More than 20,000 pedestrians come across the border into the neighborhood each day; San Ysidro should be booming with commercial redevelopment. But it’s not.
“SANDAG and SDMTS are spending millions to improve transportation for people who pass through on their way somewhere else,” said David Flores. “We are asking them to put some of that money into our community.”
Flores, community development director of Casa Familiar, and San Ysidro Planning Group members have drafted a letter that asks the two regional transportation agencies for a community benefits package. They have a wish list that includes public art, overhead shades for people waiting for buses and trolleys outside and funding for parks near the stops. They’d like to see contributions to the community health studies — San Ysidro is affected by the number of idling vehicle engines waiting to cross the border.
Flores’s letter asks for a five percent benefits package. (He did not respond to calls and emails for more information after his presentation.)
(SANDAG says it’s not involved with the Intermodal Transit Center, though the agency did study it in 2014-2015.)
What’s driving the request is that MTS, while building the Intermodal Transit Center at the southernmost U.S. trolley stop, hasn’t looked at what impact it will have on the community of San Ysidro.
“We find out last. We’re always trying to catch up,” Flores says.
MTS has set up a bus route from Virginia Street to move pedestrians from PedWest, with two bus routes to shuttle transit users to the trolley stop across the bridge at the San Ysidro Port of Entry.
It’s one of most heavily used stations in the MTS system — about 10,000 riders a day — according to MTS statistics.
The new border crossing on Virginia Street, immediately east of the Outlet Mall, opened in July 2017 and is heavily used. Construction at the eastern crossing has made it more difficult and pedestrians say the new entry is nicer.
When the new border crossing opened, many of the 20,000 people crossing the border each day switched to the west crossing, leaving the merchants, the stores along San Ysidro Boulevard where they’ve never been before: empty.
The outlets, meanwhile, have seen a significant uptick in sales, and that’s frustrating for merchants on East San Ysidro Blvd., according to San Ysidro Chamber of Commerce CEO Jason Wells.
But Wells says many of the people coming through PedWest are coming specifically to shop at the malls along Camino de la Plaza west of the freeway, where stores range from Ralph Lauren and Coach at Las Americas, the Vitamin Shoppe and T.J.Maxx just west of Las Americas and at the Marshalls, Dollar Tree and Ross in the mall on the north side of the street.
The chamber worked with the federal General Services Administration during project design, he says.
“PedWest came from our desk,” Wells said.
There are other problems with the eastern businesses, but the loss of foot traffic is the biggest problem, according to Bertha Gonzalez, who runs a business on East San Ysidro Blvd. Her shop serves as a postal delivery location, does tax preparation and immigration services. Gonzalez blames MTS decisions on routes for the downturn, saying they didn’t talk to the community.
“We are the orphans of San Ysidro,” she says. “Nobody listens to us.”
Gonzalez, a long-ago cofounder of the chamber, says she used to have 11 employees, but with the two years of construction at the border, she can only afford to have four.
“I am not crying,” she said. “I am demanding some attention be paid to small businesses.”
Wells says the chamber supports the businesses and recognizes some are struggling, but the problems do not rest entirely with PedWest.
“If you want to go to the outlets, you’re probably not shopping for what’s being offered on East San Ysidro,” he says. “Some of the businesses were hurt when Mexico lifted its embargo against Chinese goods. Others just seem to be stuck in 1985. But two years (of construction diversion) is a long time, especially when rent is month-to-month.”
The chamber is working with the Urban Land Institute to develop a cohesive vision for the area, Wells said.
Once construction on the east entrance is completed, Wells says it will resume being the main border crossing. The last update for the eastern crossing in the $741 million project is sometime this summer, according to the federal General Services Administration.
“Two years is a very long time (for the businesses)” Wells says. “But Ped East is, was and always will be the main crossing.”