Santa Cruz is Guanacaste's canton with the biggest commercial coastal shore. With 94km of total size, atleast 80 of them usable for commerce.

This game will allow you to become a successful concessionaire and get to know how the "muni" works.

¿Do you want to be the "Great Santa Cruz Coastal Dweller"?
Pick your character.
Welcome to "The Great Santa Cruz Coastal Dweller"
In order to play, all you have to do is advance and the cards will tell you what happens. ¡Good luck!
Visit city hall to ask about concessions in your community

Go to city hall with a formal letter requesting a list of concessions and take a seat while you wait.

Uh oh! It looks like the information is incomplete and you are going have problems getting access to it. The Voice of Guanacaste had to present a legal injunction to obtain information and was only given a list of some concessions with few details.

You are the owner of a new concession!

You are already on the way to becoming a Santa Cruz coastal dweller. First, you must go to city hall to fill out the necessary paperwork and pay 5,000 colons ($9.00) for an inspector to visit the land that interests you.

The head of the department reminds you that city hall has not named an official to do the inspection and that they are behind with work, so your request could take between 2-4 years to be processed.

Pay the city taxes

Go to city hall to pay the required fees and taxes

Although city hall gave you their account number so you could deposit money into it, you have to go in person to city hall to show the deposit receipt. If you ask why, an official will tell you that city hall doesn’t have the appropriate technology to process payments.

You can’t find information about a concession!

Just a short while ago, you started wonder whether or not a concession in your community had all the proper paperwork in order.

You went to city hall and you couldn’t find anything out. The guy in charge of the Coastal Zoning Department tells you that they are just now putting all the information from the requests into a database.

Plan the project that you are going to develop as a Great Santa Cruz dweller

It’s important that you hire a builder to complete your commercial project.

If the architect is surprised at how little you paid in taxes, tell him that that’s what city hall requested of you. You may also remind him that there are other Great Santa Cruz dwellers that have been waiting 17 years for approvals.

Help improve the beach in your community

Congratulations! After talking with city council members, you were able to convince them to invest in public spaces for all the community to enjoy.

Unfortunately, the mess in concessions at city hall means that the local government collects little tax money and cannot finance any projects at the moment.

Tell city hall about illegal projects!

Quick! Someone is illegally occupying land! Call the police!

This can’t be happening! City hall told you that the only inspector they have is out of town and that they can’t do anything about this situation. Sadly, city hall doesn’t have the resources to supervise the coastal zone.

Careful! Construction underway in the zone

File a complaint with city hall if you see anything being built in the public zone, the space that belongs to everyone.

After months of waiting for an inspector, city hall recommended that city council come to a demolition agreement. The council agrees, but the person at city hall who has the final say hasn’t given it his blessing.

Propose a zoning plan for the beach in your community

Attend a city council meeting and tell them you’re interested in creating a zoning plan for your community.

Sadly, the council can’t accept your suggestions. Since other Great Santa Cruz coastal dwellers took advantage of the zoning plans for their own personal uses, it is now prohibited for merchants to participate in their creation. You will have to wait for city hall to make its own zoning plan!

Read city hall’s budget for next year

City council thanks you for being so interested in the area’s well-being! Call city hall and request the budget for improving public areas in your county.

Oh no! The city planning director told you that the money collected from the coastal zones wasn’t enough to pay city officials, so there is no way to build or improve anything next year.

Game over!

Historically, Santa Cruz City Hall has made mistakes in the administration of coastal zones that negatively affect the area’s resources. As much as residents would like to collaborate and do things properly, the administrative means available are insufficient to fix the problems. City hall beat you at this game.

Want to know more about these issues? Read the investigation that Punto y Aparte did in alliance with The Voice of Guanacaste.

Play Again

A stack of files multiplies every month in the Maritime Zone (MZ) Department of the City Hall of Santa Cruz, where the new boss, Onías Contreras, tries in vain to attend to the thousands of sheets of paper with requests, expired concessions, unmade appraisals and other unfinished business.

“We don’t have a detailed, effective way to manage all of the information for each concession, so we obviously have a whole bunch of expired ones, or ones just about to expire,” says Contreras in his cramped, dark office.

The Voice of Guanacaste and the journalism program Punto y Aparte conducted a joint investigation to see how the City Hall of Santa Cruz uses the money that concession-holders pay to use the 200 meters of restricted land after the high-tide mark. This land is called the “maritime zone,” and belongs to the government – meaning all Guanacastecans.

We discovered that the money that should be used to improve the public areas of the coasts and to fund the department of inspections and appraisals (40% of the total) are not enough to even cover bureaucratic expenses, such as employees’ salaries which, last year, cost ¢85 million.

"We don’t have a detailed, effective way to manage all of the information for each concession." - Onías Contreras, Santa Cruz Maritime Zone Department.

The investigation also showed that, over the last two decades, the City Hall failed to update property values every five years, which is stipulated in the Maritime Zone Law.

The only document that brings information together – although not all of it – about the 129 concession-holders in Santa Cruz’s MZ shows that 90% of the properties have not had their values updated in more than five years.

