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Tijuana Offers Tips to Student Revelers

Times Staff Writer

The kids are coming. And this year, officials vowed Wednesday, this border city will be ready.

With bars, discotheques and restaurants already gearing up for the onslaught of spring-break revelers from the United States, authorities from Tijuana and San Diego conducted a strategy meeting Wednesday to discuss “unprecedented” preparations to deal with impending arrival of America’s youth.

Protection Stepped Up

Among other things, officials vowed, police protection will be increased on both sides of the border, ambulances and hospitals will be put on alert, assorted “rescue” squads will be mobilized and, in a novel twist, visitors will be provided with brochures outlining some “dos” and “don’ts” south of the border.

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Tijuana authorities have already begun a crackdown on drinking establishments that are not properly licensed or that serve alcohol after the mandatory 3 a.m. closing.

“We hope Easter Week will be a safe week,” said Sergio Lujan Chavez, who oversees the Tijuana civil-protection office.

If it sounds like an invasion, that’s exactly the way Mexican law-enforcement authorities are treating it.

And they’re not alone. San Diego police say they will be on the lookout for inebriated youths returning to the United States after late-night forays south of the border. (Most revelers park their cars on the U. S. side and enter Mexico as pedestrians, a situation that presents obvious traffic hazards as the youths return to San Diego and attempt to drive north, often as far as Los Angeles.)

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“We’re going to be on the lookout for people coming across under the influence or being particularly rowdy,” said Dave Cohen, a San Diego police spokesman, who added that police will bolster patrols on San Diego-area beaches during the spring break.

Growing in Popularity

Tijuana may not be as storied a spring-break destination as Ft. Lauderdale or Palm Springs, but more and more teen-agers are flocking to the border city. Tijuana’s image as a bastion of sleaze for servicemen and single males has gradually been giving way to new popularity as a mecca for U. S. teen-agers of both sexes attracted by its glitzy bars, sybaritic atmosphere, generally inexpensive good times and 18-year-old drinking age. (One has to be 21 to purchase alcoholic beverages in California.) Tavern owners have been quick to change their pitch in a city where tourism is the No. 1 industry.

Farther south, Ensenada is appealing to a similar crowd. Adding to the allure are miles of stunning coast, dotted with sandy beaches.

On most Friday and Saturday evenings, hordes of the college-age partiers converge on this city with fun on their minds. The traffic of those seeking solace in the south is expected to intensify beginning Friday, as students on break join the fun.

Often, the inebriated youths must be carried back across the border by colleagues. Many appear to regard Tijuana and other Mexican border cities as wide-open party towns where inhibitions can be shed and anything goes. Not so. Mexican authorities warn that many infractions--notably drug offenses--may carry stiffer sentences south of the border than in the United States.

“We’ve got some very strict laws here,” noted Julio Tejera, a spokesman for Mayor Federico Valdez Martinez. “We want people to have fun, but we want them to obey the law.”

More than a few end up in the city jail, a bleak and noisy barracks downtown. Comprehending the Mexican legal system can be a daunting task for a foreigner who speaks limited Spanish.

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Nudists Go Home

A piece of advice from the brochure: “Loud cursing, throwing bottles, littering and nudism are not appreciated in Mexico (you may be arrested).”

Officials have also vowed to cut down on the extortion of tourists, which has been a longtime problem in Mexico.

“We want to exploit tourism, not the tourist,” said William Yu Cong, president of the city’s Tourism and Conventions Committee.

A tip from the brochure: “No law official is authorized to take money from you. Do not hand over money.”

And: “Bribery in Mexico is considered a violation--avoid it.”

The latter is in line with recent declarations from the city’s new police chief, Jose Francisco Mora Rodarte, who has already announced his intention to end police corruption. Such statements, usually followed by quick firings of certain “bad elements"--Mora said he had already dumped more than 50 police officers for sundry violations in his seven weeks on the job--are pro forma in large Mexican cities, where official bribery and corruption is widespread but always condemned, particularly by new administrations pledged to “moral renovation.”

“We’re prepared to give better protection and better service,” said Mora, appearing at the strategy session of area law-enforcement and tourism officials seeking to prepare for the arrival of the young U. S. vacationers. “But the tourists must know that we have laws, too.”

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