May 12, 2021
Enduring Inaction on Lifting or Loosening Travel Restrictions at Land Ports
Our Stakeholders Working Committee meeting last week started with a sobering dialogue about protracted restrictions on non-essential cross-border travel and how our binational community has failed to get restrictions loosened or lifted. There is a great frustration for an untold number of port of entry users. It appears that we, the binational community, have not been forceful or creative enough.
Some of our Stakeholders said that there has been little to no cooperation from the White House. Migrants without authorization walking into vehicle and pedestrian lanes to attempt entry at the land ports are obstructing movement. There is a need for support from Mexican officials to identify if persons queued in the approaches have proper documents. What’s more, longer wait times are affecting U.S. citizens and green card holders who cross every day to San Diego, even though traffic volumes are still significantly less than in 2019. Meanwhile, business devastation has continued: $700 million lost in sales so far just in San Ysidro, 200 businesses closed.
It was encouraging to see that Mexico’s President López Obrador made a statement favorable to opening up soon. The Mexican foreign ministry is reviewing ways to lift the restrictions, with nothing concrete yet.
The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is collecting information from businesses, business organizations, and other groups to make our case stronger vis-à-vis decisionmakers in Washington, D.C. This will help the efforts Mayor Gloria has been making in the capital. Relevant statements, anecdotes, observations, and stats of any kind are welcome (please send to Kenia
Zamarripa, ). You may request anonymity for your contribution.
The Smart Border Coalition is promoting a gradual lifting of restrictions starting with a pilot initiative for SENTRI travelers. It would entail uploading vaccination and testing data prior to crossing, using the Trusted Traveler platform. We believe this can be done in the very short term.
A couple of our Stakeholders urged us to think hard about the future and to speak up. As an example, wait times in the 2009-12 time frame worsened due to the priority accorded to border security. In response, the binational community was able to get U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and our congressional delegation on board with idea of balancing the economy with security. As a result, wait times decreased. We currently need a collective voice, not different narratives, and a CBP oversight committee or similar mechanism.
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I admire our border region’s accomplishments. I am convinced that by doing things together, as one community, we will be much stronger. However, the lack of a truly regional approach is hampering the groups advocating for binational solutions to our challenges.
Specifically, if our U.S. congressional delegation asked me for the top six asks for our region from a strategic perspective, I would answer:
1. Making border crossings more efficient, starting with but by no means limited to lifting the current restrictions to non-essential travel.
2. Solving the Tijuana River Valley water treatment issue.
3. Establishing public evaluation metrics (key performance indicators) for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, emphasizing both wait times and the traveler experience.
4. Facilitating enhanced rail capacity as an option for exporting goods made in Tijuana.
5. Sharing San Diego’s Covid-19 vaccines with the Tijuana Metropolitan Area.
6. Launching an effort to create a binational governance structure for our region.
I am sure many of you will agree on some if not all of these. In addition, there are subtleties with each that merit deep discussion. Some are short-term, some medium-term and one, specifically number six, is long-term.
In our last bulletin I recognized Alejandra Mier y Teran, head of the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce (), for her efforts for essential traveler vaccination. I want to add that this activity was done in partnership with County Supervisor Nora Vargas, vice chair of County Supervisors, and San Diego County as a whole.
I want to thank Brújula Economía y Negocios () for inviting me to be one of two panelists on “The Future of Border Crossing and Border Urban Development in Baja California.” Ricardo Cortez, founder and company executive, was our host. Flavio Olivieri joined me. Please see our discussion on
My conversation with Roberto Martinez Yllescas, Mexico Director for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD, ) based in Paris, shed light on topics our region must start to focus on: economic development and recovery, environmental sustainability, attracting and retaining investment and talent, and improving the quality of our urbanization.
The OECD has conducted what it calls “Metropolitan Reviews” in different parts of the world where it works with local and federal governments to see what can be done about the latter topics.
For our region, the OECD suggests identifying the drivers of economic reactivation after Covid-19. It proposes a governance structure to foster cooperation and coordination across borders, much like they have done in border cities such as Vienna-Bratislava and Copenhagen-Malmö. In addition, OECD can give us recommendations on how public and private sectors from both sides of the border could work together to foster economic recovery and to attract investment and diversify the economy.
It can support us in formulating actions to handle pressing environmental and urban development challenges and give us the basis for a binational agenda for economic reactivation and social development.
The exercise requires an investment of $400,000 USD. Imagine if the Tijuana EDC, the San Diego EDC, our coalition, and several business organizations contributed toward this Metropolitan Review?
The SANDAG Borders Committee met on April 23. I was particularly interested in what Melissa Dimas, Mexico Border Program Director for the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had to say about grants for needed environmental justice projects.
At the top of the list were grants for air quality monitoring, wastewater spills, and marine debris. My only concern is that the agency spends very little money on projects like these. $5.7 million is a very meager sum when compared with the EPA’s $6.658 billion budget.
I realize there are other agency programs such as Border Water Infrastructure Program (BWIP) and the Border Environment Infrastructure Fund (BEIF), but even those are a mere drop in the bucket in light of border needs.
Their 2025 goals are in Air, Water, Waste and Emergency Preparedness and Response. Let’s hope it designates many more dollars to this.
