San Diego Mayor Bob Filner launched the city's first official office in Tijuana on Friday, saying it could serve as a base where the cities could work on everything from improving border-crossing times to making a joint pitch for the 2024 Olympics.
“There’s never been a cross-border Olympics, has there?” he asked. "Something like that would really draw a lot of attention to the region."
The idea has been floated at least twice before, most recently by business leader Malin Burnham, whose dreams of getting the 2016 Olympics ended when Rio de Janeiro was chosen instead.
But even if the cities don’t get the Olympics, Filner said he hoped the office would help strengthen trade, tourism and civic ties across the border.
“We have one of the most unique opportunities in the world to become a bicultural, binational market,” he said.
The city's new office in Tijuana will be based in the headquarters of the Tijuana Economic Development Corp., in a high-rise office building in the Zona Rio neighborhood. It initially will be staffed part-time by Mario Lopez, San Diego’s director of binational affairs, but Filner said he plans to assign at least one more staffer to the office in the near future so it eventually can be staffed full-time.
The Tijuana EDC is donating the space to the city, echoing an arrangement with the San Diego Association of Governments, which has provided offices and computers for two representatives from Tijuana since 1995.
“Tijuana’s had offices in San Diego for seven years,” Filner said during a roundtable on border issues at The Daily Transcript on Thursday. “It just seems that it’s mutually respectful for us to have an office there. This is a two-way relationship that has to be respected on both sides.”
David Mayagoitia, the president of the Tijuana EDC, said the office will be an important symbol of the relationship between the two cities.
“The thing that sets Tijuana apart from its competitors in Mexico is its proximity to San Diego,” Mayagoitia said at the roundtable. “That makes us so different from cities like Mexicali, Sinaloa or Monterrey.”
Filner said San Diego too has benefited from its close ties to Tijuana, which is why he has put a high priority on bolstering links between the two cities. In the nine weeks since he took office, Filner has visited Tijuana nine times, as well as traveled to Washington, D.C., to push for improvements in border crossing times between the two cities.
Filner said the business communities on both sides of the border understand the importance of strengthening ties. But among the general public, the feelings are mixed.
“About half of the responses we’ve gotten have been very positive, saying that ‘We want to be there,’” he said. “The other half say things like ‘What are you going to do down there? Hire Mexicans to take American jobs? Or maybe give amnesty to immigrants before they even cross the border?’ Personally, I don’t understand the idea that we shouldn’t have better communications between the two cities on both sides of the busiest border crossing in the world.”