In these final days of 2020, I want to express my deepest appreciation to many people who have been a part of our coalition, from those of you who attended our virtual meetings, to others who read us and sent us opinions, to some who talk to us seeking connections, alliances, or recommendations, and others who are very forward with proposals to improve our border.
I want to extend a special thank-you to our board members. I wouldn’t be writing these lines if they had not generously contributed to our organization. They have been an inspiration to me and, in many ways, examples to follow.
Especially now, with the intensity of the pandemic weighing upon us but with the light of the vaccine at the end of the tunnel, we must be rigorous in following the practices to keep us safe.
I’d like to recognize several of our board members for appearing in San Diego Business Journal’s “SD500: The Most Influential People in San Diego” for 2020. Malin Burnham and Mary Walshok appear under the “Icons” category.
Steve Williams is part of the “Real Estate” group; Brad Feldman, CEO of Cubic Corporation, is under “Leading Industries”; UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla appears under “Education;” and Barbara Wight of Taylor Guitars is seen in the “Leading Industries” category.
I admire the consistency with which Rafael Fernandez de Castro has continued with the Center of U.S.-Mexican Studies “Emerging Stronger Together” dialogue. In early December I participated in the latest session on immigration flows. Rafael knows more about this topic than just about anyone else.
He stated point blank that a good part of the recent immigrant population under the Migration Protection Protocols—more informally known as “Return to Mexico”—in Tijuana are left to their own devices to survive and are at times detained by the police.
They do not arrive in specifically designed shelters but hotels and childcare facilities. Those waiting for their day in court continue waiting, with no end in sight. Many do not even have a secure address to receive important documents from their U.S. attorneys.
Congratulations are in order for Mario Orso and his team at CALTRANS for the start of construction on the southbound State Route 125 to the westbound State Route 905 connector and the recent award of more than $40 million in California Transportation Commission Trade Corridor Enhancement Program funding.
San Diego Regional Chamber’s International Tribute Awards recognized Ienova (ienova.com.mx/, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy and coalition member) for its investment in the region, humanitarian assistance, and stewardship of so
many non-profits. Their Energía Costa Azul (ecalng.com/es) Liquefied Natural Gas Plant project represents a $2-billion investment that will generate 10,000 jobs for the Ensenada area. The company will also expand its windfarm facilities in Tecate.
The Tijuana Local Development Council received State of Baja approval to launch the first phase of the wait-time reader project. The phase will test readers in the vicinity of the San Ysidro Port of Entry before moving on to
phase two, which specifies installing the readers in the rest of the port, processing the data collected, and producing the analytics that the council requires. I am heading up the council’s binational axis and am looking forward to bringing this project to fruition.
Our friends at the Border Trade Alliance (thebta.org) informed us that the National Defense Authorization Act is now headed for President Trump’s signature. The annual defense spending package has transportation and logistics provisions and language that would require the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a plan for eventually scanning all vehicles and freight trains entering the country with non-intrusive inspection equipment instead of relying on physical inspections by agents.
The Border Trade Alliance is also supporting a bipartisan effort led by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that urges Congress not to include a provision in the year-end spending bill that would erode the economic power of the country’s Foreign Trade Zones and make U.S.-based manufacturers less globally competitive. The BTA states in its December 16 press release that “Rolling back USMCA’s FTZ provisions would be the equivalent of a $2 billion tax increase according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.”
The final event of our Border Innovation Challenge
(rady.ucsd.edu/centers/ciid/border-innovation-challenge/index.html) on December 1st was hosted by Alan Lilienthal, host of the KPBS podcast “Port of
Entry” and included judges from outside organizations that were selected by our coalition, Rady School of Management, and Institute for the Global Entrepreneur. Judges evaluated each presentation on technology/product, market opportunity, and impact on border issues/security efficiency. In addition, the audience chose their favorite.
The winners were:
Grand Prize ($7,000) - Luna Diagnostic, a rapid and affordable COVID-19 diagnostic at the border.
Runner Up ($3,500) - Smart Border System, a scheduled cross-border commuting platform supported by digital and physical infrastructure for queues management.
Audience Choice ($2,000) - Tijuana Solar River, the revitalization of the Tijuana River channel as a solar power farm and binational water remediation infrastructure. A project that brings back the river canal to Tijuana communities with pedestrians and public spaces along the 11-mile channel.
Our Coalition’s Board of Directors meeting took place on December 3. California Transportation Secretary David Kim joined us and gave us some very positive news:
∙ $2 billion for new transportation-related projects that will add 100,000 new jobs. This money is coming from SB1 Funds (based on a California gas tax).
o $42.5 million for the Otay Mesa East Port of Entry
o $22.7 million for the La Media Road improvement project for freight truck access to the current Otay Mesa Port of Entry.
o $7.5 million for Calexico East Port of Entry bridge widening project. o $106 million toward the LOSSAN (San Luis Obispo-Los Angeles-San Diego) Rail Corridor. This route has the secondhighest ridership in the country!
