About a block from the U.S.-Mexico high-tech border fence that president-elect Donald Trump has pledged to turn into an impregnable wall, a select group of San Diego and Tijuana big-money establishment names are set to gather next week for lunch behind closed doors at a posh restaurant in Tecate.
Fresh on the heels of Trump's first effort to reverse the migration of U.S. manufacturing to Mexico, the members of the board of the so-called Smart Border Coalition face an ostensibly tall order: pushing back against the president-elect's die-hard promise to halt the flow of American jobs to plants in Mexico, long criticized from both right and left, but seldom threatened by the powers that be, especially in San Diego, where fortunes have been made on both sides of the line, from cross-border factories and real estate development.
The members of the board of the Smart Border Coalition are the crème de la crème of the region's well-moneyed free-trader class, each with a stake in defending the North American Free Trade Agreement from liberal would-be reformers and Midwest rust-belt politicos trying to alter the status quo.
"The Coalition is a catalyst to bring together leading academic, business and civic communities from both sides of the San Diego/Tijuana International region to develop databases and policy positions, deliver special events and programs, and growth of the cross-border economy through jobs creation, workforce development and social interaction," per the group's website.
"Tijuana's workforce of nearly 640,000 workers understand quality and global manufacturing requirements — and many are bilingual in English and other languages."
The lucrative arrangement, says the group, "gives companies an offshore competitive advantage while staying nearshore, and on the West Coast of North America."
The coalition’s board, per its website, includes Jeff Light, publisher and editor of the San Diego Union-Tribune, which, like most American newspapers, has editorialized hard against the rise of Trump.
When he was named publisher of the U-T in a chain-wide move earlier this year to consolidate both editorial and publishing functions under a single executive, Light contested claims by critics of the fading newspaper industry that the arrangement was virtually certain to create conflicts between commercial and editorial interests.
"The job is the same," Light said. "To serve the community with integrity. My own principles as a journalist and a businessperson — as well as our company’s code of conduct — are crystal clear on that topic.”
In any case, the paper has been a staunch proponent of NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated by the Obama administration and currently targeted for a quick demise by Trump.
"Republican candidate Donald Trump depicts the North American Free Trade Agreement as a devilish job-destroyer with no upside, and TPP as its cousin," the U-T editorialized in August.
Trump's Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, it added, "has caved in to the Bernie Sanders wing of her party, which depicts trade deals as helping only giant corporations at the expense of workers and consumers."
Light's fellow boardmembers include representatives from a host of San Diego industrial manufacturers with plants in Tijuana and surrounding Mexico environs, including Cubic Corporation, a Kearny Mesa–based military contractor and Solar Turbines, a subsidiary of Caterpillar Corp.
Last year the giant multinational announced it was moving even more jobs from a Joliet, Illinois, plant to a $500 million factory in Monterrey, Mexico. Solar operates Turbotec Tijuana.
Another Smart Border member is Kyocera, a Kyoto, Japan-based firm that pioneered the Mexico manufacturing movement with the assistance of subsequently imprisoned Democratic financier and onetime Jerry Brown associate Dick Silberman.
UCSD chancellor Pradeep Khosla also belongs, as does the tax-funded university’s Mary Walshock, along with a hefty contingent of border real estate developers and Tijuana factory builders.
They are all scheduled to sit down Wednesday, December 7, at Restaurante ASAO, at the Santuario Diegueño hotel in Tecate.
Despite newspaperman Light’s presence, "Board Meetings are by invitation only," notes the group's website. We have a call in to executive director James Clark for more details.