Interview: Juan Carlos Benavides (Mayor)

TSG: Last month there was lots of ‘turbulence’, so what we would like to do is put over your take on things.
JCB: OK, let’s go
TSG: There were many people that didn’t agree – did not understand why – the road works on the Avenida de Andalucía had to start just before Semana Santa. We put in last months Gazette that we had spoken with the Town Hall engineer who said that Almuñécar was tied to a start date as far as the grant was concerned. Could you add anything to this?
JCB: Well, there is something that surprises me and is that there is a certain ‘sector’ in Almuñécar that thinks that you can make an omelette without breaking eggs. When they discover how to do this, perhaps they can tell us how, but so we can make an omelette without breaking eggs.
Starting the work was not a whim; it was an arranged project with the Junta, which had established stages and whose duration could not extend past the summer. We only had two options: we started the job now, or we would find ourselves doing it during the summer. So we opted for starting it as soon as possible so that we don’t find ourselves in the middle of August with the street closed…
TSG: Does that mean then that it will still be closed in July?
JCB: We don’t know. It will depend on the pace of the job, but we will do all we can so that it does not affect August. But the main thing is that the established stages are adhered to, otherwise we would have waited until October.
TSG: In other words, you either use the money or lose it?
JCB: Exactly.
TSG: The next point: the elimination of parking along that street and the difficulty that may be experience by delivery vehicles. The new design of the avenue we result in that?
JCB: No, there will be no problem with deliveries because there will be parking bays for delivery vehicles. It is not as if it will be closed to traffic – it will be like the Paseo del Altillo. What there is not going to be is parking for private vehicles. The reason being is that this area is within the one of the most important commercial areas of Almuñécar. There are a multitude of businesses there and they cannot operate to the full because it is difficult to use the street. So the idea is to recuperate a greater pedestrian use and have a lesser use for wheeled transport, because we cannot make the street any wider. Therefore, the option that we have chosen will be to maintain access for vehicles but only for transit; not parking.
Anyway, we have been following the same policy for some years, now, to restrict the commercial centre of the town to wheeled transport, which is a practice that is being implemented not only in the whole of Andalucía or even Spain, but also the practical entirety of Europe; i.e, claiming back our towns for pedestrians.
And we have free parking areas in the P-4, which is in the Plaza Blas Infante (Friday Market area), which is only five minutes on foot from the town centre. If you want paid-parking, then the Altillo underground car park is right next door. And there are also the Blue-Zone, rotational, parking areas, too.
TSG: The next question is the point raised in a press communiqué from the IU party, which I imagine that you have read already, but here it is (passing it to him)…
JCB: I don’t read anything from the IU… It’s a question of mental health, (laughs), so if you don’t mind, I will continue to not read them.
TSG: Of course… it basically says that the tax collection is chaotic and that taxpayers are being asked to pay much earlier than is normal and with little warning.
JCB: Well, that’s not something that the Mayor’s Office decides, but is something that is laid down in the municipal rules and regulations and the dates are published in the provincial gazette once the tax register is determined. In other words, this is an action that is being carried out under the most normal of circumstances.
TSG: And on the subject of legality; i.e., what the Judge dictated concerning the use of the new tax arrangement.
JCB: The Judge did say that what he has done is ‘suspend’ a decision taken in a particular Town Council meeting. Look, there are really two Judges. One decided to suspend what was decided in the meeting and the other did not. In other words, there are have been two opposing judicial decision on the same subject, which is curious.
TSG: So we have contradictory sentences?
JCB: Well, they are not ‘sentences’ but provisional measures. Both of them received a petition to suspend the Town Council decision, but one decided in favour and the other against. This was on the motion approved in the town council meeting of August 2008, and this same point was changed in the town council meeting of October 2008. So, in effect, two Judges in separate hearings, decided differently about the result of a town council meeting in August, which had been changed anyway by a meeting in October.mayor
TSG: OK next question: the Referendum, or better said the surprise expressed by many that you should announce that salaries were in jeopardy due to pending insolvency, right after having spent considerable funds on the Referendum?