∙ Relationship with Mexico:
o Secretary Kim wrote current Minister Arganis of the
Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT) to discuss Otay Mesa East Port of Entry.
o He held a recent meeting with SCT to create a standing binational border infrastructure policy working group; proposed a quarterly meeting to track milestones and resolve policy issues for the port and for other border projects.
o He is working with Mexico to execute a shared vision agreement that will dig into details such as milestones, tolling facilities, and the framework for developing toll revenue-sharing policies.
SAT (the Mexican customs agency) received a visit from a top official with an order to make the agency’s PITA (Proyecto de Integración Tecnológica Aduanera) program mandatory. The program allows truckers to cross through Aduanas in Mexico to the U.S. or from the U.S. into Aduanas without the need for a human agent, using a digital identification for themselves and their merchandise. At issue, however, is that this program had not been mandatory, so only a small fraction of all carriers have been using it.
On the weekend of December 4th, and in various intervals, most southbound lanes were assigned PITA status, creating 5-mile long lines, some of the longest ever seen. Needless to say, SAT has had to backtrack. One wonders why these things happen, but it is another example of the lack of federal and local coordination inside agencies and lack of sensitivity to local impact. This has been a problem on both sides of the border on far too many occasions.
The George W. Bush Institute North America (bushcenter.org/northamerica) meetings continue to happen. Our participation in both the general group as well as in the border policy working group has been more forceful.
The institute’s border policy group believes that a “border management framework offers the best vehicle for addressing the challenges at the U.S.-
Mexico border in a way that simultaneously maximizes the economic benefits of trade and secures both countries against illicit movements of goods or persons.” I have attempted to bring the movement of people into the conversation as well, in addition to economic and law enforcement considerations.
The larger group is coming up with an “actionable list of recommendations that can be taken to the Competitiveness Committee of the new USMCA and shared with the public and private sectors across the continent.” There are five topics for consideration. More to come next year!
Rita Fernandez is the new Director of Global Affairs for the City of San Diego. We congratulate her on her appointment. She replaces a dear friend of the coalition, Denice Garcia, who was a very effective, resourceful, and tireless developer of the Baja California and Mexico relationship. Rita was recently Immigrant Affairs Manager under Mayor Faulconer and previous to that she was Associate Director of Immigrant Affairs at the Office of Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles. She was also Press Aide for Rep. Juan Vargas.
My colleagues Vincent Blocker and Miguel Gama continue to support our coalition in our efforts to campaign for “El Tercer Pais: San Diego & Tijuana. Two Countries. Two Cities. One Community.” We recently teamed up with Warwicks Bookstore (https://www.warwicks.com/event/malone-2020) to do a Facebook Live interview with the author, Michael Malone. Melissa Floca did a superb job of interviewing him.
By the way, Melissa is now Program Officer for Cross Border Programs at the University of San Diego’s Kroc School of Peace Studies. Congratulations!
As part of our activities for “El Tercer Pais”, we have come out with two short videos to support the launch and give thanks to Smart Border Coalition members who sponsored the book. Please see videos in English and Spanish by clicking on this link: youtube.com/results?search_query=smartbordercoalition
There are very few people in the southwestern United States who know more about the real estate business than Stath Karras, Executive Director at the Burnham-Moores Center for Real Estate at USD
(sandiego.edu/business/centers-and-institutes/burnham-moores-real-estate/). He was Executive Managing Director of Cushman Wakefield for seven years and spent 27 years with Burnham Real Estate Services. Stath and I had a productive conversation about the coalition and binational data opportunities.
Yolanda Walther-Meade surely takes after her mother and namesake. She has been a huge proponent of the binational relationship, choosing to concentrate her efforts in raising awareness about separated and reunified families and children at the border and helps with essentials for living, access to legal services, mental wellness checkups, construction projects at shelters, and critical needs for unaccompanied minors.
Yolanda’s fund is called “This is About Humanity” (thisisabouthumanity.com/) and is housed at The International Community Foundation
(https://icfdn.org/?s=this+is+about+humanity). Yolanda and her colleagues have raised over $1 million for vulnerable border communities since 2018!
Our next online Stakeholders Working Committee meeting will convene on Zoom on January 7th from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. The coalition warmly welcomes broad, open participation by all U.S. and Mexican (and all other) parties interested in port of entry operations from any perspective. It will be the first meeting of 2021. Please register at:
After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Please join us then!
I wish you and your families a healthy holiday season and a truly prosperous 2021. We all need it!
Gustavo De La Fuente