Nathanson said contributing to the region's future economic success will be the full integration of the two-party political system in Mexico. Such a system, he said, will allow for the creation of a middle class through the development of a system of credit that will allow for homeownership, student loans and the building of infrastructure. He said it will be similar to what happened in the United States after World War II.
Nathanson said a linchpin to the long-term economic development between the Valley and the San Diego region will be the water transfer between the areas.
That comment did not sit well with Imperial Irrigation District Director Stella Mendoza.
"The economic benefits from the water transfer benefit San Diego far more than they benefit the Imperial Valley," Mendoza said. "I'm looking at long term for the Imperial Valley. Without our water, which is a likelihood, you look down the road 20, 30, 50 years, where are we going to be? What about our economic development? We can't sell our most precious commodity. We can't do that."
Mendoza said the Valley should continue its political alignment with the Southern California Association of Governments rather than shift to the west and align with the San Diego Association of Governments because SCAG — which includes the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside, Ventura and Imperial and their 184 cities — has more political clout.
"His speech frightens me," Mendoza said.
Orlando Foote Jr., chairman of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. board of directors and a local attorney, said it does not matter with whom the Valley forges relationships as long as the result is further economic growth.
"Whatever it takes, we need to realize that we cannot continue to rely on our own region," he said.
Foote said he agreed with much of what Nathanson said, particularly regarding the demise of the maquiladora industry in Mexicali as its goods reach smaller and smaller markets.
During Wednesday's dinner, John Anderson, county superintendent of public schools, formally took over as the El Centro chamber president.
Before joining San Diego Dialogue, Nathanson held a variety of academic positions and was a member of the press. He earned his bachelor's degree from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from Brandeis University. He has taught sociology at Brandeis, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of California, San Diego. His journalism career included work as I.F. Stone's assistant at I.F. Stone's Weekly in Washington, D.C. and as an assistant city editor at the Detroit Free Press.
Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.