Updated: Gavilan districts ‘will change the dynamics’ on board

Veteran Andrew Herrin waves to family and friends during the Gavilan College graduation ceremony Friday.

Gavilan College trustees have supported making changes to the way voters elect them, a trustee confirmed.
Community college district trustees voted 7-0 at last week’s board meeting in support of a proposal to have seven distinct voting districts in place by the November 2016 election, Board President Walt Glines confirmed by email. Currently, voters elect three trustees at-large from the Hollister area, two from Gilroy and two from Morgan Hill. Looking forward, trustees will have to pick district lines from options presented by a demographer.
Trustees at last week’s meeting briefly discussed the item, and no one from the public spoke, noted Glines, from Gilroy.
Other trustees chimed in after the vote as well.
“It was not an easy vote to make because we do know it will change the dynamics on the board,” said Trustee Kent Child, a Hollister representative.
But Trustee Lois Locci, who also represents Hollister, called the decision “long past due.”
“It’s a way of catching up with where the world is today,” she told the Free Lance on Tuesday afternoon. “Just unfortunately, it took longer than it should have. That’s my position.”
Gavilan officials are making the move in response to the California Voting Rights Act requiring fair representation of all protected minority communities. There have been similar cases locally with legal threats looming without changes.
“Gavilan has never had any litigation. There has certainly been rumors about potential mitigation,” Child said. “It has not been prompted by a particular individual or group suing the district.”
Child referenced the San Benito Health Care District. That district in late March voted in favor of moving to voting districts—and away from an at-large process—largely duplicating the geographic makeup of San Benito County board districts redrawn after the 2010 census. It came after a law firm filed a lawsuit demanding district elections.
“There was that looming probability of fiscal liability that our small district would find hard pressed to absorb the cost of,” Child said.
For San Benito County, the change may mean less representation on the board. Currently, three of the seven trustees come from the Hollister area, due to a decision made when the Gavilan Joint Community District was created almost 50 years ago, Child explained. When San Benito County Junior College collaborated with Santa Clara County to create a school district serving a population large enough to receive funding under the state’s new rules at the time, the potential district went to both counties for voter approval, Child said.
“The carrot that was dangled in front of the voters in San Benito County was that they would have three of the seven seats of the board that was created,” he said.
Locci was not sure if the newly drawn districts would mean less representation for San Benito County, as Child suggested.
“That’s what everyone seems to think,” she said. “We have to wait to see the way the demographer proposes a few options for us.”
While Child voted in favor of the changes due to the potential costs of litigation and the strong likelihood that the changes might be mandated in coming legislation, he personally thought the current system “has served the district very well.” The decision last week was the board’s choice to confront the inevitable, get ahead and move on, he said.
“The negative is the potential loss of the global view,” he said.
The new system would mean trustees will serve more focused groups of constituents.
“And the arguments that people put forward in support of at-large voting are not convincing to me,” said Locci, who argued against the idea that officials elected in the at-large process represent the interests of all their constituents.
Child added that the changes might make trustee positions accessible to more people since the cost of printing optional campaign statements in voters’ guide booklets for the two-county district is about $2,000 and would be less now that trustees represent smaller areas, he said.
For Locci, the change is long overdue and she has seen people of certain groups, especially Latinos, give up running for the office, she said. She doesn’t believe getting a Latino in office will necessarily fix all the current problems, she said. 
“It’s symbolic. It’s a way of saying San Benito County is catching up. And there’s no way to say a Latino an Asian or anybody else will represent a district—now we’ll call it a district—any better or any worse,” she said.
Editor Kollin Kosmicki contributed to this report.

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