With the jumbled housing of Tijuana visible on a hillside just a couple miles away, a group of San Diego leaders met Friday to begin looking for ways to solve the regional problems of transportation, land use and airport placement that face the county.
Eager to include everyone in the process, the 11-member Regional Government Efficiency Commission held its first substantive meeting in the San Ysidro School District's administrative offices. Subsequent meetings will be held in North County and East County, as well as downtown San Diego.
The group has until August to analyze the government agencies that make regional decisions in San Diego, then make recommendations to the California Legislature about how to consolidate those boards to make them more efficient, or create a new agency to oversee the area.
If the Legislature adopts the commission's recommendations, and if voters in San Diego approve the plan, it could mean the emergence of a powerful new agency able to make tough regional decisions such as where to place a new international airport or how best to govern the property around the bay.
As its first order of business, the board divided the issues facing it into four categories, forming working groups to study these areas: transportation; land use and the environment; what form of regional governance would best suit the county; and should the San Diego Unified Port District, which oversees property around the bay, be reorganized?
Each subcommittee will be chaired by a commissioner appointed by Gov. Gray Davis.
The 11-member commission, led by San Diego City Councilman Byron Wear, includes five members appointed by Davis, and one each from the Border Infrastructure Financing District, the San Diego Association of Governments, the North San Diego County Transit Development Board, the San Diego Unified Port District and the Metropolitan Transit Development Board.
Now that the committees have been formed, the commission will be in a "fact-finding phase" for a few months, Wear said Friday. It will include separate work by the committees, as well as regular meetings during which the entire commission will listen to presentations by various regional organizations.
Only a couple dozen people attended the meeting in San Ysidro on Friday morning, but the few comments they made to the commission about their community hinted at how massive and complicated a job the group faces in addressing similar issues countywide.
"I wanted to express my concern about maybe some of the things that are getting left out," said Carlos Vasquez, speaking on behalf of the San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce and the San Ysidro Business Association. "I'm here to let you guys know, all the issues that are here in San Ysidro not only affect up the (Interstate) 5 corridor, they also go south."
Ralph Nieders, a U.S. representative for the Tijuana airport, stressed that any changes in air traffic on this side of the border will effect the other side. U.S. Navy planes already use Mexican air space in their approaches to an airfield in the southern part of the county, and Mexican planes flying into Tijuana cross over the United States, he said.
National City Councilman Ron Morrison had this advice for the commission: "This is a huge job," he said. "The last thing we want to do is rush. We all have to live here."