For example, a property in Brasilito, whose last appraisal was on March 3, 2000, pays ¢51,340 for the concession. Just taking inflation into account, this property should have paid ¢168,732 for the concession this past March. But, they still pay the same rate they did 17 years ago.

The document, of which The Voice of Guanacaste has a copy, does not show which concessions have expired nor what is the amount concession-holders should pay. And municipal employees don’t know, either.

Read also: Muni of Santa Cruz investigates employee for alleged mistreatment of residents of the maritime zone

An old, well-known problem

How did the City Hall get to this point? Up until last year, the head of the MZ department was José Alberto Padilla, who was fired this past January by the current mayor, María Rosa López, after she found that Padilla had allegedly neglected his duties, harmed residents and worked under the influence of alcohol.

The Voice of Guanacaste reported in 2015 that several council members and residents had complained about Padilla, who had not handed in technical reports for over a year. This delayed the awarding of concessions.

Read also: Santa Cruz’s MZ called out for delay in concessions

According to Leticia Gutiérrez, the head of the City Hall's tax administration department -and Padilla’s boss’- was distrusting of his department. “He wouldn’t let anyone into the department. He didn’t allow for interventions,” she, her boss, said of Padilla.

The Voice of Guanacaste tried to speak with the former municipal employee, but he did not answer any calls this newspaper made to his cell phone.

Municipal leaders cannot claim ignorance of this problem. In addition to the previous list, the Comptroller General’s Office (CGR) has warned of the department’s disorganization since 2004 and, although the City Hall complied with the orders in 2010, the situation remains similar to the one described in reports ten years ago.

What would happen if the money existed?

The City Hall’s financial problems are greater than just the lack of income from the MZ. However, it is the greatest opportunity for growth in the canton, say financial director Mario Moreira and planning director William Huertas.

"Santa Cruz has the most commercial coastline in the country. We could collect a lot more money." - Mario Moreira, financial director in Santa Cruz.

“Santa Cruz has the most commercial coastline in the country. We could collect a lot more money,” says Moreira with a mixture of bitterness and resignation.

Law 6043 of the Maritime Zone states that monies received for concessions must be invested in the following way: 20% in public works; 40% in improvements in the canton; and 40% in improving the public areas (with the ICT’s permission) and paying the MZ department.

For example, in 2016 the City Hall was able to collect ¢160 million. Of that, 40% (¢67 million) should have been spent on both the department and the public areas. However, this did not happen; just keeping the office open cost ¢85 million.

What now?

Leticia Gutiérrez believes that the next step is to take the database, head into the field, and go property by property to update values and confirm that the information in each file is correct.

Are two Municipal workers enough to inspect 129 properties? “We have to work with what we have,” said Gutiérrez.

Mayor María Rosa López said that she hired a third employee to transcribe the information in the files. This information will be fed into new software that will allow for greater control over management of the concessions.

Although López did not include strengthening concession management as part of her plan for governing the canton, she had to solve situations that have, for years, harmed the canton’s income and improvements. Now, in a small office, three people are charged with solving the world of Santa Cruz’s concessions.

The lack of a document that would bring order to the beaches in the canton of Santa Cruz is an obstacle for tourism-related investment on its 94 km of commercial coastline, thus affecting opportunities to create jobs and businesses.

The Maritime Zone Law (No. 6043) states that properties may be placed in concession only with an active zoning plan that has been approved by the municipal council. When the City Hall lacks this document, it places a barrier in front of tourism investment in these areas.

“The municipalities miss opportunities due to not thinking about urban planning,” says Félix Zumbado, a researcher with the Research Program in Sustainable Urban Development (PRODUS) at the University of Costa Rica.

"The municipalities miss opportunities due to not thinking about urban planning." - Félix Zumbado.

The Costa Rican Tourism Board, which finances this process, has zoning plans for 18 beaches in Santa Cruz, but the City Hall hasn’t made a plan to unite all the coastline.

These plans should be crafted with a comprehensive vision of the territory that allows for a balance between environmental conservation and commercial exploitation of the region, specialists said.

The consequences for municipal finances become clear when one compares the canton with other local governments that have zoning plans. While Santa Cruz’s commercial coastline is 94 km and generated ¢160 million last year from concessions, Carrillo’s coastline is 52 km and generates nearly twice as much money: ¢318 million.

According to the head of Carrillo’s MZ department, Jorge Díaz, all of the canton’s coastline has a comprehensive zoning plan that the City Hall developed in conjunction with the ICT.

Buried plans

The previous assistant to the Santa Cruz municipal council, Isabel Barrantes, remembers that the City Hall tried to use its own resources to create a zoning plan for the canton, but this process stopped when one of the engineers was relocated to another City Hall.

Although it would seem that Santa Cruz’s lack of money would be a strong factor in not making these kinds of investments, Adolfo Gell, a legal advisor at PRODUS, said that zoning plans in Osa and Golfito were financed by non-governmental organizations.

“There are several options. MIDEPLAN, for example, allows for financing technical studies like zoning plans,” said Zumbado. This is how some municipalities, in spite of no money in the budget, have created a technical study to back the zoning plan.

If everything is in order, not only will the canton benefit from the broadened tax base: there is also a much stronger legal figura that backs business owners’ rights.