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Improving border relations, wait times on the agenda at SANDAG forum

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Addressing challenges and opportunities for an efficient San Ysidro-Tijuana border crossing was the topic of conversation Tuesday at a forum organized by the San Diego Association of Governments.

During the roundtable portion of the close to five-hour bi-national forum, which was moderated by former California State Sen. Denise Ducheny, regional leaders discussed what they said needs to be done to improve border crossing efficiency at Otay Mesa and San Ysidro to grow business on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

The key word seemed to be innovation.

Mario Orso, California Department of Transportation corridor director for trade projects, said innovation is key. He gave the cross-border airport bridge project from Otay Mesa into Tijuana’s international airport, which broke ground Monday on the U.S. side, as an example.

“The border region will look really different in next five years,” Orso said. “We have the future in our hands to shape what the border and partnerships with public and private sector entities can really help.”

Luis Duarte Mora, secretary for urban action at the Colegio de Arquitectos de Tijuana, said education is a key factor that Mexico and the United States can work together on bridging the gap.

“There are good architectural colleges in Tijuana that could work with schools and companies on this side of the border,” Duarte Mora said.

Paola Avila, executive director of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Mexico Business Center, said she sees the relationship between San Diego and Tijuana improving ever since former San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders started leading the chamber in December 2012.

“There is a shift in attitude in wanting to do business in Mexico (from our members),” Avila said, adding that Sanders has good relationships with government leaders in Tijuana and has gone to Washington, D.C., to get funding for this region. “We still have a long way to go, but we are getting there.”

Cindy Gompper Graves, CEO of the South County Economic Development Council, brought up several ideas that she believes should be looked at to improve border wait times for those who do business on both sides of the border.

These included checking truck cargo before getting to the border; installing tracking devices on vehicles; and the sharing of information between Border Patrol agents and Mexican officials.

“Why aren’t we looking at Canada and see how they do things?” she asked. “Or, why don’t we create a facility that is on both sides of the border that both the U.S. and Mexico can share?”

Jason M-B Wells, executive director with the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce, added that the main issue in getting these innovative ideas started is security at the border crossings.

Ducheny added that San Diego also needs to be partners with Orange County, Los Angeles and San Francisco because they are also part of this greater region that does business with Tijuana.

The forum was held at Southwestern College’s Higher Education Center at Otay Mesa. Close to 100 people from each side of the border, including staff from the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce, the American Planning Association, Ayuntamiento de Tijuana, Consulado General de Mexico en San Diego, Consejo Coordinador Empresarial de Tijuana and the Smart Border Coalition attended, as did private sector businessmen and women.

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