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Are two Tijuanas better than one? That’s a question one Baja California elected official is hoping the city’s voters will support.
A proposal to split this sprawling city into two separate municipalities has been generating some fierce debate in recent days as it moves through the state congress. The issue is dividing members of Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party and putting a spotlight on neighborhoods in eastern Tijuana that struggle with high rates of crime, drug addiction and poverty and poor city services.
The state legislator who is championing the idea, Araceli Geraldo Núñez, argues residents of Tijuana’s eastern neighborhoods have been abandoned and suffer from inadequate trash pickup, street lighting, schools, hospitals, recreation centers and sports facilities.
By having their own City Hall, these Tijuanenses would get quicker response and more resources, she reasoned earlier this month when she formally presented the proposal to the Baja California Congress. Her proposed name for the new city: Nueva Tijuana.
Geraldo, a Morena member, represents Baja California’s vast 14th electoral district that spreads over much of eastern Tijuana – a key district because of the large number of voters.
But opponents of the measure, including Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero, also a member of Morena, have been pushing back, arguing that Tijuana should not be divided. They say the move would only further segregate many of the city’s neediest areas.
Eastern Tijuana is not the side of the city promoted in tourism brochures. It’s far from the main cultural centers on the western side, the historic downtown and the traditional tourist district, the beaches of Playas de Tijuana and the high-rises and restaurants of the upscale neighborhoods such as Cacho and Chapultepec. Yet for all its problems, eastern Tijuana is vast and dynamic, dotted with industrial parks and low-cost housing developments. It bustles with traffic and commercial activity of every kind imaginable – restaurants, barber shops, tattoo parlors, furniture stores, hotels and bars.
There was a time years ago when I’d drive out there often. To visit friends. To cover stories. Or just to wander through the bustling mercados sobre ruedas – itinerant outdoor markets with colorful tarps that take over blocks at a time. Over the years, I came to witness a new Tijuana expanding by the day, fueled by the work and hopes of newcomers from all corners of Mexico.
So last Thursday, when the mayor announced she’d be holding a special City Council meeting in eastern Tijuana to address issues that affect residents there, I needed little encouragement to drive down to the satellite municipal offices in the district known as La Presa.
Only four out of 15 City Council members had shown up, so there was no quorum.
“I know that a majority of citizens – not all – don’t want to see Tijuana divided, Tijuana is for everyone,” the mayor told the row of journalists in attendance. “We cannot divide cities, divide opportunities. Tijuana must not be divided.”
In Mexico, the municipality is the local governing body, in charge of public services such as streetlighting, trash collection, public safety, maintenance of parks and cemeteries. Tijuana, by Mexico’s 2020 census, had nearly two million residents. Legislators estimate the boundaries for the proposed Nueva Tijuana would create a municipality of some 300,000 residents.
Some have criticized the congresswoman’s proposal as merely an effort to weaken Mayor Caballero politically. Others say, however well-intended, the idea of splitting the city would not necessarily spell benefits for eastern Tijuana residents – and threatens to further segregate them.
Former mayor Héctor Osuna Jaime, a longtime advocate of municipal reform, is among those staunchly opposed to the “Nueva Tijuana” proposal.
In a Facebook posting, he argued the real issue is the need to modernize the structure of city government to allow greater transparency, making Council members more accountable to voters, and giving municipalities authority to raise money directly through taxes.
“Just dividing the city in two means that instead of having one problem, you have two,” Osuna wrote.
Meanwhile, in the state capital of Mexicali, the state congress voted last week to move forward with an analysis of the proposal. If approved, the final step would be a plebiscite to ask Tijuana voters if they favor the creation of a new municipality.
- Fresh details about a brutal Tijuana kidnapping ring whose members are accused of abducting nine people and killing six of them last year came to light after a federal grand jury in Los Angeles returned an indictment against six Mexican citizens living in Tijuana. Union-Tribune reporters Kristina Davis and Wendy Fry used court records and interviews on both sides of the border to piece together an account of how the suspects would target U.S. and Mexican citizens whom they believed had family members in the United States able to pay the ransom. (AP, Union-Tribune)
- An armed attack in Tijuana’s Colonia Nueva Aurora claimed the lives of three children, ages 4, 8, and 9, and their parents. The father, Gerardo Valadez, had been living in Tijuana for several years after being deported from the United States and received regular visits from his wife and children, who were U.S. citizens, according to Inés García of the Tijuana website PuntoNorte. The FBI is assisting in the investigation, according to Telemundo.
- An early-morning fire last Thursday destroyed the Hotel St. Francis, a unique piece of Tijuana history off of Calle Segunda near Avenida Revolución. The structure was originally built in Imperial Beach, but carried in pieces across the border in the 1920s and reassembled. It shut down five years ago and was under renovation. (El Imparcial, Agencia Fronteriza de Noticias)
- Six Tijuana migrant advocates were honored Saturday in a ceremony hosted jointly by Alma Migrante, a Tijuana nonprofit and the Mulvaney Center at the University of San Diego. The event at the Centro Cultural Tijuana (Cecut) was the culmination of a video project that featured the testimonies of the advocates and highlighted the broad range of efforts being made by the volunteers and workers in the nonprofit sector — including providing food and shelter, translation services, legal counsel, schooling and assistance for LGBTQ+ migrants and deported veterans.
And last but not least: An image of a group of Oaxacan band members frolicking in the Pacific Ocean next to the U.S. border fence in Playas de Tijuana took a first place earlier this month in a Mexican photo contest, Mexico en Una Imagen, that seeks to strengthen cultural and national identity. It was shot by Mexicali photojournalist José María Cárdenas, known as Chema to his colleagues. He told me he took the photograph in 2018 during a workshop, when he spotted the musicians as they were shooting a promotional video by the fence.