Chamber delegation inspired by San Diego trip

Source: El Paso Inc.

Astonishing and inspiring are two words El Paso leaders are using to describe what they saw and learned during a two-day visit to San Diego April 30-May 1. The Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce sponsored the trip.
Thirty-six El Pasoans saw for themselves the long-standing and far-reaching partnerships between San Diego and Tijuana, as well as how local governments cooperate when it comes to transportation projects.
The California city was returning the favor after the Baseball on the Border Summit in late March, when San Diego government officials and business executives came to El Paso.
They talked business, got the El Paso tour and took in a ballgame between the Major League San Diego Padres and their Triple-A affiliate, the El Paso Chihuahuas.
El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and others made it clear that they hope the visits are the beginning of a long and productive friendship that will make partners of the U.S. and Mexican cities on the border from San Diego and Tijuana to Brownsville and Matamoros.
“They showed how cooperation and working with Tijuana really works for them,” said Leeser. “So, we’ll continue to work together.
“This was more of a let’s get to know each other opportunity and a chance to learn what our similarities are.”
The city’s delegation included Taylor Moreno, the mayor’s chief of staff, and three department heads.
Leeser said he hopes future trips to the San Diego-Tijuana area will include officials from Juárez and New Mexico, because he and others want to replicate the tight, international working relationship they learned about.

“It may not work the way they do it, but we can look and see what we can implement to make El Paso a friendlier place to do business and work together with our sister city, Juárez,” Leeser said.

San Diego and Tijuana routinely work in tandem, sending representatives from the two cities to Mexico City, Washington or California’s capital, Sacramento, when there are border issues to be addressed.

“I think the El Paso Borderplex Alliance has started many of those things,” said Marybeth Stevens, chair of the Greater Chamber’s board and president of MJD & Associates, a non-profit.

She said she also liked the cross-border health coverage she heard about in Southern California, as well as the innovations in San Diego schools.

Juan Cabrera, superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District, and its board president, Dori Fenenbock, were among the 16 people from the public sector who made the trip.

While the tight working relationships in the San Diego region do involve local governments at all levels, Stevens said, they aren’t led by the public sector.

“Overall, the key takeaway for me was the partnerships, working together on a wider basis, not just countywide but region wide,” she said. “It’s about doing things together, so they make sense whether you’re talking about education, health, infrastructure or economic development incentives.

“The more people who are on board and understand what’s going on, the more success is likely.”
For County Judge Veronica Escobar, the highpoint of the trip was hearing about the San Diego Association of Governments, called SANDAG.

Contrasting the transportation decision making there and El Paso, she said San Diego is the largest of 18 cities on the SANDAG board, along with the county, where transportation dollars go into one pot and each entity gets one vote on how the money is spent.

In El Paso, the city controls transportation spending through the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
“It’s remarkable,” Escobar said. “Everything is pretty objective. Whatever is best for the region, wherever the strategic advantage or the need is, that’s where the money goes.”

The power of the region, including Tijuana, is magnified by the cooperation and unified front the area projects in Mexico City and Washington, she said.

The county’s delegation included commissioners Vince Perez and David Stout, Escobar’s chief of staff Ruben Vogt and Betsy Keller, the interim county administrator.

Richard Dayoub, the president and CEO of the Greater Chamber, was as impressed as the others who went – maybe more.
“It was literally inspiring to see how long San Diego and Tijuana have worked together,” he said. “It inspired us to do much more here.”

El Paso’s eight city representatives were invited to join the trip. District 6 Rep. Claudia Ordaz had signed up to go, but stayed in El Paso to attend the funeral for Leonardo Svarzbein, M.D., father of District 1 city Rep. Peter Svarzbein.

The mayor also went to the funeral, and caught a later flight to San Diego.