Oliver Quintero

Que Pasa In Baja?

Baja, open for spring breakers. Our state tourism honcho, Oscar Escobedo, is promoting Baja as a destination for spring breakers this coming season. Escobedo has already appeared in the Good Morning San Diego TV show and on KGTV news promoting us.

Baja has been slowly recovering as a spring break destination in the last couple of years, after the security crisis about 11 years ago, completely wiped us off the destinations list.

“Security is a priority subject for us, that’s why, while working with authorities on both sides of the border, we can assure our visitors that trust and tranquility have prospered in our territory that, although divided by a border, operates as a sole region”, stated Escobedo.

The state official went on to comment that 84% of the foreign visitors in our state come from California, generating an increase of tourism during 2018 without any precedent, stating that over 27.5 million tourists visited us during last year, leaving an economic benefit for the region of more than 6 billion USD.

Ensenada Carnival in trouble. Last week, the Ensenada chamber of commerce gave a press conference, in which they stated that they were starting a formal legal and lobbying battle against the carnival, unless  they change the location from the boulevard.

Business owners have long complained when the carnival is on the boulevard, because they lose almost all their business during the carnival days, as streets are closed for circulation. Also, traffic gets crazy since the boulevard is one of the main streets to get in and out of Ensenada.

Jorge Menchaca, head of the local chamber of commerce, and Jorge Cortes, president of the business council, assured that the carnival affects about 200 local businesses greatly when it’s done on the boulevard.

They are proposing to change the location to Playa Hermosa, where it has been done a couple times before and affects a lot less businesses, although it has gotten a lot less people when it is done in this location.

The city of Ensenada is between a rock and a hard place regarding this, as they have already received the 1 million pesos payment from the event organizers, who have already promoted the carnival heavily in most of the media in this location. If the city decides to change the location at this point, it will surely piss off organizers, who in turn could sue the city for breach of contract.

Two new hotels open in Ensenada. City Express announced that it has started operating its two, brand new  hotels in Ensenada, adding 261 rooms to the local room inventory.

“With the opening of these two properties, we will contribute to the development of the tourism industry in Ensenada, with hotel infrastructure. At the same time, we are offering travelers another lodging option, backed up by a recognized national hotel chain,” said Monica Narro, head of public relations for the hotel chain.

The company will offer two different types of hotels: City Express Plus, located in the Viento property in El Sauzal, with 134 higher-end, ocean view rooms, and their City Express property on Boulevard Costero, offering more affordable hotel rooms.

City Express offers a total of 1,342 hotel rooms in Baja in it’s 11 locations, distributed in Mexicali, Tijuana, Rosarito and now Ensenada.

Snow birds flock to Algodones. Tourism officials from Mexicali said that more than 281 thousand snow birds visited the city of Algodones in Mexicali, nicknamed “molar city” because it has more dental offices per capita than any other city in the world, during 2018 generating an economic benefit for the area of 40 million dollars.

Snowbirds are people from Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana in the US, and British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada, that fly over to warmer climates.

In this case most of these are warming up in the sea of Cortez, and they take advantage of the lower dental service prices in Algodones, which are normally 50% to 70% less than in their home countries.

No desalination plant for Rosarito. It looks like the new desalination plant that was going to be created in Rosarito by Consolidated Water is not going to be built after all.

Luis Moreno, state congressman from the “Transformemos” party, said that the cancellation of the plant is imminent since the state government was not able to give the assurances needed for the company.

The time limit for the state government to offer these assurances, which were an increased water price from the water agency, along with some tax breaks and funds to pay for the water, was December 31st last year.

State congress did not approve the changes needed, although the state government was supporting the controversial project that was also opposed by local environmental groups and many citizens.

Consolidated Water is still hoping that the state government rescues the project, which seems far-fetched, considering the majority of the state congress is now held by parties opposing the plant.

From Cleaning Crime Scenes in the US to Roasting Coffee in TJ

One of the wonderful things about Baja is the people that live here and the stories they have to tell. I am especially fascinated by the young expats who have decided to leave their home countries and immerse themselves in their local communities, just like regular locals.

Benjamin Davis is originally from Seattle, but we could say that he is a “Tijuanense,” because by now as he has been around here for 15 years. He is happily married to Cynthia, a Tijuana native, with whom he has two children, Rhys and Samantha, both born in Mexico.

