is especially important because it also means that, as a whole, in the cordon of dunes, the ecosystem services that the dunes provide to the community of inhabitants of Todos Santos are not lost. However, the threat of its destruction is already evident when counting around 100 constructions on the dune cordon and gaps that fragment the vegetation of the dune cordon.”
What frustrates those who live in the area is that ocean front lots are still for sale. Selling them is not illegal. Building on them is.
“What we are seeing now is the dune lots are still available and being marketed to Mexicans on the mainland,” said Ken Churchill, an ex-pat involved with Protect Todos Santos. “We are trying to educate the Realtors.”
He said a big problem is real estate agents from La Paz and Los Cabos often aren’t familiar with the law and therefore tell clients they are buildable lots.
Developers not stopping
Even in 2005, seven years before the PDU was published, the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT)—which is equivalent to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States—told Ocean Development it would “require prior environmental impact authorization from the secretary of the
Environment” before the developer could build. It found numerous deficiencies with the environment documents.
That 2005 document spells out how Ocean Development in April 2000 presented information that was “deficient and did not support the requirements to counteract the expected effects on
the environment” and how five years later the environmental documents still did not meet muster.
The document states, “The feasibility and viability of the project, in the opinion of this state agency, has been decided unfavorable due to, among other aspects,
the fact that the fragmentation of the dune system would cause ecological imbalance of the coastal ecosystem of the area, since it is proposed to build a house on each back of the dune, as well as to delimit each lot with mesh or other material that allows the wind flow, and the implementation of wooden walkways toward the beach area that cross the dune. However, this situation has not yet been evaluated in the statement in question considering the total development of the project by building approximately 50 homes along the dune system and its cumulative and synergistic impacts together with the construction of the adjoining Las Tunas II Project.”
Also noted was this is sea turtle habitat, something not addressed in the environmental documents submitted by the developer.
Daniel Kimple is listed on the document as the representative for Ocean Development. Kimple and Eddie Ogden are listed together on the A. Paraiso Realty website. The site boasts of specializing in beachfront properties in Todos Santos.
The site does not have a bio for Kimple. Ogden’s says this, “After 20 years of sales of real estate, construction and development of subdivisions in the Cabo area, Eddie made the move to Todos Santos acquiring large tracts of land with the dream to develop spectacular beachfront homes. All this with the blessing of the local ejidatario officials, state and municipal political figures and federal environmental protection agencies. Several million dollars of sales and many happy clients later, Ed continues to offer quality real estate services to all those who share his dream of a home in Mexico’s beautiful Baja Sur.”
Ogden did not respond to email inquiries asking why they continue to try to sell what they call developable lots in the greater Todos Santos area when the law prohibits such construction.
Kimple also did not answer a series of questions emailed to him, but instead responded saying federal law allows for some construction on the dunes.
He did not address the fact he cited information from the environmental impact report and not the PDU. The EIR allowed for the building of one single family, one-story home on the front 35 percent of the lot next to the road as a test case. That never happened.
The PDU says, “The dunes represent a protection system for the coastline, since they dissipate and cushion the effects produced by the force of the waves, in addition to functioning as a reserve of sand on eroded beaches. They are considered fragile ecosystems, for which the permitted uses and/or activities can only be carried out after the first and second dunes. In the dune areas that present an evident movement of sand, no type of permanent construction may be carried out, that is, in the dune area that presents representative vegetation of dynamic dunes, it is prohibited to build permanent facilities.”
Kimple contends all lots he’s involved with are permitted by three levels of government.
Not just an oceanfront issue
Protect Todos Santos also wants authorities to enforce rules that are on the books that prevent other haphazard development in neighborhoods.
After visiting Baja Sur for more than 50 years, Larry Martin in 2015 bought two adjacent lots in Todos Santos. He put a house and casita on the land.
“We chose our location due to the unobstructed ocean view and because we knew that the neighborhood was protected by the 2012 Community Plan zoning. This limits development to one house per half acre,” Martin said. “Two years ago a La Paz Realtor bought the property between us and the ocean, and secured an option on the adjacent northerly lot. Soon a sign was posted advertising six new homes on the two lots.”
