Throughout his campaign, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner championed his plan to improve relations with Mexico. He touted his experience working on border issues while in Congress and the relationships he’s built with Mexican leaders.
At campaign rallies, people would chant "Bob, si puede!" And the momentum culminated at his State of the City address, when Filner announced when his Tijuana office would open.
"You know, the opening of a border affairs office in Tijuana is going to be just the first step in building a partnership to coordinate border infrastructure improvements, and to market our bi-national region to international investments," he said. "In fact today we secured an office that will open on February 1."
That date has come and gone, and no ribbon has yet been cut. In fact, a visit to the Tijuana highrise on February 1 revealed few people there even knew who Filner was, much less that he was supposed to have an office in the building.
Eventually we were told Filner would have access to the building, but wouldn’t have a physical office there. Filner insists the office will open soon. KPBS is currently waiting for a copy of the lease.
The fact that Filner’s attempt to open an office in Tijuana hasn’t gone smoothly could serve as a metaphor for the relationship between San Diego and Tijuana: many good intentions, with uncertain results.
But entrepreneur Jordi Muñoz said an office could be beneficial to the business relationship between the cities. He’s president of 3D Robotics, which designs and manufactures drones for personal use.
"We just opened a new maquiladora," he said. "That’s a Mexican factory in Tijuana."
Muñoz employs 25 people in that factory and 30 people at his research and design facility in San Diego. He said right now all of the company’s resources are going into the Tijuana plant. He had an advantage in setting up his factory because he grew up in Tijuana and knows how the city works. He said a San Diego office in Tijuana could help people who may need a bit more guidance.
"Because of the language, the people, the connections, you don’t know anything," he said. "And when you think about Tijuana, you probably have the wrong perception."
Fixing those perceptions could be another benefit of an office. It’s something the Tijuana government has already been attempting to do. The city has had an office in San Diego for years. Alfonso Bustamante, brother of the Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante, serves as the city’s director of bi-national affairs. He said the office has tried to repair Tijuana’s image following years of violence in the city.
"In the past years we’ve needed, somehow, to let people know exactly what Tijuana was, not what was being said. That is was not as bad as they were saying," he said.
The office also acts as a liaison between San Diego and Tijuana officials and helps Mexicans who want to do business north of the border.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to improving the relationship between the cities is the physical barrier you must pass through to travel between them. Wait times coming into the U.S. are a major issue for border-crossers, sometimes turning a quick trip into an hours-long ordeal if you don’t have a special pass. Filner knows this and said he and the Tijuana mayor will do what they can to tackle what’s primarily a federal issue.
As many before him have, Filner has visions of marketing San Diego and Tijuana as a mega region with easy travel between the two and a collaborative relationship. But first, he has to open the office.
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