JCB: I can’t remember exactly how much it was; something like 70 or 80,000 euros, yet the money spent on salaries each year alone is 800,000… Look, getting down to the essence of the subject is what I announced was manipulated shamelessly by a certain news outlet – and I can state that here as it was shameless manipulation. I announced that we would have difficulties during the following three months to meet our financial commitments concerning the payment of salaries because the Diputación de Granada had held onto – effectively denying it to the Town Hall – the necessary tax-collection data. Our contract with them terminated on the 31st of December, which means that they should have handed it over very next day, as it is property of the Town Hall, but they held onto it for three months! So when I called a meeting with the town hall staff, it was to tell them that we did not have the basic data to collect taxes and that therefore we might have difficulties during the following three months to meet our commitments. Curiously enough, three or four days after this meeting, the Diputación handed over the data. From there on, things are getting back to normal and the staff has received their wages.
So, summing up, there has been a shameful manipulation of the facts by the Ideal newspaper, but who provoked the problem was the [socialist-run] Diputación de Granada. It is precisely the people who created the problem who are denouncing the problem!
TSG: Los Chiringuitos: how’s the situation going? This is not just a local problem for Almuñécar, of course, but one for the whole of the coast Andalucía.
The posture of the Ministry of the Environment is softening, I believe. It has changed from being a very radical one where every Chiringuito had to go, to – from what I remember from the last meeting that I had with them – they said that we could keep all but one of the ones in our municipality, but with their all having to reduce their size. [The Mayor mentioned the name of the one that he thought was not included in the reprieve – he wasn’t sure – but we decided that it would be more prudent not to mention the name here – Ed].
So, little by little, they are coming round to realising that Chiringuitos provide a public service and are part of our culture, their loss was not compensated by the mere regaining of 100 sq/m of beach for bathers.
TSG: The Next question is concerning the underground car parks in Velilla and San Cristobal. There’s an article here, in this paper that you don’t read [holding up the Ideal] about them…
JCB: And I sleep better for it! [All laugh – Ed] TSG: It’s not damning for the Town Hall; it just states that the local businesses are asking strongly for the site to be covered over by the summer to make way for the temporary passage of traffic.
JCB: Yes. The parking projects have had serious problems, thanks to the financial crisis in the country, which has resulted in the banks turning off the credit tap completely. Consequently, everybody is working hard to find a solution. Recently, a construction company was found, Cartuja Inmobilaria, who have been working at a good pace for about four months, but now the work on site has stopped again because the banks have fallen down on their mission, which is to provide financing for building projects. But the banks have stopped lending money because, quite simply, they don’t have any.
But I remain reasonably optimistic that it will all work out, but not with the speed that we would have hoped.
TSG: Speaking of speed, the autovía appears to be near to completion – do you  have any information on it?
JCB: That’s the Ministry of Transports realm, not ours but I believe that before summer it will be finish. Having said that, the autovía project is running ten years late; that’s to say, it should have been finished ten years ago! When this last part open, however, we will be exchanging traffic jams at La Paloma [the lights in front of the petrol station] for ones in Taramay. At the moment, and in an ‘autovía’ sense, we remain cut off from Almería, cut off from Granada, and partially cut off from Málaga. In fact, since work first began on the coastal autovía, it works out that work has progressed 800 metres a year
TSG: Sorry?
JCB: With all these delay, it works out that the autovía has advanced only 800 metres a year. That’s not a pace that deserves a pat on the back, is it?
TSG: No, it isn’t. Here’s the question: the Referendum – was it worth it?
JCB: Absolutely! It has been tremendously interesting, and that’s the way a multitude of people have interpreted it, inside and outside our municipality. A door has been opened for democratic consultation and for those that decided to participate, the result was very clear – the immense majority backed the PGOU: 80% in favour and 20% against. Therefore the Town Halls’ posture counts on an important backing from the townsfolk.
Those that had written the Referendum off, owing to the level of participation, the figures were five percentage points over those of the Andalucía Statutes referendum, and that was consider a howling success by Sevilla. [The implication here is that while the PSOE considered the Referendum on the regional statutes as a great success, they consider the turn out for the Almuñécar referendum as inadequate, even though it was greater – Ed.] Let’s see just how many people turn out to vote in the European Elections, eh?
TSG: Yes, let’s. Thanks for your valuable time, Mr Mayor – your time is scarce, we know.
JCB: So is yours; you’ve got to catch that deadline [All laugh, handshakes and thanks exchanged]

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