As I write these lines the Labor Day weekend is upon us. Few thought in
February that seven months later we’d be in the throes of a pandemic that is
yet untamed. So many have lost their lives, so many families have been
devastated, and so many businesses have shuttered. We are all hoping for a
vaccine before the end of the year.
We are told that if there are no essential reasons to travel into Mexico or the U.S., we should refrain from doing so. People are wondering how long these restrictions will last. We’ve heard much speculation and inaccurate or misleading news about what will happen and when. One thing is sure: there’s never a dull moment at the border.
The San Diego Union Tribune sought my opinion about stricter measures
imposed at our ports for northbound travel as of August 21. Wait times
became unbearable for many. The recommendations you see in their editorial
are ones we discussed with the newspaper:
As of the last 10 days of August and the first week in September, several media outlets asked for my opinion about the wait time increase. Here are some of the articles and stories:
San Diego Union Tribune: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/community-voices-project/story/2020-08-25/commentary-some-mexicans-can-be-as-american-as-bruce-springsteen
Border lines stretch for miles under U.S. policy
10 News San Diego: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.onenewspage.com/video/20200824/13297808/Long-wait-times-impact-businesses.htm
We closed last week with excellent news on two back-to-back news stories that bring more than hope to the Tijuana River water issue. Now there’s more to report.
It looks as if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking concrete steps to alleviate the issue on the U.S. side.
It announced two new projects to increase treatment of Tijuana River flows by 10 million gallons per day. They will be part of a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to divert additional water for treatment at the IBWC International.
Treatment Plant. EPA will pay for the design and construction of the diversion and treatment operations.
EPA is also partnering with the City of San Diego to deploy a permanent solution to manage sediment and trash in Smuggler’s Gulch just north of the border. The implementation will capture sediment and trash that would otherwise flow into the Pacific Ocean, and it will reduce flooding risk for the community. Funding for these projects will come from the agency’s Border Water Infrastructure Program (BWIP).
For its part, after adding three new pumps and an electric power generator to the wastewater pumping plant called CILA, the Tijuana section of the State of Baja California Commission for Public Works (CESPT) delivered the plant to the Mexican version of the IBWC. Preventing blackwater spills to the U.S. is now much more feasible.
There several elected officials who deserve credit for the progress made, but I want to recognize both our Consul Generals, Sue Saarnio and Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, for their persistence in keeping the Tijuana River Valley top of mind at both federal levels.
Our coalition continues to help the Tecate rail crossing become a reality. We trust that the San Diego Metropolitan Transit Systems (MTS) and Baja Rail, the concession operator for the Mexican side and long-term lessee of the Desert Line on the U.S. side, will continue to work together to advance a strategic cause that makes good business sense. Baja Rail must also get Mexican tax authorities to formally approve its executive project.
Adriana Eguia, Vesta’s vice president for new business, represented Tijuana at “Mexico’s Economic Regions: Building New Bridges to the San Francisco/Silicon Valley Bat BAY? Area”. The event was co-sponsored by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation, Stanford University’s Clean Economy Program, the Mexican embassy in the U.S., and the Bay Area Council Economic Institute. Key 4 business people from Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey, a state government economic development head, and the head of Mexico’s Institute for Competitiveness joined the call.
I presented my thoughts about the future of border crossings at the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation’s “Good News of the Week” videoconference. I was glad to see Roberto Martinez, Latin America head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and Blas Perez-Henriquez, founding director of the California Global Energy, Water, and Infrastructure Innovation Initiative at Stanford University.
Blas is part of a group working on a diagnostic of talent clusters in Mexico that will identify the best ways of innovating in energy, water, and infrastructure. He has been in the region several times and has been looking for sponsorships.
One of the most brilliant examples of software development disruption in our binational region is a company called Framework Science out of Tijuana. Its cofounders, Lonnie McRory and Jesus Romero, have built a powerhouse in just a few years, with over 60 developers and many strong connections with global firms. Among its many software engineering services, it has found a way to disrupt the engineering team recruitment conundrum by coming up with an advanced recruiting algorithm that generates more qualified candidates much faster.
