The focal point of the current Baja Boom is the 60-mile stretch of coastline between Tijuana and Ensenada. Up until the 1990s this area, connected by a four-lane toll road, was characterized primarily by small U.S.-expatriate settlements and the then-small tourist town of Rosarito Beach. Now it’s buzzing with growth fueled by the demand for beachfront real estate. “For Sale” signs dot the edges of the coastal highway. The steel frames of high-rise condos loom beside ramshackle beachfront shantytowns crowded with workers in the construction and tourist trades.
Tijuana is expanding southward and now extends to the edge of Rosarito Beach. So great is the local demand for housing in Tijuana that new developments and colonias (neighborhoods) are spilling out onto the coastal plain just north and east of Rosarito, and even beyond the barren earth-colored mountains to the east.
One of the biggest concerns residents have is the lack of wastewater infrastructure adequate to meet the needs of existing and proposed development. Such sewage pump stations as exist break down continually because of power outages and leaks. Half of Tijuana’s estimated population of two million lives in colonias without wastewater treatment, so sewage is often dumped directly onto the beach--even at the upscale Playas de Tijuana just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. Other colonias are served by septic systems, with hulking trucks pumping up the sludge and, often, emptying their loads directly into arroyos that lead to the beach. A mere six miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border, up to 30 million gallons of treated and untreated (50-50) sewage are dumped daily onto the beach at Punta Banderas, the location of a golf community and the site of the planned $200-million Trump Ocean Resort. The Trump project’s website displays a seaside swimming pool adjacent to rocky cliffs and proclaims that its “oceanfront living” will appeal to “senses that will stir your soul.” More than 80 percent of the first of three planned high-rise condo towers sold in a one-day sale event in San Diego in December 2006.
Baja California officials quoted in the San Diego Union estimated that more than 24 large projects with over 2,800 residential units are planned in the area between Tijuana and Ensenada, including more than a dozen condo towers. A new four-lane highway, Boulevard 2000, was recently opened, connecting eastern Tijuana to the seaside community of Popotla, just south of Rosarito Beach. It runs mostly through undeveloped and sparsely inhabited chaparral ranchland.
Sewage to the Beach
In building the new highway, Baja California officials seem to have anticipated the development boom that has doubled the size of Tijuana and Rosarito Beach in the past decade. How odd, therefore, that they have failed to invest in the construction of appropriate wastewater treatment plants for the existing residents of the region who lack basic services. Rumors abound in local newspapers about ties between officials who approved the road project and land speculators who have purchased land around the route.
In the small beachside community of Camp Torrest, north of Rosarito, Mark Padilla, 48, who has been a part-time resident for 34 years, documented a stream of sewage that empties onto the beach next to his house, courtesy of the San Marino housing development across the toll road. His landlord gave permission to the developer to dump the sewage into an arroyo on her property. “I just can’t believe that it is legal,” Padilla told me.
Matt Hoffower, a 33-year-old surfer, echoed Flores. He recently moved back to San Diego after living in Rosarito Beach with his wife and son while working as a real estate agent. “Living in Baja is hard,” he said. “The arroyos are horrible and filled with trash.” Hoffower smiles. “I used to tell the agents I worked with, ‘You see how the ocean is glassy? That’s from the sewage in the water. That isn’t natural.’ They didn’t want to believe me. I couldn’t justify selling property with conditions like that.”