SANDAG’s Southbay to Sorrento Comprehensive Multimodal Corridor Plan public outreach session is an important forum to express our opinions before transportation solutions recommendations are formally published.
The 28-mile corridor is one of the most congested and heavily used corridors in San Diego County. The study area includes the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Coronado, National City, and Imperial Beach in the territory in proximity to the ports of entry.
The objective is to define how the corridor is currently performing and examine why it is performing this way. With this analysis, the project team will recommend projects and strategies that integrate active transportation, transit services, and the deployment of technology to better manage traffic and incident management needs throughout the corridor’s planning area.
The 1 ½-hour session was more about knowing what needs to be evaluated than performing the evaluation exercise itself. Next steps for the corridor study include stakeholder and public engagement to share project information and solicit feedback for transportation strategies to address corridor needs.
I encourage you to take a look. In particular, there is an online map that describes potential projects () where you can make all types of comments: traffic, environmental, transit, bike/pedestrian and goods movement. There are dozens of projects identified.
Congrats to SANDAG and Caltrans for making these options available.
In helping the Tijuana Development Council with a wait times project designed to install WiFi readers in various places along the lanes toward the border, I am reminded of what slows important activities south of the border. The equipment itself was held on the Mexican side of the Laredo port of entry due to changes in Mexico’s Norma Oficial Mexicana (NOM), a series of compulsory standards and regulations for diverse activities and goods, including the WiFi readers we are trying to import.
It turns out that the NOM for the WiFi activity the council is purchasing was recently changed, affecting telecommunications equipment of all sorts, stalling imports.
Then there is funding. State government funding to the development council has been disastrously low the last two years, to the point where the council is owed millions of dollars for a variety of significant projects benefitting Tijuana. This is the price many organizations pay for a chronic or habitual dependence on government money. Finally, the project depends on certain businesses agreeing to lease their facilities or provide them as courtesy for the WiFi reader installations. They also take their time in making decisions.
The San Diego Padres are off to a strong season and, at 20 and 16, are only 2 games back of the San Francisco Giants in the National League West. I got a chance to listen to their VP of Corporate Sponsorships, Sergio del Prado, get us excited about this season’s prospects at the South County EDC board meeting last week. Only 15,250 on average are attending games today, but this figure will increase as the pandemic subsides.
It would seem to me that the Padres owe much to Tijuanans crossing the border and attending home games. What percentage of Padre attendance revenues come from Tijuana residents? Imagine the Padres advocating for easier and faster crossings with our congressional delegation. With CBP. If anyone has benefited from the binational region, it’s the Padres.
Congratulations to Televisa Tijuana and our Stakeholder Patricia de los Cobos for opening a 700-square-foot studio in San Diego’s Seaport Village. And thanks to Port of San Diego Commissioner (and coalition Stakeholder) Rafael Castellanos for lending his support by attending the opening.
It is clear to me that Patricia and Rafael have always understood the enormous synergies between the two cities. Televisa often presents itself as the largest producer of Spanish-language media content. This is its first studio to operate and broadcast from San Diego. For starters, they will use the studio to shoot segments of the morning show “Qué Buen Día.”
The latest Committee on Binational Regional Opportunities (COBRO) meeting featured the 2021 California-Baja California Border Master Plan Recommendations. Jose Marquez from Caltrans gave the group a thorough description of what is to come.
Though the main thrust of the presentation was the recommendations, ultimately for this to work the binational community must get involved. There were six major recommendations rich in content:
1. Establish a Border Master Plan process for future updates and maintain binational coordination.
2. Expand border collaboration and coordination.
3. Manage the border as a system. This is of huge concern for our coalition and part of the coalition’s input during SANDAG’s visioning process last year. There are two items that we want to underline: establishing both a border management framework and a border performance monitoring system.
4. Promote multimodal access at the border.
5. Promote ease of goods movement.
6. Provide framework and prioritization for border efforts.
U.S. Consul General Sue Saarnio told our Stakeholder group last week that Bridget Premont, Consul for Political and Economic affairs, will be leaving the region this month. I am grateful for Bridget’s friendship, keen insights, direct approach and mild-manneredness. Best of luck, Bridget!
As for Sue herself, this summer will mark the end of the third year for our great consul general’s activities in the region. She will likely move to another assignment sooner rather than later. I am certain we will be hearing more about this in the coming days and weeks.
We all owe Sue a debt of gratitude. She has been a thoughtful, active, incisive, and affable diplomat, pushing the envelope on many issues, from water treatment in the Tijuana River Valley to women’s recognition and empowerment, interactions with Mexican entrepreneurs, tough discussions with elected officials and bureaucrats, understanding of migrants’ urgent needs, answering visa questions, and so many others. She has had to manage her large staff in a pandemic. She has been gracious in attending many binational meetings, including most of ours.
Our coalition is participating with the Tijuana Economic Development Council on June 17 in a virtual roundtable to explore business opportunities, industries, technologies, strategies, and products to shape the future of this successful region. In some ways, this is the next chapter of the Tijuana-San Diego relationship. More to come soon.
I will be a panelist on May 19 for #Chapter26plus, an event put on by the U.S.-Mexico Foundation that brings together experts to discuss diverse issues surrounding Mexico’s growing technology and entrepreneurship ecosystem. Please register at
Gustavo De La Fuente