Advertisement

Design team suggests Friendship Park fencing at U.S.-Mexico border can be repaired rather than replaced

A man at a border wall.
Henry Quinto, 20, speaks by phone this summer with his father, whom he sees in the distance through the U.S.-Mexico border wall near Friendship Park. Quinto hadn’t seen his father in about seven years.
(Ana Ramirez / San Diego Union-Tribune)
Share

With construction on a border barrier replacement project paused, a design team organized by advocates for Friendship Park that runs between Imperial Beach and Tijuana has recommended that the federal government not go through with its plans to erect 30-foot walls at the historic binational meeting place.

The recommendation is the latest move in a back-and-forth between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and advocates over the park’s future.

Located at the edge of California’s Border Field State Park, in the southwesternmost corner of the United States, Friendship Park lies between two layers of fencing. It has long been a place for families separated by border policy to meet, talk and touch fingers between the metal mesh of the fencing.

Advertisement

In August, CBP paused its plan to replace the current roughly 18-foot barrier with a 30-foot structure on both layers of border wall after the advocacy group Friends of Friendship Park raised alarms about what the project could mean for the area.

CBP previously justified its construction plans as a means to replace deteriorated barriers that are no longer structurally safe.

James Brown, a San Diego architect and member of a specially convened design team, presented the group’s findings from a two-day summit in a virtual call last week with community members. He said that the team, consisting of designers, architects and a city planner, sent a letter detailing the results of that summit to CBP in October.

“We didn’t trust that Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection would do the appropriate outreach,” Brown said.

When asked about the design team’s feedback, CBP said that the construction was still paused.

“CBP paused barrier construction and repairs in the area surrounding Friendship Park, a half-acre binational park located along the United States-Mexico border in the San Diego-Tijuana region, on August 8, 2022, to engage with community stakeholders and discuss planned construction to rebuild barrier sections in this area requiring repair,” the agency said via an unnamed spokesperson. “Construction currently remains paused on the Friendship Circle Project as CBP continues to evaluate community stakeholder feedback.”

Brown described the effort made by the team over two days in September at San Diego State University, noting that the team met with representatives from CBP on both mornings. The team incorporated feedback from community members and other stakeholders that amounted to more than 30 pages of single-spaced commentary, he said. In the afternoons, community members were again invited into the session to offer more feedback.

The team took into account how the area is used by a variety of people, he said, ranging from hikers and visiting families to border agents, paramedics and even artists and religious groups.

In the end, the team made a series of recommendations. First, and the most emphasized by Brown, the team said that the border barrier should not grow any taller than its current height. Brown said the team found that much of the current structure could be salvaged and repaired, which among other benefits would save the federal government money.

“With moderate structural retrofitting, these fences do not constitute a threat to health, safety and welfare,” Brown said, reading the letter the team sent to CBP.

The team also found that 30-foot barriers would “decimate the fragile hospitality of Friendship Park.” The group also said the taller structures could lead to an increase in injuries and deaths in the area, as hospitals have observed in other parts of San Diego where the 30-foot replacement wall has been installed.

“This meeting place is historic and crucial to families that have no other way to meet face to face,” Brown read from the letter. “Imagine meeting your grandchild for the first time. No Zoom or phone call can take the place of an in-person meeting.”

The team noted several features that had been added to the park over the years, including a rolling gate that allows access to the park that members advised CBP to repair and maintain.

The recommendations included a site plan that Brown said “projects cooperation while maintaining security.” He said it encouraged CBP to add shade structures, more native plants and places for people to sit.

Brown said he doesn’t know if or when the group will receive a response from CBP.

John Fanestil, a member of Friends of Friendship Park, said that other prominent voices — including faith leaders, educators, medical professionals and politicians — had also sent letters to CBP during the pause.

He said he was concerned by the sudden and forced resignation of Chris Magnus, who was CBP commissioner at the time the construction project was paused. The resignation injects uncertainty into the situation, Fanestil said.


Advertisement