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One Perfect Day In Otay Mesa East

Dystopia is perhaps the best way to describe Otay Mesa. Located along the furthest reaches of San Diego County along the U.S.-Mexico border, the area is also the last bastion of open land.

The San Diego County government wants more industry to come to this area. Indeed, if South Bay wants industrial jobs, here’s where you’ll find them. The County owns large areas of the land, which is still unincorporated. Developers also want to create more housing in this area.

Why come to Otay Mesa? Because it’s not like a regular jaunt to Balboa Park, that’s why. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • The Otay Detention Facility. The old building located on a mesa. This is where detainees go when they have illegally crossed into the United States and are apprehended. It’s hard to get a tour, probably because the existence of the detention center has been so controversial in the media.
  • Driving down from the mesa and the old detention facility, on one side you’ll see BLM land. The mountain is rugged and there’s an opening where Border Patrol once took me off road in their SUV to show me Boundary Monument #251.
  • On the other side is the infamous Donovan State Prison. A foreboding and vast structure that opened in 1987, you can see the facility from many outlook points. This also happens to be where Shirhan Shirhan has lived for the last two years (the assassin of Bobby Kennedy).
  • Toward the bottom of the mesa and directly across the street from the prison, you can eat a lovely meal at the Alta Cafe. The food is divine and the atmosphere feels like a science-fiction movie. The view overlooks the electric plant and the new Otay Mesa Detention Facility.
  • The Border Patrol also holds monthly public auctions of automobiles they have impounded at the U.S.-Mexico border. There are also other auto auctions every Saturday.
  • The area is all industrial and commercial today. This trek of land has a mystique of having underground tunnels created by drug dealers. It also has the dark aura of having had security companies such as Blackwater setting up shop here. More often than not, however, the buildings house very benign manufacturing industries such as Sony, Jensen Meat and Honeywell. The grandness of the buildings can make you lose your way quickly.
  • Further along from Alta Cafe you’ll also notice the recycling center. Take a right turn and you’ll see the truck lots. This area was once farmland with no border wall to speak of. Professor Steve Schoenherr has identified most of the farms that existed during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when mostly German immigrants settled this area. As time went on, sheep herders from Mexico would take their flock to graze back and forth along the open border.
  • From there, head on to Brown Field, which is a kind of ghost town. The area was once home to artists. The cafe and Jet Engine Museum have placards on the outside, but they always seem to be closed.
  • Behind Brown Field is where you’ll find “The Hill”. A bevy of auto wrecking, auto recycling and auto salvaging companies press together and sell their used parts. You can’t roam around their lots anymore due to liability issues. You go inside their trailer offices, ask for parts, and they’ll look it up on a computer. The area is brimming with activity every weekend. During the week and weekend, you can also enjoy some excellent food trucks.
  • BunkersAcross from what used to be called the “junkyards” and next to Brown Field, you’ll find dirt roads that lead to storage space and a Border Patrol building. Next to it, you’ll find an abandoned ammunitions bunker. Grassed over, the space is empty with a door that says, “Explosives”. It’s an interesting historic site.
  • A windy two-lane road takes you from The Hill down to the Amphitheater and into the car dealerships of Main Street. Up the hill on the North side of Main street, more auto salvage and auto recycling companies flank the hills that lead to the Otay Landfill. It’s surprisingly not-smelly, although that might not be the case this week since the humpback whale carcass was dumped here.
  • Industrial zones are often overlooked as spaces to visit. However, they are our neighborhoods and they provide important services. We, the public, also have a say in how the land will be used. An Otay Mesa Planning Group meets regularly to talk about issues, such as the fact that currently developers would like to create around 6,000 residential homes near the truck port of entry.

What do you think of that? Check out an interesting article by Voice of San Diego about planning and Otay Mesa. Most importantly, it’s good to know about this area because you’ll see an explosion of development here within the coming years.


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