May, 2010

Unity of the Californias Is Main Message for the 5th Binational Mayor's Summit.
May 10, 2010 by Ron Raposa.

ROSARITO BEACH, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO---Taking advantage of the many opportunities shared between Southern California and Baja California was the main message delivered by speakers Friday at the Fifth Binational Mayors' Summit here.

More than 220 civic and business leaders plus mayors from 14 cities on both sides of the border attended the summit, which had as its theme "Unifying the Californias."

The summit, at which U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin was a keynote speaker, was the largest of the five inspired two years ago by an agreement between California Gov. Schwarzenegger and Baja Gov. Osuna.

Representatives of both governors attended Friday's summit as did the consuls of several countries.

As well as welcoming and keynote speeches, the summit included workshops on border crossings, desalination/environment, economic development, public safety, education and a mayors' roundtable.

The summit, which is held twice a year on alternating sides of the border, was hosted by Rosarito and Redondo Beach. The San Diego and San Ysidro chambers of commerce, plus Rancho Santiago Community College were among assisting groups.

Rosarito Beach Mayor Hugo Torres in opening remarks thanked all those who attended, while citing a recurring theme: "Having a shared border is not what separates us; it is what brings us together."

While sharing the busiest border crossing in the world creates some challenges, including traffic congestion, it creates many more opportunities in a region that shares friends, family, environment and economy, Torres said.

Redondo Beach Mayor Pro Tem Steve Diels mentioned ways in which the region is closely linked, including by geography: "We're 150 miles away, but when Mexicali shakes we feel it."

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, noting the many vacation trips his family has taken south of the border, said "we view San Diego and Baja as one region in just about every respect."

Sanders also mentioned San Diego's assistance in helping train Baja's new Metropolitan Tourist Police in an effort to ensure that tourists on both sides of the border are treated alike.

Mexican Congressman Gaston Luken Garza spoke of the southbound border crossing while Bersin cited actions that would improve the northbound flow of traffic.

Among those were more public and private partnerships for infrastructure, plus increasing trusted traveler programs, such as SENTRI, so that they are used by 75 percent of commuters rather than the current 24 percent.

Alternating between Spanish and English, Bersin said the Obama administration was troubled by recent legislation enacted by Arizona that allows police to seek residency status verification based on suspicion that someone might be an illegal immigrant.

He said the Obama administration was reviewing its options on the law, including a possible court challenge.

Bersin also said an organized, staffed and well funded binational organization was needed to advocate the interests of the region.

The next Binational Mayor's Summit will be in six months in Redondo Beach, co-hosted by the city of Tijuana.