Martin said he told the real estate agent about the Plan for Urban Development and how it did not allow for the density he was proposing. According to Martin, the agent had no interest in finding a compromise. This left him having to fight it out in La Paz, which handles building permits for the Todos Santos region.
“We were told that the building permit was improperly issued and that the lots were not zoned for this density. But after 10 months, rather than deciding to protect the PDU, La Paz has told us that we need to ask the courts for a decision,” Martin said.
Today, there are three houses on a lot where only one was legally supposed to be built.
Next up for Martin is to demand the government have two of the three houses torn down. This, he admits, puts these people’s investments at risk and causes ill-will in the neighborhood, even though all he is doing is trying to enforce rules that have been on the books for a decade.
Mylo takes over the driver’s seat of the Jeep. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When mom and I moved in together last year we each came with four-legged creatures. Mine lived with us full time, while hers is a part-timer.
Mylo is a 14-year-old Shih Tzu who my mom and sister Jann share custody of. So, Mylo has two moms. They are referred to as “the other lady”—as in it’s time to go to the other lady’s house.
By default, this makes me the “other other lady.” I like to think of myself as the fun one, but don’t tell my mom or sister. It’s a little secret between me and Mylo.
You see, I have dog treats. And Mylo knows where they are. It means I need to keep the pantry door shut so he doesn’t help himself.
Mylo never turns down the opportunity to go on a walk. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I also take him to Bidwell Park when it’s hot out. This gives him a chance to walk in the shade and drink from the creek. On walks anywhere I let him sniff butts with other dogs. I’m also way more lenient about where he does his business, but don’t tell my mom because I told her I would follow her rules when she’s not around.
At home I get down on the floor and play-wrestle with Mylo. The other ladies don’t do this.
If he were up for it, he could sleep in my bed when he’s here with me alone. For now, he’s content to be in his bed. When AJ was still here and it was the three of us for a few days Mylo refused to sleep in my room. To him, AJ at 35 pounds seemed like a big dog. Plus, dogs understand territorial boundaries, and just coming into my room was verboten per AJ’s authority. Now, though, Mylo is perfectly content to sleep in his bed in my room when it’s the two of us. When it’s the three of us, he is in the other lady’s bedroom.
This is one spoiled/high maintenance dog. He’s a dog that requires grooming. And boy does it make a difference. I’ve never had a dog that required this type of care.
The other ladies have started to moisten his food, which gets him to eat it more rapidly. Oddly, or not, he never has a problem wolfing down the hard treats he gets from me, or the occasional piece of carrot that finds its way to the floor accidentally or purposefully.
Then he gets fed four times a day. And each one of those is divided in half to slow the ingestion process to ensure it all stays down.
Big Chico Creek is a great place for Mylo to cool off in the summer. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Each morning he has to be walked in order to poop. Mom has softened in the last year to the point she is OK with his initial pee and last pee of the night being out back—even on her plants. If he were my dog, he’d get walked on my schedule, which could be any time of day. He’s not my dog, so he gets his morning walk. Then I usually take him out later in the day with me to pick up the mail, which is a short walk to the cluster of boxes, or we might go somewhere else depending on my work day. It’s a good break for me, and gets us both some fresh air. He really isn’t much of an outdoor dog; he tends to stay indoors even when the back door is open all day.
He likes to be with his people. When mom is here Mylo is usually at her side. When it’s just me, well, his second bed is in my office. Yep, just like Bailey and AJ, Mylo has become my office-mate. There is something comforting about this. It feels good to be the other other lady.
This is what the American Kennel Club says about Shih Tzus, “As a small dog bred to spend most of their day inside royal palaces, they make a great pet if you live in an apartment or lack a big backyard. Some dogs live to dig holes and chase cats, but a Shih Tzu’s idea of fun is sitting in your lap acting adorable as you try to watch TV.”
Well, we don’t have a royal palace, but the fact Mylo has multiple dwellings to call home, several vehicles to ferry him about, and all these “other ladies,” well, perhaps he is the royalty and not any of his other ladies.
North Butte is the highest location in Sutter Buttes that is accessible to the public. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Even when you know there won’t be switchbacks, it doesn’t mean you don’t curse the fact they don’t exist.
