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Opinion: A Tijuana-San Diego binational roundtable could shape the future of our region

Blocker is a civic writer and organizational consultant. He lives in La Jolla.

A permanent, well-funded, professionally staffed and energetically led “Tijuana-San Diego Binational Roundtable,” based onthe influential U.S. Business Roundtable and the European Round Table for Industry, would lead to the faster removal of problems afflicting the two cities’ relationship and propel both communitiesinto a new, exciting and transformative phase of their history.

This new institution would build on decades of work by transfronterizo pioneers and a set of auspicious developments accelerating over roughly the last two years on both sides of the border.

Author Michael S. Malone detailed and celebrated the shared trajectory of our communities in his groundbreaking 2020 book, “El Tercer País: San Diego & Tijuana: Two Countries, Two Cities, One Community,” the first and only comprehensive history of our region. A longtime chronicler of technical and business developments in Silicon Valley, he shared an extraordinary, Silicon Valley-like vision at a “Cali-Baja Innovation Ecosystem Opportunity” webinar last June. (I will send my detailed webinar notes to readers who request them.)

Here are a few of his thoughts:“You guys have a chance to be one of the most important business communities on Earth. And it won’t take that much work. You’ve done most of the hard work.” “The next 20 years will decide your fate.” “It will be a historic achievement.” “A model, a paradigm for everywhere else.”

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That future leading business community, for which he made a multifaceted argument, would be centered on biomedicine, biotechnology, medical technology and medical tourism.

I can’t fully develop the roundtable modelhere. But the existing U.S. and European roundtables’ websites clearly present their strengths in terms of leadership, membership, staffing, and the scope and nature of their agenda. The agendas strategically address top-level American and European issues, and leadership, membership and staffing are sized and engineered to advance these ambitions.

We have seen so many signs of a tipping point in the development of the binational identity and relationship, too numerous to list fully here, across a range of spheres, not all mercantile, as has historically been largely the case. In Washington, D.C., and in Mexico City, more benign attitudes and active helpful attention have replaced postures of indifference and hostility toward border interests. Last year’s official visit of the State of Baja California’s governor-elect to our state capital and other sites in California was unprecedented. The Commission of the Californias is reviving. San Diego’s new mayor and council members have signaled a new level of awareness and cordiality toward our sister community. Tijuana and San Diego won the first two-city World Design Capital designation, a huge binational team effort. The dual-national, bicultural executive director of the Smart Border Coalition, Gustavo de la Fuente, assumed a concurrent role as director of international projects with the State of Baja California administration. CBX Cross Border Xpress has flourished far beyond all expectations. Local media coverage with a binational focus has noticeably improved.

Reflecting this abundant activity, well-established organizations such as the Smart Border Coalition as well as entities now increasingly attuned to the binational dimension of their environment have grown as a group. A striking recent example is San Diego’s Old Globe theater center and the Centro Cultural de Tijuana. They recently announced a partnership to promote and increase access to the performing arts in the region.

But I have to ask if any existing organization has the same muscle as the U.S. and European roundtables, the muscle it would take to effectively launch Michael Malone’s visions and much more.In particular, the region has not succeeded in engaging U.S. Customs and Border Protection as a fully cooperative partner with the communities so drastically affected by its actions.A Tijuana-San Diego Binational Roundtable could cap, mobilize, coordinate and complement the effervescent binational community of actors, none of which, however, assumes an overall strategic perspective with the means to support actions at that level.

For example, the region does not speak with a suitably powerful voice at state, national and international echelons. As a result, for instance, the topic heading “the crisis at the border” as understood in the U.S. generally excludes the daunting problems of wasted time, congestion and air pollution in the perpetual crisis of borderwait times. The region was caught off-guard by the catastrophic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. From my vantage point, over the long run, our elected representatives — at any level — have not been lobbied as energetically on binational issues and interests as the subjects deserve.

There is no mechanism to guarantee continuity and to marshal maximum support to pursue strategic objectives, and these objectives which are not theNo. 1 priority of any single regional organization.

With such a roundtable, there could be breakthroughs. The Smart Border Coalition’s annual “Border Innovation Challenge” might be programmatically enhanced so that at last it would start producing outcomes palpably improving border mobility.

A broad, vigorous, permanent public communication and education effort — which has never existed — could be launched with one potential objective: attacking the deeply destructive (and demeaning) negative perceptions imposed on Tijuana by its northern neighbor, as dissected by Kristin Hill Maher and David Carruthers in their book, “Unequal Neighbors: Place Stigma & the Making of a Local Border.”

The roundtable could act consistently as a powerful, creative convener, turbocharging multiple domains ofbinational life, the type of role Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter’s Atlanta center initially used to stake out its own institutional territory and program.It could program regular professional cross-border tours for leaders in all sectors to form full and accurate perceptions of each community and to build friendships and partnerships. It could provide leadership roles to highly qualified regional figures now holding positions of lesser impact.

Thereisgreat, pent-up binational energy, creativity and passion in our region. Will they be focused to move us to a permanently higher threshold of fulfillment? A first, giant step could be collectively hammering out the mission, agenda and case for the Tijuana-San Diego Binational Roundtable.


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