In Presidio, new regional initiative could finally yield accurate addresses

PRESIDIO — What’s the matter with Presidio addresses? Malynda Richardson, the EMS director for the city, can count the ways.

There are the streets with similar names, like Rosedale Street (which runs east-west), Rosedale Avenue (which also runs east-west, but a block north) and Rosedale Drive (which runs north-south on the other side of town). Years ago, in an effort to honor service members, Presidio city leaders also renamed some streets after local veterans. But the plan had a drawback: it gave some streets multiple names, like Harrington Street, which also goes as Jose Rodriguez.

Those are just the problems with street names themselves. For the purposes of addressing, the city typically considers a house to be on whichever block its front door faces. But many of the houses were built before Presidio incorporated in 1981 and have front doors that face perpendicular to (or even away from) the nearest road. And many residents have subdivided their lots — sometimes informally — adding mobile homes or even apartment units.

Without a consistent addressing system, utility providers — from Big Bend Telephone to American Electric Power — have assigned addresses to customers, but they don’t always match with one another, or with the addresses given by the city. Add the fact that Presidio has few street signs and that many Presidio EMS workers come from outside the region, and you’ve got a “complete mess,” Richardson says.

“Finding a house here is problematic,” she said. “Even if you’ve got the right street, you don’t know if you’ve got the right house.”

With many houses lacking formal block numbers, even Richardson sometimes gets lost. Like that one time EMS workers received a call with a rough address and instructions to go to the white trailer with Christmas lights.

But it was Christmas Eve, and that description didn’t narrow it down much. “I woke up some poor little old lady by knocking on her door,” Richardson said. “It was the white trailer two houses down with Christmas lights.”

Consistent addressing is a problem throughout the region, where informal living situations and a lack of mail delivery leave some residents without an address, or with many. But in Presidio — the biggest city in Presidio County, and one with an older and more vulnerable population — those problems can be particularly acute. Richardson estimates that in some cases, the issues can cause response delays of more than five minutes.

“That’s time you delay in getting to a person who needs help,” she added. “If you can’t find them, it delays care.”

Decades ago, state and federal lawmakers mandated consistent 911 addressing for homes. But for previous city leadership, “it just wasn’t a priority,” said City Administrator Joe Portillo.

Portillo himself has multiple addresses. It’s a problem not just for emergency workers or records keepers, he points out, but for delivery services like UPS and Amazon.

“There’s plenty of blame to go around,” Portillo said. “I’m just excited the process is moving forward.”

Now, Presidio’s addressing problems could finally get fixed. In June, the Rio Grande Council of Governments started a “data maintenance project” with the goal of straightening out Presidio street numbers.

Jesus Hermosillo, a technician with the council of governments, is working with a team of four to fix the problems, including two Presidio high school students hired through Workforce Solutions Borderplex. Hermosillo last week updated city council on the progress. The group hopes to have standard addresses for all Presidio residents by September.

Efforts to bring consistent addresses to the region date back to the mid-1990s, said Annette Gutierrez, executive director at the Rio Grande Council of Governments. She blames the long wait not on a “lack of will,” but on the “difficult task” of the project.

“It’s a stark reminder to everyone that this function is not an easy task to accomplish,” she said. “There are still many areas that are just not up to par.”

The council of governments is also working on fixing addresses in other nearby towns, including Shafter, said Marisa Quintanilla, a region director who’s helping the project. But for this particular project, they’re focused on Presidio.

Quintanilla cites a range of difficulties, from stolen street signs and vacant lots to zigzagging streets. Many people don’t know their official address — or worse, insist on using an address that doesn’t match the council’s records.

“Our biggest challenge is individuals not wanting to adopt the address given to them,” she said. People, she said, say things like: “I’ve been here since day one, and by golly, my address is going to be this.”

Richardson, the EMS director, is familiar with the addressing issues throughout the region. At her house in Terlingua, she points out, she and her neighbors use completely different numbers and street names in their addresses.

But as an emergency worker, Richardson also knows how important consistent addresses are. And as Hermosillo and others work to fix the problems in Presidio,  she said with a laugh, they have “my complete sympathies.”

“He’s got a big job, but I think he’s a good one to do it,” she added. “It’s something that really needs to be done.”