As they mount a longshot bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, San Diego and Tijuana are playing down their shortcomings by playing up a new spirit of cross-border civic pride.
San Diego Mayor Bob Filner said he and his Tijuana counterpart, Carlos Bustamante, hope to name a cross-border planning committee within the next week and unveil a logo. He appealed to Mitt Romney to serve as honorary chairman, but the 2012 Republican presidential nominee declined with an offer to provide advice.
For Filner, the bid is part of a broader effort to build closer ties with a Mexican border city separated by an overwhelming presence of Border Patrol agents and two fences one topped with coiled razor wire. A bid would force the cities to examine their strengths and weaknesses together and assess infrastructure in a region of about 5 million people.
"Even if we lose, we win," said Filner, a former congressman who was elected to a four-year term in November.
Bustamante, who leaves office at the end of this year, embraced the idea when Filner announced it at a ceremony in February to open a city of San Diego office in Tijuana. The Mexican leader said a bid would enhance the region's image.
"Obviously we would need infrastructure on both sides of the border, but it seems very feasible," Bustamante said last week.
The cross-border bid comes as many American tourists shun Tijuana, even as its restaurant and arts scene flourishes. High-profile displays of drug-fueled violence, like beheadings and shootouts, remain high in parts of Mexico but they have all but stopped in Tijuana.
The U.S. Olympic Committee is talking to 10 cities about a possible bid, including San Diego-Tijuana. Scott Blackmun, the chief executive, said last week that the committee hadn't looked carefully at the cross-border proposal but that it would "have its challenges."
The International Olympic Committee does not allow for bordering countries to host Summer Games, an apparently insurmountable hurdle unless the charter is changed. Two countries can host the Winter Games "on an exceptional basis" when geography or topography prevent one country from holding certain events.
San Diego philanthropist Malin Burnham said the U.S. Olympic Committee doomed a bid he led to bring the Summer Games to San Diego-Tijuana in 2016, determining 10 years ahead of the date that there wasn't enough time to amend the IOC charter. A planning committee had raised $300,000 and hired architectural firm HOK to develop a proposal, which Filner says will serve as a starting point for the 2024 bid.
Waiting times that often exceed three hours at the nations' busiest border crossing present another potential deal-breaker. Mexico completed a major upgrade last year of the San Ysidro port of entry, but the U.S. has yet to fully fund its part of the project, estimated at $732 million.
"If we had the Olympics tomorrow, we could not operate it across the border in its current environment," Burnham said.
The 2016 plan, which was never formally submitted, called for $1 billion to build sport venues, said Brad Raulston, who served as the committee's staff director. San Diego's National Football League stadium and Tijuana's soccer stadium were in the mix. San Diego's Balboa Park would accommodate cycling and archery and its Mission Bay would host rowing and tennis.
San Diego, which has hosted the America's Cup and three Super Bowls, would likely offer the U.S. Olympic Training Center in suburban Chula Vista in its 2024 bid. Tijuana's High-Performance Center might host gymnastics and aquatic competitions.
Backers of the 2016 bid considered a trolley that would run deep into Tijuana, said Raulston, which, he acknowledged, would be a challenge for immigration authorities.
"When you talk to people (about the Olympics), they love the idea," he said. "When you get into the mechanics, it gets really complicated."
The USOC has said it will decide by the end of 2014 whether to submit a bid. Los Angeles host of the 1984 and 1932 Summer Games Philadelphia and Tulsa, Okla., have also expressed interest and New York and San Francisco are possible contenders.
Filner, a Democrat, said Romney, who owns an oceanfront home in San Diego's La Jolla area and oversaw the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, would lend "instant credibility." Eric Fehrnstrom, an aide to the former Massachusetts governor, said Romney would offer advice but "does not intend to take a management position."
Baja California Gov. Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan enthusiastically supports the bid, said Francisco Garcia Burgos, his top aide. Backers have not yet asked for support from Mexico's federal government, he said.
Even political adversaries are lining up. Kevin Faulconer, a Republican on the San Diego City Council who has sparred with Filner, had only praise.
"We're going to have our differences on a lot, but this is the type of issue that gets people excited about the art of the possible," he said.
AP Sports Writer Stephen Wilson in London contributed to this report.