 

His story starts in Seattle, where he ran a janitorial business that serviced, among other clients, funeral homes. At that point he only did regular cleaning until he was approached by one of the owners of a funerary asking if he could provide cleaning services where someone had died; he was hesitant at first, but after seeing what those kinds of services charged, he went all in.

For 3 years he was cleaning it all with his bio-recovery service (a better name for cleaning after the dead), crime scenes, suicides and natural deaths. Although I immediately thought crime scenes were the hardest part of the job, he tells me the hardest were actually natural deaths, where the dead person was not found until a couple days after dying, leaving an especially hard to clean trail of bodily fluids behind.

In two days of hard work, he was making more money than his dad made in 2 months. “At those times, you could almost charge whatever you wanted for the service, as there were not a lot of providers for the service,” says Ben.

Business was booming, but he says he didn’t feel complete inside, he wanted something else from life. He had been sponsoring a child to go to school in Tijuana through a local Christian non-profit, so one day he decided to give them a call and ask if they needed any more help. They happily accepted.

That’s when he loaded his pickup truck and drove 1,300 miles to get to Tijuana. He started helping kids anyway he could until he founded Didaque ministries in 2009, focused on running the same private elementary school he was supporting from back in Seattle.

Four months ago, Ben decided to embark on a new venture, one that reflected two of his passions: Mexico and good coffee. That’s how he decided to open Ben Tostador de Café (Coffee Roasters), where he focuses on selling in-house roasted coffee beans from the Pluma region of Oaxaca and Veracruz, although he also offers espresso beverages and brewed coffee in his cozy Playas de Tijuana location.

He gets all his green coffee in small shipments directly from the growing regions.

Coffee prices are more than reasonable at 50 pesos for half a pound (actually 250 grams) of Veracruz coffee or 65 pesos for the Pluma, Oaxaca variety.

Drop by his store at Ave. Baja California Sur #688 in the Costa Hermosa section of Playas de Tijuana. He is open Monday to Friday from 6:00 am to 12:00 pm, and then from 2:00 to 8:00 pm, Saturdays from 3:00 to 9:00 pm. He has a Google Maps link in his website, www.cafeben.com.

If you want to help Ben support Tijuana kids in need, visit Didaque’s website at www.didaque.org, They are a fully registered 501(c)3 non-profit corporation in the US, making your donations tax-deductible.

Que Pasa In Baja?

More taxis for Ensenada. A total of 224 permits for new taxis were given out by Mayor Novelo to work the city. The mayor congratulated the new taxi drivers who acquired cars to use as taxis, which he said will “benefit taxi users and the families of the drivers, who will now have their own patrimony.” Really? With new and efficient technologies like Uber emerging and growing every day, do we really need more plain old taxis? We all know all those permits get sold in a week and end up in the hands of a couple of monopolies around town; unfortunately, it’s the same thing all over Mexico.

Trash problem growing. Ensenada alderman Jorge Camargo is pushing the local government, for the second time in five months, to hire private trucks to help the city with the problem.

Camargo is saying that the city deficit in trash collection is around 150 tons daily. Yes, you read that correctly, that’s 150 tons that don’t get picked up every day.

The trash problem is so big in Ensenada that it has forced people to recycle, in an effort to not fill up their trash cans with plastic and cardboard. Many millions have been spent in educational programs to get people to recycle, but it never worked. Who would have known that leaving people with their trash for over a month would work even better!

Toll road corruption. The federal government has opened a formal investigation against CAPUFE Baja California, the office in charge of the toll roads here in Baja. The feds are saying that our state office has been looking the other way when contractors hired to work on the road overcharge millions.

To add insult to injury, some of these contracts have not been finished more than a year after their due date, and some of the ones that were finished were not done to the original specs.

The feds say the contractors, along with corrupt officials, stole about $11 million USD from the government on these projects, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! And just because this is Mexico, the guy in charge of all these contracts is still heading his office, although authorities say “he is being thoroughly investigated.”

Local movie in theaters now. The new horror movie “Belzebuth” just got to theaters last week. The movie was completely filmed here in Baja (Mexicali to be exact), and was co-produced by our very own University of Baja California, or UABC. The movie starts Tobin Bell, better known for the “Saw” movies, and Julian Cosio, a Mexican actor widely known here. The movie is in English, so you shouldn’t have a problem understanding it. Hopefully, it will still be here when this paper hits the racks.

TJ Migrant caravan down to 700. The head count last week in the Tijuana shelter that was set up for Central American migrants that came here was down to 700 people from 6,000 that had arrived in Tijuana back in November.

