Jorge Calvo didn’t really mean to move to Tamarindo, a mini-metropolis on the northern Pacific coast. He went there on vacation six years ago, intending to take a break at the beach before traveling to Italy to use a grant he’d received to study plastic surgery.
Like many vacationers-turned-residents of the country’s beach towns, Calvo never made it to his next port of call, deciding instead to call Tamarindo home.
“I came to Tamarindo and that was it,” the new president of the Tamarindo Improvement Association told The Tico Times in a recent phone interview. The Filipino-born doctor, who came to Costa Rica when he was 16 with his Filipino mother and Costa Rican father, set up his practice, and, in December, took on a new role leading the association’s efforts to improve the quality of life in the rapidly growing area.
“I considered it to be a very important cause, not only for Tamarindo but also for Costa Rica,” Calvo, 30, said of his decision to take on the presidency, replacing outgoing leader Griet Depypere. He explained that because Tamarindo is nestled between two estuaries, just south of Las Baulas National Marine Park, it’s of national interest to protect the environmentally fragile area.
As the town has grown, so too has the association’s mission, he explained. Founded more than a decade ago to protect the city’s green zones, the association’s new board, elected with Calvo, has a much broader agenda, including public security, infrastructure, sewage treatment and beach cleanup.
The doctor said this work is increasingly important as more and more short-term developers descend on Tamarindo.
“There’s so much construction,” he said.
“It has a characteristic now that it didn’t before: people who bought (property) here before (used it as) a second home, or they lived here. Now it’s people who just develop, sell it all and leave. They aren’t socially conscious or worried about the town.”
To help control this development, the association is at the forefront of a movement to get a zoning plan, or plan regulador, approved for Tamarindo (see separate story). Architect Héctor Chavarría has already created a draft, and the association is now working with the Municipality of Santa Cruz, which oversees Tamarindo, to complete an environmental impact study.
“It’s not just for the beach. It’s for the whole district” of Tamarindo, Calvo said. “It allows construction that’s done to follow a blueprint.”
Other key projects under way include beach cleanups; finding funding to establish a sewage-treatment plant for the area; determining the town’s most serious needs in terms of infrastructure; and crime prevention.
The committee tackling this last topic is considering a public-private partnership whereby the association would provide financial support for government efforts to increase police oversight of the area. Now, Tamarindo is policed by members of the rural guard and Santa Cruz municipal officers; members of the new Tourism Police patrol the area, though no officers are stationed full-time in the town, according to Calvo.
“We’re very clear that the positions aren’t sufficient, so the government is at a stage where they have needs but not resources,” Calvo said, explaining the association hopes to help bridge that gap.
In this area, as on the rest of the association’s agenda, Calvo and his team will work closely with new Santa Cruz Mayor Jorge Chavarría, who told The Tico Times last month he plans to expand the Municipal Police force from 13 officers to 98, improve training and focus the new forces on Tamarindo.
The association clashed with one of Chavarría’s predecessors, Pastor Gómez, when the municipality approved a construction project on a 6,000-square-meter lot designated as a green zone in the community’s existing zoning agreement. Last June, approximately 50 residents tore down the construction that had been done so far.
The area is now a soccer field; Gómez was suspended by a San José criminal court for his role in the allegedly illegal concession, and is now under investigation (TT, June 9, Oct. 20, 2006).
Asked to define the association’s top priority – defending green zones, cleaning up the beach, finalizing the zoning plan – Calvo said such a choice is impossible.
“You can’t say one’s more important than the other, because when you look at it, they’re interlaced,” he said. “Greater wellbeing, greater tourism – therefore, more profits. In the end, you can’t point to one. They have to come as a set.”