Binational group forms to address border issues. Inspections are among the chamber's concerns

Published 14 August 08 11:42 AM

By Janine Zúñiga


August 14, 2008

           SAN YSIDRO – The San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce has joined forces with all five Baja California border cities and with chambers of commerce from here to Calexico to create the Binational Chamber of Border Commerce.

           The group will meet to tackle common issues that affect business on both sides of the border. Those issues, the group says, include inefficient border-crossing inspections and a lack of infrastructure.

           Jason M-B Wells, San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce executive director and Binational Chamber of Border Commerce organizer, said the border business group can't sit idly by while politicians in Washington, D.C., and Mexico City decide what's best for ports of entry 3,000 miles away.

            “We live this every day,” he said. “We know what works.”

           Wells said the border between California and Baja California is home to the busiest land port of entry in the world, the second-busiest cargo crossing and the largest binational economy in the Western Hemisphere.

           The group hopes its strength and single voice can help push initiatives to help speed up border-crossing times, such as putting in more “stacked” booths at San Ysidro.

           U.S. Customs and Border Protection is testing the idea, similar to a method used in checkout lines at some big-box stores, where two checkers help one lane of customers. Stacking has proved to reduce border wait times, the group said.

           The binational group also wants at least one 24-hour lane at all California-Baja California ports of entry, and additional agents on both sides of the border where needed.      The group also hopes border officials will stop conducting secondary inspections in primary inspection lanes. They said officers at various ports often spend too much time with one vehicle, when they should send it forward for further inspection to keep traffic flowing.

           Wells also organized an association of business and community groups in recent months whose members were concerned with plans for a redesign of the San Ysidro Port of Entry. When plans last year showed the loss of a considerable amount of private property, the Smart Border Coalition got involved. The federal government has since reduced the amount of land it planned to take.

           Wells said the coalition's efforts gave him the idea for the binational group.

           “We realized that a lot of the issues aren't specific to just San Ysidro,” he said. “We had to look at our entire border and make sure we had binational buy-in.”

           Wells said the Smart Border Coalition introduced the idea of a southbound pedestrian crossing on the east side of Interstate 5. He said it would help local businesses. The current southbound crossing, on the west side of I-5, diverts potential shoppers away from them.

           He also said a southbound crossing near the trolley, also east of I-5, would make it more convenient for people who use the transit system to enter Mexico.

           “We need both sides in agreement for how that should be,” said Wells, referring to having officials in the United States and Mexico working out the design of the new pedestrian crossing.

           Wells said increased border-crossing wait times have grown to unacceptable levels. Businesses and the economy are hurt when half or two-thirds of a company's work force is a half hour to two hours late, or doesn't show up at all, he said. He said increased border wait times also have a detrimental effect on the number of trips tourists and shoppers make.

           Construction on the San Ysidro Port of Entry is set to begin this month. More than 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians use the port daily to cross into the United States. Studies have pointed to an expected increase of the number of vehicles crossing of up to 70 percent by 2030.

The $577 million project will increase the number of lanes in each direction and is the federal government's largest border-crossing project.

           Wells said many details on the San Ysidro redesign project aren't complete. He also said some projects such as the southbound pedestrian crossing are unfunded but included in the plans. He said the group will continue to push for improvements at all border crossings.

           Members of the binational group from the United States include the chambers of commerce in San Ysidro, Calexico, Chula Vista and Tecate Community; the Imperial Valley and South County economic development corporations; and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.

           In Mexico, members include the chambers of commerce in Tijuana, Ensenada, Mexicali, Playas de Rosarito and Tecate.


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