The Mexican government gave humanitarian work visas to 2,900, and those are thought to be already working here in Baja, while another 2,600 are said to have been arrested by the border patrol in San Diego. Others have decided to go back to their home countries.

More caravan havoc. Just when we thought that was over, another caravan of 2,500+ central American immigrants has just crossed over to Mexico in Chiapas. From those, just under 1,000 crossed the border legally, and the other ones just barged right in when no one was looking; it was said on the news that the border was open; no federal police were there to guard it, as was previously claimed.

Members of this new caravan have already stated that they are on their way to Tijuana, so expect more problems in the near future, and probably border shutdowns from Trump when they get here.

Don’t worry, it’s just another drug-related murder. Our state governor, Kiko Vega, stated that up to 85% of Baja’s 2,570 murder count during 2018 was drug related. Baja ended the year with the record for biggest increase in murders from 2017, with an increase of about 500 murders from last year.

Vega said that Baja has seen bigger quantities of drugs arriving to our state in the last year, which has caused an increase in violence from that illegal activity.

“We need to reform the Federal Penal Code so that people that carry firearms without permit go to jail”, he said.

Meanwhile tourism is growing. During 2018 we received more than 26 million tourists in our state, which brought about $1.6 billion USD to our state. 58% of our tourists were from other countries, most of them from the US, and the other 42% were Mexican nationals.

Tourism has been recovering its importance in Baja, and it now represents 8% of our GDP.

Zona Libre reminder. I have received a couple of complaints  from people who are thinking that they’re being robbed because they are gringos when they see their sales receipt showing they are being charged 16% sales tax (or IVA). People, go back and read my article from last edition; not all businesses qualify for the Free Zone tax break, thus making them ineligible to charge 8% tax.  The Gringo Gazette North (that’s us!) is one of those companies that doesn’t qualify, meaning that we still have to charge 16% IVA tax. A lot of small companies are in the same situation; please keep that in mind when you receive your ticket.

On the other hand, most of the big stores like Costco, Walmart, Calimax, Soriana and Florido all qualify for the tax break and are already charging 8% instead of 16%. Enjoy the discount!

Welcome To the Northern Free Zone

One of the campaigns promises that gained more supporters around here for our new president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (or AMLO for short), was the proposal of a new “Free Zone” along the northern border that would reduce taxes, increase the minimum wage 100% and lower fuel prices to try and match those in the USA.

Since the first day of the year, this promise has become a reality, and you are now living in the new free zone for the northern border.

So, what does this mean for you? As a consumer, this means that you will now be paying 8% IVA on most products and services instead of the 16% you usually pay. For those of you unfamiliar with IVA, that’s the Mexican equivalent to the VAT in the US. Note that I said most; I will explain that later.

If you have a business, you will also have another benefit: Instead of paying the usual 30% on the ISR (income tax), you will now be able to receive credit for 10% of that. This means that you will only be paying 20% now.

Regarding gas prices, we have already seen some gas stations lowering their prices, since they have a special benefit in that they won’t be charging any VAT on gasoline and diesel; this reduced gas prices to exactly 16%. This reduction doesn’t actually match it to prices in the US, but it definitely closes the gap a little bit more.

Minimum wage was doubled to $176.72 pesos per day (about $9 USD); the older wage at $4.50 was a joke, and almost nobody was working for that.

Since the newly created Free Zone is defined by a decree and not a law, businesses must register for it and they will have to meet certain requirements; therefore, don’t shout bloody murder if you see 16% IVA in your ticket, since there is a possibility that some businesses don’t meet the requirements or just haven’t applied yet.

In order to be able to obtain the benefits businesses need to prove that at least 90% of their total sales are from the border region. They will also be asked to prove that they have a valid address in the region for at least 18 months. These two requirements are key in discouraging mainland businesses from establishing an address in the border just to obtain said benefits.

Businesses that are already established have until January 30th to file their application, and newly established businesses will have 30 days after registering their businesses with the SAT (which is the Mexican IRS).

The free zone objective is to increase competitiveness with the US, avoid migration and make it more attractive as an investment option.

If you were here back before 2014 you might remember that we already had lower taxes here in the border, but that benefit was removed by president Peña Nieto. At that time VAT in the area was 11%. This means that taxes now will be even lower than at that time.

Several analysts say that Northern Baja will benifit the most  from this new decree, as the biggest percentage of the population in the state lives near the border, and because all its municipalities are considered part of it.

For now, the decree will be valid only for 2019 and 2020. Surely, results will be analyzed after these two years and a decision will be made on whether to extend it or not.

