BY KATE PETERSEN
As they await word on a presidential permit for another port of entry on the California border, U.S. and Mexican officials in charge of transportation and customs between Southern California and Baja California will come together in a community forum next month to discuss the proposed Otay II Port of Entry.
The forum, which is being held jointly by the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce and the Asociaci & #243;n de la Industria Maquiladora, will feature seven speakers , all top officials from local, state and federal government agencies involved in border transportation and planning.
Alejandra Mier y Teran, the executive director of the Otay Chamber of Commerce, hopes the forum will help to build consensus and gather feedback from the regional stakeholders at the Tijuana-Otay Mesa border.
“We’re trying to use this forum to gather community feedback and make sure our Mexican partners are on the same page,” said Mier y Teran. “Because if we are all on the same page about what kind of port we want this to look like, we think that will really help to push the project forward.”
The slate of speakers will include Gary Gallegos, the executive director of the San Diego Association of Governments, Adele Fasano, field director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Pedro Orso Delgado, the district director of the California Department of Transportation.
In addition, four officials from Mexico will speak and take questions about the binational efforts to plan another port; they are Jose Marquez Padilla, administrator for customs in Tijuana; Daniel Romero, the president for Consejo Coordinador Empresaria; Alberto Arce, the president of the Tijuana Maquiladora Association; and Carlos Lopez, planning director for Baja California’s Secretary of Infrastructure and Urban Development.
Nearly all officials agree that port capacity on the San Diego County-Mexico border must expand to meet the heavy trade and passenger growth the region has witnessed in recent years. The Otay Mesa Port of Entry, developed as both a cargo and passenger crossing in 1985, has since become the largest commercial channel across the California-Mexico border. Originally intended for passengers and northbound cargo only, Otay Mesa absorbed San Ysidro’s southbound cargo crossing in 1994 and became a 24-hour facility in July 2003.
“Our goal is to create as big a traffic flow as possible, and this port would help us do that,” said Delgado. He added that despite an economic slump in 2002 and 2003, the volume of cargo trucks crossing at Otay has been increasing swiftly and is likely to double between 2000 and 2010. More than $20 billion in merchandise passes through the Otay Mesa crossing each year, of which about 75 percent stays in California, according to the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce Web site.
“It’s a huge economic engine, and we want to promote that any way we can,” Delgado said.
But most officials concede opening another crossing is a long way off. For one, receiving the presidential permit is contingent on the completion of environmental documents that Caltrans does not expect to complete until 2008.
Opinions Vary On Need
There also is a wide range of opinions on whether a new port of entry is needed, or whether capacity expansion can be accomplished by simply restructuring existing crossings.
“This is still very much in the concept stage right now,” said Vince Bond, the public information officer for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, whose organization would be a tenant in a potential port of entry.
And though Customs has not endorsed any specific plan for building a new port or restructuring existing ones, Bond admitted that the need to grow the border-crossing infrastructure is imminent.
“If you look down the road a couple of years, we can see the need for some sort of infrastructure improvements,” he said.
But Mier y Teran was more emphatic about the prospect of an Otay II.
“We see it as an absolutely essential piece of infrastructure needed to expand trade capacity in this region,” she said. “Everyone knows we need an additional commercial port in this region.”
The forum is scheduled for Dec. 15 from 8:30 to 11 a.m. in the Student Union East room of Southwestern College. Those interested in attending can get more information and purchase advanced tickets from the Otay Mesa Chamber of Commerce by calling (619) 661-6111 or sending an e-mail to Monica Magoni at email@example.com.
Kate Petersen is a freelance writer living in San Diego.