New Mayor, Old-School Border Ideas

New Mayor, Old-School Border Ideas

Photo by Sam Hodgson

Mayor Bob Filner

 

Mayor Bob Filner thinks now is the time for San Diego and Tijuana to act as one region. But some of his big plans to facilitate such cohesion might have sounded more innovative a few decades ago.

The 70-year-old mayor recently called for San Diego and Tijuana to share an area code, and he’s working to open an office space in Tijuana and set up a desk phone that would directly connect him with Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante.

Not all of these solutions are particularly relevant in this century, or even new.

Indeed, Filner has advocated for a merged area code for years.

While some of the border region’s concerns haven’t changed for years — among them sewage that flows from Mexico onto beaches north of the border — the technological landscape has changed vastly since the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994.

Residents on both sides of the border can now communicate using Skype, FaceTime and more sophisticated video-conferencing tools. They spend more time fiddling with their iPhones and Androids than chatting on landline phones. In fact, many are abandoning stationary phones altogether.

And as the #FilnerEverywhere meme proves, the mayor himself prefers being on site at locations around the city rather than tethered to an office.

Filner and Bustamante have exchanged cell phone numbers and chatted by cell, a development that would seemingly obviate the need for a “mayoral bat phone” like the one Filner envisions but has yet to be installed.

Improved technology has not yet thwarted ballooning border wait times. Filner has repeatedly pledged to improve often hours-long lines at the border and spoke about the importance of doing so at a Thursday forum, suggesting waits could be as short as 10 to 15 minutes with proper staffing and political will.

Border experts agree that the long lines are Filner’s primary nemesis. To tackle them, he’ll need to persuade out-of-state politicians and federal officials that San Diego’s border deserves increased staffing and better infrastructure. Filner might be uniquely suited to tackle the bureaucracy.

Advocates and academics on both sides of the border agree San Diego should collaborate with Baja California to solve problems and boost the region’s economy. But that doesn’t mean all of Filner’s suggestions are practical.

“Some of these ideas are significant but they don’t have any real value,” said Oscar Romo, a professor at the University of California, San Diego who has spent years working with officials on both sides of the border.

He offered the soon-to-be unveiled San Diego office in Tijuana as an example.

What Filner has trumpeted as an office is a cubicle space at Tijuana’s economic development corporation that comes with access to several meeting rooms.

That may be a positive short-term solution but it would be more effective to have an office right at the border, where leaders on either side could meet without waiting in line, Romo said.

A permanent office in the city would be even better, he said.

Romo, who has met with Filner’s binational affairs director to provide input, said the office should instead work on a meaningful memorandum of understanding that outlines how the two cities will work together or on tangible efforts that improve conditions on both sides of the border.

David Shirk, director of the University of San Diego’s Trans-Border Institute, zeroed in on Filner’s technological proposals.

Video conferencing or walkie-talkies that endure during disasters would be more effective than a desk phone that connects the two mayors, Shirk said.

“Nobody’s at their desk, so a desk phone is not as cutting-edge idea as a video- conferencing system where you could have the city councils of San Diego and Tijuana interacting together,” he said.

Still, Shirk and other San Diego border experts said Filner’s ideas could serve as symbols of his interest in collaboration and communication with leaders south of the border.

“The bottom line I guess is that we can nitpick about whether the specific ideas he’s proposing are quite right but at the end of the day, he’s throwing out ideas,” Shirk said.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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14 comments
Mike Vasilove
Mike Vasilove subscriber

The San Diego region has enough of its own issues to deal with. Sure a good relationship with an international city on your border is always welcome but wouldn't that be the job of San Ysidro's Mayor or National City's or Chula Vista's Mayor?? Bob...Fix the pot holes and the water pipes. Haven't you learned that citizens of Mexico wish to remain loyal to Mexico? Concentrate on helping the people who elected you here IN San Diego. I live in the County so what could I possibly know?

Mike EV
Mike EV

The San Diego region has enough of its own issues to deal with. Sure a good relationship with an international city on your border is always welcome but wouldn't that be the job of San Ysidro's Mayor or National City's or Chula Vista's Mayor?? Bob...Fix the pot holes and the water pipes. Haven't you learned that citizens of Mexico wish to remain loyal to Mexico? Concentrate on helping the people who elected you here IN San Diego. I live in the County so what could I possibly know?

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Common Bob. You can do it. Speak!

mgland
mgland

Common Bob. You can do it. Speak!

Mark Allen
Mark Allen subscriber

Please. If the mayor wants an office in TJ, he should run for mayor down there.

mdainsd
mdainsd

Please. If the mayor wants an office in TJ, he should run for mayor down there.

Ray Lovins
Ray Lovins subscriber

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM A FULL REGISTERED DEMOCRATE SOCIALIST WITH THE SOCIALIST PARTY!! SAN DEIGO QUIT MOVING TO THE LEFT OR WE WILL BE TRASH!!

san diego ray
san diego ray

WHAT DO YOU EXPECT FROM A FULL REGISTERED DEMOCRATE SOCIALIST WITH THE SOCIALIST PARTY!! SAN DEIGO QUIT MOVING TO THE LEFT OR WE WILL BE TRASH!!

john smiley
john smiley subscriber

When did San Diego annex the 3rd largest city in Mexico? I for one chose not to have a US area code, nor do I chose to return to the rule of the US. I moved to Mexico for Libertad. Keep your greedy hands off of the fine City of Tijuana.

smileyjohn4
smileyjohn4

When did San Diego annex the 3rd largest city in Mexico? I for one chose not to have a US area code, nor do I chose to return to the rule of the US. I moved to Mexico for Libertad. Keep your greedy hands off of the fine City of Tijuana.

Chris Glenn
Chris Glenn subscriber

Spare us the window dressing... If your serious about the border region, then advance more significant plans and programs for disaster preparedness, mutual aide, transborder traffic, transportation planning, emergency communications, general planning, and sustainability of natural resources.

MtNebo
MtNebo

Spare us the window dressing... If your serious about the border region, then advance more significant plans and programs for disaster preparedness, mutual aide, transborder traffic, transportation planning, emergency communications, general planning, and sustainability of natural resources.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

Filners vision of the port and his ideas of a more connected region.

mgland
mgland

Filners vision of the port and his ideas of a more connected region.