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According to figures released yesterday, San Diego's homebuilding market is continuing its nightmarish decline since the glory days of the mid-aughts: housing starts were down 47% in October from the same month in 2005. But as recent discoveries have indicated, there is at least one bright spot for the local construction industry: tunnels.

"It's an exciting time to be in the tunnel business," says Arturo Ramos, owner of Mole Man Contractors in Otay Mesa. "Demand has never been higher, and when people see that, they want to be a part of it. We're attracting some of the best engineers and designers in the business, people who understand the challenges we face in building unobtrusive sub-transnational product delivery systems. People who can offer innovative solutions to those challenges."

Ramos notes with pride that his company's recently discovered drug tunnel has been called "the most sophisticated ever found" by both Mexican and U.S. authorities. "The elevators, the electric rail system, the support structure - all of it was the result of the brilliant team we've put together here at Mole Man. Nobody thought we'd be able to get all the necessary systems into such a small space. But I said, 'If Apple can put 1000 songs on an iPod, we can put ventilation into this cramped crawlspace under the border. We just have to think different.' And I promise that our next one will be even better - and harder to find."

Ramos also pointed to an ancillary boom brought on by his recent successes: luxury tunnels for private homes. "Often, the well-to-do want to be able to come and go without having to be seen by the everyday people walking around on the earth's surface. These tunnels make that possible. They can also be used to receive deliveries of materials that might otherwise attract unwanted attention. Rich people need to get high, too, you know."

And of course, money people are not satisfied with a simple concrete tube. "We've been able to bring in elements that are not only beautiful, but functional. The pillars you see here? Every one of them is load-bearing. The stone floor conducts radiant heat. At Mole Man, we really are building the tunnel of tomorrow."

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