Nobody ever thought keeping a little park open would be so much work. But protecting public access to Friendship Park has turned into a full-time job for members of the Friends of Friendship Park.
After two weeks of uncertainty and an announcement from Border Patrol on March 18 that the park would be closed because of the sequester, Friends of Friendship Park are pleased to announce today that San Diego Sector Chief Paul Beeson has decided that he WILL KEEP THE PARK OPEN to the public.
For decades it was a normal public park, enjoyed by families for Sunday afternoon gatherings. Then DHS built a huge wall. They blocked off Friendship Park, and suddenly Sundays felt like visiting day at a maximum security prison.
Then last fall, in October 2012, Friendship Park opened up again. After many years of negotiating with the San Diego Sector Border Patrol, Friends of Friendship Park were delighted in the fall of 2012 when San Diego Sector Chief Paul Beeson made the decision to staff the park gate. A grand opening was celebrated, featuring elements of a new park design by Jim Brown of PUBLIC Architecture and Planning.
Now Friendship Park is open, Saturdays and Sundays, 10-2, like clockwork.
And so, in the wake of the federal sequester cuts, the Friends of Friendship Park braced themselves for another dramatic interlude. Fortunately, in a rare instance of Congress doing its job to protect the public good, the Border Patrol has been spared from the furloughs and overtime cuts resulting from the sequester.
Thus, Friends of Friendship Park welcomed today the announcement by San Diego Border Patrol Chief Paul Beeson that until further notice routine public access WILL CONTINUE at Friendship Park, the historic meeting place overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the U.S.-Mexico border. Border Patrol staff will ensure that the public will be allowed to visit with family and friends at Friendship Park each Saturday and Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.
While celebrating the news, leaders from the community coalition called on the community to exercise continued vigilance, as Chief Beeson was unable to commit that the park would remain accessible to the public permanently, in light of continuing uncertainty surrounding federal funding of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
“We call on San Diego Border Patrol officials to seek every possible avenue to expand rather than reduce public access to Friendship Park, and to seek every opportunity to invest in good relations with our neighboring ally, Mexico,” said Dan Watman, a member of the Friends of Friendship Coalition.
For generations people from both nations have met at Friendship Park, the only place along the entire US/Mexico border that was established specifically to promote cross border relations. Members of families separated by immigration status often travel great distances to be reunited with their loved ones at this historic location.
Border Patrol reports that the park welcomes 130 visitors per month. And park visitors who drive down from Los Angeles or Riverside to visit with family members who live in Mexico can be assured that the park will be open.
Friendship Park is also a significant cultural and historical landmark for people of both nations, the monument standing at its center marking the spot where the first border marker was set in place at the end of the US-Mexico War.
Leaders from the Friends of Friendship Park community coalition have negotiated in good faith with San Diego Border Patrol officials during the past three years to keep the park open so that the public could visit with friends and relatives at the border fence.
“The decision to think first of closing Friendship Park when threatened with budget cuts reflects a short-sighted view of what the border is all about,” said John Fanestil, another leader of the community coalition.
THE FRIENDS OF FRIENDSHIP PARK is dedicated to the proposition that promoting friendship between Mexico and the United States enhances the security of people living in both nations.