The El Paso Community College Board of Trustees will create an advisory group in the next few weeks that will meet with and gather input from the public as it endeavors to redraw the college’s single-member district map in time for the May 6, 2023, election.
The Public Redistricting Committee, made up of an applicant from each of EPCC’s seven districts, will work with a legal consultant to prepare proposed redistricting plans for the board based on population figures from the 2020 census, community input and other standing rules.
Among those who have expressed interest in serving on this committee is East Side resident George Ybarra, a self-taught redistricting aficionado who has served on similar city and county committees for the past 30-plus years. District residents may apply through noon Oct. 4.
His guidance to those involved is to engage the public as much as possible and to listen to their input because it will benefit the college and the community.
“My advice would be to make sure these districts are as compact and contiguous as possible, and give special consideration to the communities of interest because we definitely want to keep them together,” Ybarra said. “We don’t want to do like (District) 4. Having a map like that, that’s no good.”
In EPCC’s current District 4, a slim body of land hugs the southern border and stretches approximately 24 miles from Sunset Road in the Upper Valley to Horizon Boulevard, which connects the communities of Socorro, Sparks and Horizon City.
Christina Sanchez represents that district. The Board of Trustees appointed her to that position in January 2019 and she won a six-year term that May. She saw the pros and cons of representing such a diverse district that is home to two EPCC campuses (Rio Grande and Mission Del Paso) and is next to a third (Valle Verde) as she campaigned throughout the district.
Sanchez, who lives near El Paso High School, enjoyed the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and perspectives, but said that her district’s configuration could be better.
“I don’t know what the thought process was before when it was redistricted 10 years ago, but that’s one of the issues that I hope the redistricting commission takes a look at,” she said.
Sanchez said that she appreciates the college’s efforts to involve the community in how the maps are redrawn and to keep its elected officials out of the process. She wants interested people to take a hard look at the numbers and the demographics and ask themselves what makes sense.
Based on the 2020 census figures, the population within the community college boundaries is 865,657, up from just over 800,000 in the 2010 census. That means each district should have a population of about 123,665. There is a rule that allows districts to deviate by up to 10% from most to least populous districts.
These maps are used to define precincts where voters can select trustees who will set policy for the college, hire and fire the president, set the tax rate and approve the budget. Board elections take place every two years for two or three districts.
EPCC Board Chairman Brian Haggerty said he will recommend that the board take a hands-off approach with the redistricting process. He added that the process will need to move quickly as the committee will need to schedule its community meetings around the holidays and submit its proposals by early January 2023.
Haggerty said the new map must be approved before Jan. 17, which is the start of the candidate filing deadline for the May election.
“I want to keep the trustees out of it,” said Haggerty, who has represented EPCC District 2 since being appointed in 1995. He won his first election for this district the next year. District 2 includes Northeast El Paso and parts of Central and a large portion of the West Side. “We just want to make (the districts) balanced.”
The new constituencies will be in place in time for the next board elections for Districts 1 and 7, which cover the West Side and Lower Valley, respectively. John E. Uxer Jr. represents District 1, and Bonnie Soria Najera represents District 7.
EPCC, which opened in 1972, offers 154 degrees and certificates to more than 24,000 students at its five campuses – Mission Del Paso, Northwest, Rio Grande, Transmountain and Valle Verde – as well as its Fort Bliss annex and Administrative Services Center.
The trustees hired the law office of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP to serve as legal consultants for this redistricting project. The firm has a long history of service to governments big and small on such efforts.
Gunnar Seaquist, a Bickerstaff partner, said he will provide the committee members with an overview of their assignment, discuss some of the legal principles they need to follow, and offer any additional support to include geographic information system assistance. He said his goal is to help the committee prepare a plan that best serves the community and complies with the necessary federal standards.
“We give them the nuts and bolts of how it works and then we facilitate the process to let them put together the map that they want to recommend,” Seaquist said.
The college will announce its opportunities for public input and related timelines later this fall.
Daniel Perez covers higher education for El Paso Matters, in partnership with Open Campus.