My heart rate was surging a bit climbing to the top North Butte in the Sutter Buttes mountain range near Yuba City. And my quads were feeling it the next day.
Hike leaders of the Summit Ascent/North Butte hike described it like this: “One of the Buttes’ most challenging treks, this route is a steep, 1,000-foot push straight up North Butte. It is off trail and has no easy switchbacks. Hikers must be in very good physical condition and not suffer from vertigo.” The nonprofit that puts on the hikes lists their outings on a 1 boot (easiest) to 6 boots (hardest and called extreme). My hike on March 20 was a 5-booter, labeled strenuous.
There were parts that were definitely strenuous, but it’s not sustained. I was super happy to have my poles, though, for the climb up and down. Definitely not a hike for anyone with knee issues. The soft dirt presented a potential slipping problem going down. Fortunately, the narrow parts of the trail with a substantial drop were not long enough to trigger my height issues.
We made it to the top of North Butte, the highest point accessible to the public. The height is 1,863 feet, which is not scalable without a rope. The public isn’t allowed to climb the rocks.
Peace Valley is owned by the state, but not accessible by the public. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
We had lunch at the base. From here are some iconic vistas. Sacramento’s skyline was distinct in the distance, with Mount Diablo just to the west. In the opposite direction were snowcapped Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak. Also visible was Sierra Buttes.
The closest point of interest was South Butte, which can boast of being the tallest point in Sutter Buttes at 2,122 feet. It is not open to the public.
While the Buttes are volcanic, the last eruption was about 1.5 million years ago. Glad no one was talking about them being overdue to spew lava.
After descending North Butte, we headed back in a different direction from where we started. This led to a vista of Peace Valley. That green area is a state park that is not accessible to the public. Our guide said there are talks to try to rectify that situation at least on a limited basis. The concern by ranchers is it would be overrun with people, and therefore would be a threat to their livestock. In the park is a historic cemetery.
While no native American tribes called the Buttes home, five tribes used the area. Remnants remain such as pounding stones, also known as grinding rocks.
More modern human evidence is found at what’s called Seismograph Hill. While there isn’t much seismic activity in these parts, if there is any, it will be picked by USGS officials. A sad sample of humans spoiling such pristine terrain was the graffiti on the rocks at the top of North Butte.
No wonder the only access to this area is to pay to hike through Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes, or to be one of the landowners or their guest. Sutter Buttes has multiple land owners, with three primary ones. We were on the Dean property.
It was a gorgeous hike, with green grass everywhere. Oak trees—blue oak, valley oak, and live oak—are the predominant flora. Though several wildflowers were in bloom—lupine, blue dip, popcorn, filaree and poppies to name a few.
Three species of oak trees call Sutter Buttes home. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
AJ loved to hike throughout the greater Lake Tahoe area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When I started writing tributes to AJ on her 16th birthday I didn’t think I would still be at it today. This incredible dog of mine turns 19 on Valentine’s Day.
Getting to the highest point in her Tahoe yard–the top of the hot tub. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s appropriate her other mom, Joy, picked this day for Audrey Jean’s birthday. (She was a rescue, so we don’t know the exact day she was born.) Appropriate because this dog stole my heart as well as Joy’s. The love she has provided both of us cannot be measured.
Joy returned that love in equally large quantities, as I do to this day.
AJ finds enough room to spread out in the Jeep while traveling to Baja. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It was August 2012 that AJ came into my household; just days after Joy died of cancer. I never would have guessed that she would end up spending as much time with me as she did Joy. Joy and I have been incredibly lucky to share one special dog.
AJ is far from perfect. She had so much energy when I first got custody of her that she could run, and run, and run. We would go hiking and off she would go. My throat would be sore yelling for her to come back. She always did, but never quickly. And one time she came back with her side slashed so stitches were necessary. Another time she escaped her doggie day care in South Lake Tahoe, and walked home to discover I wasn’t there. Oh, the stories I could write about her.
Waiting patiently to go for a walk. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Today, well, it’s hard to get her to want to go on a walk of any distance. She does laps in the house, which gets her exercise. She has a small back yard to wander around in, smell plants and water them as well. My mom doesn’t even wince knowing this is happening. (Mom is the gardener.)