Kurt Tetzlaff, a long-time businessman in our region, has found a clever way to help Tijuana clean its sewage water. A problem with today’s water treatment at Arturo Herrera and La Morita plants in Tijuana is that they send water to the Tijuana River. It then mixes with contaminated effluents, wasting any prior cleaning efforts. Kurt’s company, Winwerks, can clean water using a process called electrocoagulation and then divert 10 million gallons on a daily basis to the Abelardo R. Rodriguez reservoir for future use in households and industrial plants. This could be a phenomenal option if the Tijuana Public Works Commission (CESPT) adopted it.
Frank Carrillo has been a pioneer of medical tourism at the Baja California border. So it was not surprising that the SIMNSA founder and chairman stated that the border needs to open now 100% and if the infection rate on the Tijuana side is in fact higher, then authorities can apply restrictions. How does he propose to do this? His is willing to have SIMNSA bring widespread testing in Baja California to understand the rate of infection as it is understood in San Diego.
As he plainly said, “If you only take care of one side of the border and not the other side you will never be able to contain this infection” (https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/border-bajacalifornia/story/2020-08-31/mexican-health-insurer-covid-testing). He points to HIV and hepatitis as examples of public health crises that were never stopped at the border.
The South County Economic Development Corporation board meeting on Tuesday, September1 st featured Luis Lutteroth, the Tijuana Development Council (CDT) president. It was a shock for many in the audience to hear that Tijuana is the city in Mexico with the least green area per capita, at 5 square feet, while a normal number is 120 square feet!
So the CDT’s parks system project in Tijuana could be a blessing… IF it can get funding. The previous state government had promised to fund the first and largest park--Pilot Park--last year, but the new government has other priorities. There is a lesson that many Mexican non-profits must learn: putting all the funding eggs in one basket is a losing proposition, and now more than ever.
We are close to seeing the new location for the northbound Medical Lane at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. It has been U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s desire to move it to one of the eight new westernmost lanes at the port. The City of Tijuana is putting the final touches to the deployment of the specialized lane. It will also handle fast crossings for businesspeople willing to pay a predetermined fee each time they cross.
The City of Tijuana has tasked the Tijuana development council (CDT) to deliver the design and architectural plans for the booth and mechanical arm that will verify travelers as they enter the segregated lane.
UC San Diego will open its downtown center in the fall of next year. It will be a four-story building at Market Street and Park Boulevard. Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor for public programs and dean of extension, stated to the San Diego Business Journal that “Unlike anything else in the region, our downtown center strives to be a pivotal intersection for our global research university to engage with people, ideas and plans to address the region’s big question: what’s next for San Diego?” (https://www.sdbj.com/news/2020/aug/24/change-remains-constant-eastvillage/).
Part of the answer to this question from the Smart Border Coalition’s point of view is integrating the border and Tijuana.
We support the university’s objective to “engage the community, students and alumni by offering learning, collaboration, civic and cultural experiences in the new location.”
We have launched the second edition of the Border Innovation Challenge sponsored by Sentre, The Burnham Foundation, Vesta and our very own Smart Border Coalition. We are giving students and recent alumni of Mexican and American universities along the border opportunities to propose business plans, ideas and prototypes to better manage the logistic, infrastructure, security and health issues we face at or near our border crossings.
Please go to https://rady.ucsd.edu/centers/ciid/border-innovationchallenge/index.html to find out more about the competition. Once there,
participants will be able to apply using the following form:
We have increased our social media presence thanks to Sebastian Berho, who
is a young and very creative student at the Monterrey Institute of Technology
(ITESM) at the Santa Fe Campus in Mexico City. Please check out our
information in the following locations:
I also want to acknowledge Vincent Blocker’s indefatigable efforts to get our database to a better state and provide helpful advice on strategy and new ideas.
Thank you all for your generous support for the Smart Border Coalition. We hope to see you at our next webinar this Thursday, September 10, from 9 to 11 a.m.. Please register here: us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_uVnhTgEbSeGLn2qc6YImwQ
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
I leave you with a link to the recently done, lively welcome video for our coalition. I think it reflects effectively the spirit we strive to promote. I hope you like it: youtube.com/watch?v=xRuQTMSaO6U
With best wishes,
Gustavo De La Fuente