New Campaign To Prevent Car Break-Ins In Rosarito

The Rosarito Tourism and Conventions Commitee (COTUCO) has launched a new campaign to prevent car break-ins from downtown Rosarito all the way to Popotla.

Car break-ins have been a problem for years all along the free road, with most of the victims being tourists that forget that it’s not safe to leave your valuable belongings at sight inside your car.

Edgar Orozco, head of COTUCO, said that the campaign consists of several signs that are being installed along the Benito Juarez and Popotla Boulevards, informing people to double check their cars before leaving them unattended.

The tourism police said they would pitch in by doing more patrolling around the area. Incredibly enough the chief of tourism police stated that “It’s important for business owners to remind their patrons to not leave their valuable stuff in their cars because opportunity makes the thief”.

No, Mr. Chief of Tourism Police, opportunity doesn’t make the thief. Lack of well-paying job opportunities, drugs and a deficient police department make the thief. On his defense it’s a popular Mexican saying, and he is right, don’t leave your stuff at plain sight in the car, that’s a recipe for disaster and more often than not it’s more expensive to repair the window than what they take.

Written from information from Ecos de Rosarito

Que Pasa In Baja?

Goodbye tax breaks. Ensenada can say goodbye to the proposed border tax-break that Mexico’s new president-elect, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has proposed. In a meeting with Kiko Vega, our state governor, AMLO has already confirmed that cities in the border zone that will receive these benefits will only be the ones located up to 19 miles from the US border.

There is still some confusion regarding what will happen to cities that are stuck in half, like Rosarito, that has a piece of its land out of the so-called “border zone”. If the measure is strict, everything south of K 34 would not be included; that would be El Descanso, Calafia, Las Gaviotas, El Pescador, Puerto Nuevo, Cantamar and Primo Tapia.

Our Wine Valley is getting water. An agreement has been formalized between our state government and an Israeli company in order to build a water treatment plant in Tijuana and a water line to deliver the treated water all the way to the wine valley.

The $72 million USD project will bring up to 290 gallons of water per second to the valley when the project is completed in June 2020, although it would be able to start delivering about a fourth of that amount in a little less than a year.

The Israeli company, Odis Adversa, has stated that the quality of water will be superior to the one being extracted from natural sources present in the valley.

This new endeavor will allow the valley to grow sustainably while reducing the amount of contaminated water going to the ocean in Tijuana.

More corruption, really? An elaborate network of corrupt officials and import/export companies focused on car imports has been “officially” discovered by federal authorities.

For a $300 USD “fee” per car, authorities allowed the legal importation of cars into Mexico with false documentation that stated that the cars were valued at about 10% of their real cost, thus lowering the taxes imposed on these imports by thousands of dollars per vehicle.

It is said that that up to 80,000 vehicles were imported this way, and the chiefs of the Mexican customs offices in Mexicali and Juarez were involved in the scheme.

It was a productive racket for those involved, who pocketed more than $24 million USD while it lasted.

No jail time has been announced for the corrupt officials yet, and incarceration will probably not happen.

Toll road fee increase, again. For a second time this year, there was an increase on the toll road fees, 1 more peso on the Playas and Rosarito toll booths ($36 pesos), and 3 pesos more for Ensenada ($40 pesos).

This is the second increase this year, bringing the price of traveling on the road up 14% since the start of this year.

The increase was national, with most of the toll roads in the country being subject to surges of varying percentages.

Ensenada Gets A New Development

About 11 years ago, a group of real estate developers from Mexico City were attracted to our area with promises of a booming real estate market that had more qualified clients than inventory to sell.

The group had just started their project in Ensenada and had already received deposits for 5 of their condo units when the reality hit: the subprime mortgage crisis had started. Read more

Que Pasa in Baja?

This edition we discuss the beginning of the low season for tourism, the huge fire that broke out in Ensenada, how the Ensenada police is equipping to detect high-volume noise offenders, the new hotel being developed in Cuatro Cuatros, the donation of K-9 agents from the US to Mexico, new investments in alternative energy generation and what the SWAT spring-breakers tourism company is preparing for next year in Rosarito.

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Que Pasa in Baja?

This week we talk about how the totoaba could be back on the market soon, the Margarita cocktail turning 69 (at least in Ensenada!), about how a crooked lawyer swindled money from a group of retired americans, how our beloved Baja’s feelings got hurt, the importance of checking your pets for ticks and lastly about the influx of tourists this year.

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