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Filner sandiego-tijuanajpg Saying the rich potential of cross-border relations has not been tapped, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner on Monday pledged to promote increased ties with Tijuana at every level — from cultural initiatives to student exchanges to joint lobbying trips with his Mexican counterpart.

"We have to strengthen the sense that we are one, that we don't just give lip service to dos ciudades, una región (two cities, one region) but actually make it true," Filner said during a meeting hosted by the Tijuana Economic Development Corporation, or DEITAC.


The event marked Filner's first formal public appearance in Tijuana since he took office in December, staff members said, though he has crossed south on two other occasions since becoming mayor.

Fighting for U.S. federal funds to relieve congestion at San Diego's border crossings is a priority for Filner. "It's the biggest obstacle to our relationship, for commercial things, for business," he said. Together with Tijuana Mayor Carlos Bustamante, "we're going to travel to Mexico City and to Washington together to try to make the case that this is so important to both countries, both cities, both peoples."

In recent weeks, Filner has announced moves to increase cross-border contact with Tijuana, including the establishment of a telephone hotline linking his office directly to Bustamante's. He has appointed a staff member, Mario López, to focus full time on border affairs.

And he plans to open San Diego's first office in Tijuana next month. In its initial phase, the city will operate out of DEITAC's offices in the city's Río Zone, where the business group has offered space free of charge.

One way to truly become a binational region, Filner said, would be for Tijuana and San Diego to share the same area code — a move that would not only save the cost of calling long distance but also offer a powerful symbol.

Filner had broached the idea while serving as a U.S. congressman representing California's border with Mexico. "Technically, it's a trivial matter, you throw a few switches," he said Monday. "Politically, it's more difficult."

John Eger, a telecommunications lawyer and professor at San Diego State University, promoted such a proposal in the 1990s. "It's important that we find a way to blur the border, and one way to do that would be to establish a common area code," Eger said. The proposal failed, he said "for want of support in Mexico City."

On Monday, members of Tijuana's business community urged the mayor to take action on other fronts. David Mayagoitia, the president of DEITAC, said a good first step would be supporting the rebuilding of rail links on both sides of the border — a move he said would help spur growth for the region's automotive industry.

Tijuana's future also depends on improving the city's reputation in San Diego and beyond, Mayagoitia said. "We need San Diego to help us overcome the image problem."

Bustamante said he hoped Filner could continue the relationship developed with San Diego's previous mayor, Jerry Sanders, and "take it to a new level."

Proponents of closer collaboration have said the mayors might want to take some pointers from a previous era — the 1990s with San Diego Mayor Susan Golding and Tijuana Mayor Hector Osuna Jaime, when their administrations forged a memorandum of understanding and staff members consulted regularly on issues such as public safety, sports, culture and the environment.

Jorge D'Garay, who served as the Tijuana's public relations director at the time, said the formal arrangements, approved by the U.S. State Department and Mexico's Foreign Ministry, helped keep the efforts on track. "Otherwise, you run the risk of turning into a social affair."

Source: UT San Diego
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