Full Story at San Diego Union Tribune
The first steps in what President Donald Trump hopes will be a new era in border security began Tuesday when construction crews broke ground on prototype designs for a border wall, starting a 30-day sprint to construct eight examples in a fenced-off area on Otay Mesa.
Amid heavy security from state, local and federal agents wary of potential large-scale protests against the controversial project that have not materialized, four of the six private companies that won a national competition to build the designs began work in the morning.
San Diego police officers and county sheriff’s deputies were out in force at intersections and along streets near the entrance to the construction site. Customs and Border Protection officers, Border Patrol agents, the Federal Protection Service and California Highway Patrol were also seen in the area.
Occasionally a flatbed truck with a piece of heavy machinery lumbered down Enrico Fermi Road, swung east and crept slowly down one of the dirt roads that stitch the mesa to the building site. But work at the site on the first day was slow, with only a few trucks and workers there.
Water tankers went in and out of the entrance to the building site, where work was already underway kicking up dust clouds, even with water dousing the dry and dusty location.
Authorities have been preparing the area for weeks, erecting chain-link fences, blocking road access with concrete barriers, installing security cameras and marking designated parking zones. Despite the preparations, authorities would not say when work would be starting, until now.
Despite the concerns of police, there were no protests or demonstrators Tuesday. Agent Roy Villareal, the acting chief agent for the Border Patrol in San Diego, said at an afternoon news conference that protests don’t seem imminent.
“There is nothing that is indicative that a protest is about to occur,” he said. He added that the agency has spoken with local groups that “we anticipate may have an opposing view of the border wall,” and didn’t get any feedback that protests were planned.
That echoes what a spokesman for the advocacy groups Alliance San Diego told The San Diego Union-Tribune Monday. Hiram Soto said his organization and others were not mounting a protest because that wall was “political theater” that had no chance of ever being fully built out, as Trump has promised, because of Congressional opposition and no funding.
Villareal said a free speech area for any protests that may occur would be set up nearby, but the exact location was not confirmed by sheriff’s officials. The location identified by federal officials Tuesday is a dusty, unshaded, weed-choked lot overlooking Otay Mesa and more than 1.5 miles away from construction.
The potential for demonstrations also prompted the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday to pass an ordinance to give the county the power to create special zones where knives, sticks, bats, pepper spray, bricks, and other possible weapons are temporarily prohibited.
The ordinance, which takes effect immediately, allows the county’s chief administrative officer or designee to create “Temporary Area Restrictions” in unincorporated areas of the county where items that could be used as weapons are prohibited. Violators could be charged with a misdemeanor.
The ordinance is intended to protect First Amendment rights while keeping people safe, Supervisor Greg Cox said.
“I think our role is to make sure we provide an area where they can demonstrate if they choose,” he said. “Obviously we want to make sure it’s a peaceful demonstration.”
The law is necessary for the often tense political climate, Supervisor Dianne Jacob said.
“This is a divisive time in our nation’s history. And frankly, we already have a border fence in San Diego so I am not sure why we were targeted to do the prototypes here in San Diego. I think Texas would have been more appropriate, but it is what it is today,” Jacob said.
The city of San Diego has a similar ordinance, and the American Civil Liberties Union said it’s lawful for governments to, in certain circumstances, restrict the size or type of sign displayed if the ability to wave a sign isn’t restricted.
ACLU’s San Diego chapter said on its website that “a city may prohibit the use of metal stakes, clubs, and pipes at rallies, parades, or demonstrations, and it may require that any wooden stakes used for signs must be ¼ inch or less in thickness and 2 inches or less in width. But a city may not entirely prohibit the carrying of signs attached to any wooden or plastic handles.”
Four of the prototypes will be made of concrete while the other four will be made of alternate materials. All of the models will be between 18 to 30 feet high and 30 feet long.