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
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
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
Specifically, if our U.S. congressional
delegation asked me for the top six asks for our region from a strategic
perspective, I would answer:
crossings more efficient, starting with but by no means limited to lifting the
current restrictions to non-essential travel.
Solving the Tijuana
River Valley water treatment issue.
Establishing public evaluation
metrics (key performance indicators) for U.S. Customs and Border Protection,
emphasizing both wait times and the traveler experience.
rail capacity as an option for exporting goods made in Tijuana.
Sharing San Diego’s
Covid-19 vaccines with the Tijuana Metropolitan Area.
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 (
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
I encourage you to take a
look. In particular, there is an online map that describes potential projects (
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
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.
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
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
Establish a Border Master Plan process for future updates and maintain
Expand border collaboration and coordination.
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.
Promote multimodal access at the border.
Promote ease of goods movement.
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
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
Gustavo De La Fuente