Another terrific article in the news today about our efforts to negotiate with the Border Patrol for public access to Friendship Park.
Border Patrol and Friendship Park advocates compromise on design
By ELIZABETH AGUILERA MONDAY, FEBRUARY 28, 2011 AT 7:04 P.M.
Future visitors to Friendship Park along the border with Mexico in southwestern San Diego County may be able to chat intimately with family across the border fence and sit in the park where access has been limited since the Border Patrol secured the area with additional fencing a few years ago.
Negotiations between the enforcement agency and a group called Friends of Friendship Park advanced recently to a compromise that includes mesh fencing, a poured concrete bench and a larger access gate into the area, said San Diego architect James Brown, principal at Public Architecture and Planning and a member of the Friends group.
“It’s built between highly militarized zones but it is providing the opportunity for people to meet and it’s going to become an important symbol of our friendship with Mexico,” Brown said. “Because it exists in this really harsh environment it might become a sacred place.”
The Friends group, which represents the area around Friendship Circle known as Friendship Park along the most southwest portion of the border near the beach, has been working to increase access to the area since the Border Patrol built a secondary fence in 2009.
Public access to the park has been limited ever since because the park was left squarely in the area between the primary and secondary fencing.
Only after negotiations did the park open to the public on weekends between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.. A maximum of 25 people are allowed into the area at a time and individuals can only stay in the park for 30 minutes at a time. An additional rod iron fence erected near the primary fencing in the Circle keeps visitors from touching fingers or passing items to one another. Friendship Park is accessible through Borderfield State Park or from the beach south ofImperial Beach.
A plan to replace the 1,200 foot fence line in the area of Friendship Park, called Surf Fence Project by the Border Patrol, included a slat-like metal fencing design with spaces in between the slats and additional barriers to keep visitors from approaching the fence, said Kelly Good, assistant chief patrol agent for the San Diego Border Patrol Sector.
Now, the fencing will be made with a taut metal mesh that allows people to see and talk to one another but is so tightly woven that no items can be passed through the fencing, Good said. Under the new plan visitors will not be able to touch but they will be able to stand much closer to the fence line.
“All the agreed upon changes still take the security into account and the safety of our agents,” said Kelly Good, assistant chief patrol agent for the San Diego Border Patrol Sector. It’s a little more aesthetically pleasing to them so that people will enjoy it more.”
The way the new fencing will be erected will leave the boundary monument on the Mexican side of the fence despite its position on the boundary line, Brown said. This set up allows U.S. agents to do necessary repairs and other work on the south side of the fence and still be in the U.S., Good said.
The Friends group would like the monument to be accessible on the U.S. side but Brown said it’s unclear if that would be possible because of the Border Patrols need to access the south side of the fencing.
Brown created the park-like design the activist group pitched to Border Patrol, which includes a large entry point to the park area. Currently a single door allows entry to the park.
Border Patrol agreed to the proposed entry gate which could open as wide as 60-feet or be completely shut for security reasons, Good said.
“We want to continue to have dialogue with all of these groups. If people are going to go down there we’ll support that,” as long as security concerns are met, Good said.
A plan to build a canopy over the area has also been given over to the Friends group for design, Brown said. Border Patrol proposed installation of a metal screen over the Circle area; instead Brown designed a fabric-mesh style canopy, which he said is a little softer and less cage-like.
The agency and the activists are still in negotiations about beach and binational garden access, Brown said.
“We are not working toward the same goals, but at least we are working together,” Brown said.
Construction is expected to begin by the summer and be completed by the end of the year, according to the Border Patrol.
To see the Friends of Friendship Park design click here.