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 email@example.com
IA Mario Arturo Romero Escalante: Chief of Policemario.firstname.lastname@example.org
Ing. Mario Arturo KaramEspósitos: Directo of Urban Developmentaref.email@example.com
CP Carolina Cárdenas Sosa: Director of Tourism and Economic Developmentcarolina.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.