A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.
By David Gaddis Smith
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner opened a binational affairs office in Tijuana on Friday.
"We have a shared destiny.... We need to build new channels of communication.... We need to create new policies to resolve old problems," Filner said, adding, "Tijuana has had an office in San Diego for about seven or eight years. It's just a matter of mutual respect, let alone the necessity of having it. And I don't know what took so long, I have to apologize for our city, but we have to make up for some lost time."
The office will be staffed by Mario López (left), who has held a number of posts in San Diego and Tijuana. He has been working in the office, but it was not officially inaugurated earlier in part because of scheduling conflicts with Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante.
López, who played master of ceremonies, accidentally introduced Bustamante as mayor of San Diego before quickly correcting himself. This caused Filner to later draw a big laugh when he commented to Bustamante, in Spanish, "Two cities, one mayor," in a play on words of the oft-quoted phrase about San Diego and Tijuana being "two cities, one region."
Photo: Bustamante laughs after Filner's remark about "Two cities, one mayor."
In fact, Bustamante called the office opening the result in part of the work he did with former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders on the "two cities, one region" idea. And Filner closed his speech by saying, in Spanish, that San Diego and Tijuana were "dos ciudades, una región."
Many advocates of that phrase were at Friday's opening. David Mayagoitia, the president of the non-profit Tijuana Economic Development Corporation group known as DEITAC that is lending office space to San Diego for the binational affairs office, also is chairman of the Cali Baja Bi-National Mega-Region. Among more than 100 people squeezed into a conference room, including around 30 members of the media, was Christina Anne Luhn, director of the Mega-Region Initiative. The U.S. Commerce Department sometimes uses the DEITAC offices, and the city of Tijuana has been using space in the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) offices in recent years.
Those attending came from widely varying backgrounds. Among those at the opening were San Diego State city planning professor Larry Herzog and University of California San Diego public culture and urbanism professor Teddy Cruz, whom Filner referred to during his speech. Cruz works in the Visual Arts department at UCSD, and Filner kept returning to the theme of "visualizing" a different border dynamic in his talk. Also at the opening were Toyota plant executive Joe de la Rosa, SANDAG executive director Gary Gallegos, SANDAG borders program manager Héctor Vanegas, Tijuana tourism and convention committee president Mariano Escobedo Lavín, and San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. President Mark Cafferty, who spoke. Also speaking was Mayagoitia, who gave credit to Tijuana economic development agency chief Miguel Velasco and San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce Mexico Business Center director James Clark for having played vital roles over the years in laying the groundwork for the liaison office to be opened. Both Velasco and Clark were in attendance.
San Diego Distrit 8 councilman David Alvarez, who represents South Bay, attended the inauguration. Mark Kersey, who took over the District 5 council seat of the man Filner defeated in the mayor's race, Carl DeMaio, was represented by Denice Garcia, his director of community outreach and economic development.
López also had María Antonieta Beguerrise Ramos, head of the charitable organization Fundación Internacional de la Comunidad, speak. She said she and other non-governmental agencies in the region have high hopes that the office will benefit the populace of both Tijuana and San Diego. A representative of the WildCoast international conservation group also attended.
Photo: María Antonieta Beguerrise Ramos speaks while David Mayagoitia looks on.
Filner said the U.S. Olympic Committee had invited San Diego to be one of more than 30 U.S. cities to bid for the 2024 Olympics, and received applause when he said he planned to do so in conjunction with Tijuana. He said both he and Bustamante would be visiting the capitals of both countries. San Diego County is the site of a U.S. Olympic training center and Tijuana has an athletic training center that has been used for major Mexican sporting events.
Filner's office is on the fifth floor of the Via Corporativo LEED-certified office building in Tijuana along the Vía Rápida expressway, part of which was just renamed for Bustamante's father.
The DEITAC conference room where the inauguration ceremony was held.
Update, Feb. 27: Filner, in his monthly "Pen and Paper" session Wednesday with the media, discussed last week's opening of his office. DEITAC, which is providing the city of San Diego free office space in Tijuana, is funded by companies that seek business from U.S. companies that build factories using relatively low-paid Mexican workers. Asked whether there was a potential for conflict in this, Filner said, "I am trying, obviously, to work to greatly improve the relations between our two nations. There's going to big steps and there's going to be small steps. This was a small step establishing an office. DEITAC, or the equivalent of an EDC, offered us free space, and we are going to use it to create new synergies, new communication, conversations; just at the opening there were those kinds of things. So I am not obligated to anybody or any policy or anything just by establishing an office there and if it became a problem we would move the office."
He added, "We're not indebted to anybody as to what our conversations are or guided by them or anything else."
Filner also said he thought the first use of the office was for former councilman Tony Young, who now heads the Red Cross in San Diego, to meet his Red Cross (Cruz Roja) counterpart in Tijuana.
Filner was elected mayor last year with strong labor and Mexican-American backing. He has recently been involved in controversy over his refusal to release funds for a tourism-marketing district; Filner says he wants to ensure that tourism-industry workers are better paid, among other things. Last year, he repeated his opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he voted against in 1993.
Filner prefaced his remarks by saying similar questions should be asked about possible conflicts of interest in the city's dealings with economic development corporations, the Chamber of Commerce, the hotel-motel association, and the tourist-marketing district.
Story on the tourism-marketing-district conflict by U-T San Diego's Lori Weisberg, who was among around 20 members of the media at the "Pen and Paper" session.
Update, March 6, 2014: López says he is leaving the post. This follows Filner's resignation in August amid sexual harassment allegations and the February election of Republican Kevin Faulconer as mayor.