One winter the snow was so abundant AJ could look over the fence. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
AJ and I have had the talk—more than once, and several times of late. Her energy is waning. She is literally on her last legs as her back right one keeps getting weaker. She gets a regular dose of some substance that is to help with the osteoarthritis and gets a CBD nugget twice a day. She has pads to give her traction on the inside floors.
Do dogs really stop to smell the flowers while hiking? (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I have looked up end of life options in the area and there are multiple people who could come to the house.
This will be her last birthday. She has done what she was put on the earth to do. She has been with me through so much happiness and so much sadness. She’s even lived in another country. What a great traveler she was on those long treks.
She has multiple coats, and has never liked getting into any of them. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When we were in Baja I asked her if she could stay around long enough to get me to whatever my next venture was going to be. She’s done that. And she’s experienced it with me for nearly a year.
In her prime, AJ was quite the runner. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I can’t ask more of this dog. She’s already given me more than I ever expected. Now it’s my turn to make sure whatever time she has left is as pain free as possible (I have stronger stuff for her too) and that she knows how loved she is.
Call it therapy; her favorite place at her Auntie Jann’s in Todos Santos was the gravel. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I have doggie cake and ice cream to make her on what assuredly is her last trip around the sun.
If predictions come true, this will be a horrible fire season. Fuel loads in some places in Nevada are at 100 to 300 percent of normal for this time of year. The Lake Tahoe Basin is in a moderate drought. The snowpack this past winter was dismal, which means the fuel loads from the previous season were not packed down.
“We are already seeing a very active fire season,” Kacey KC, Nevada forest fire warden, said. “We have had 146 fires so far this year burning just shy of 10,000 acres.” Six were caused by lightning.
Timber is dry in the basin, including in higher elevations.
On June 3, fire officials talked about the outlook for this season. Participating in the Zoom session with KC were Chris Smallcomb, meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Reno; Paul Petersen, BLM Nevada State Fire; Gwen Sanchez, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest fire management officer; Carrie Thaler, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit forest fire management officer; and Dave Cochran, Nevada Fire Chiefs Association president.
Fire restrictions are in place for the Lake Tahoe Basin and Nevada. Specifics are available on each jurisdiction’s website. There are rules about fireworks (they are illegal everywhere in Tahoe), target shooting and other activities that could cause a fire. Throughout Nevada people must stop cutting wood on public lands by 1pm. Campfires are allowed only at designated sites and must be fully extinguished before going to bed or leaving the area.
In the basin illegal campfires are the No. 1 cause of fires. In California, 90 percent of fires are started by people. On the Humboldt-Toiyabe in the last 10 years on average 37 percent of fires were human caused, while in 2019 it was 41 percent.
What concerns fire officials for this summer is the higher than normal temps that are in the forecast.
“The outlook is for an above average fire season,” Smallcomb with the Weather Service said. Without moisture, it could mean more fires in the higher elevations as well. He isn’t ready to predict what the rainfall will be like this summer, but Smallcomb does say models show a “strong signal for above normal temperatures.” This spring record temperatures have been set locally and throughout Nevada. This dries out vegetation at all elevation levels.
Fewer red flag warnings were issued last year compared to years past. These days are based on high wind, low humidity and/or the threat of dry lightning. The warning allows fire agencies to be on heightened alert.
Nevada and Lake Tahoe Basin agencies are fully staffed with permanent and seasonal firefighting crews. Based on the threat of a bad fire season extra resources have been added. The Bureau of Land Management in Nevada has added 21 additional firefighters, the Humboldt-Toiyabe has 18 more seasonal firefighters as well as two additional contract helicopters based in Minden, and the LTBMU has an additional helicopter housed at Lake Tahoe Airport in South Lake Tahoe. Fourteen fire cameras will be added this year in Nevada to the 39 that already exist. These help detect fires and can aid in determining the amount of resources needed to combat a blaze.
Fire agencies are putting in protocols to deal with COVID-19. Cochran, with the Nevada Fire Chiefs Association, said firefighters deployed to a wildland fire will stay within a unit to reduce spreading the virus (assuming someone has it) to everyone, personnel will have their temperature checked daily, trips to town won’t happen, outsiders won’t be allowed into the fire camp, and other measures are in place to keep firefighters healthy.