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Garza eager to tackle big issues at City Hall

Friday, January 2, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

In November, Delia Garza was one of the few City Council members elected outright. In addition to being the first person to represent District 2, Garza is also the first Latina to be elected to the Austin City Council.

Last month, Garza sat down with Austin Monitor publisher Mike Kanin to discuss her hopes and plans for the new year, and how she has adjusted to her new role so far.

“I’ve learned I have a lot to learn,” said Garza, adding that she is looking forward to getting to know all of the nuances of City Hall. She is also eager to tackle some of the issues she addressed in her campaign.

Garza said that, on the campaign trail, she heard complaints about traffic and affordability that are shared by the rest of the city; in her district she also heard complaints about inequity of city services.

“They felt that they’ve been ignored, particularly with bus routes and the Project Connect vision. … Some families felt that for quality Parks and Rec programming, they would have to go downtown,” said Garza. “The main thing that I heard was that they didn’t think they had a voice on the Council. And I think that leads to the fact that the voter turnout is so low in that area. They’ve just felt neglected for so long.”

Garza said that she would like to see an audit of the Parks and Recreation services to see where inequities may exist, and then work to address those that are found. Garza also hopes to increase funding in Health and Human Services for the issues that impact her district in particular — such as childhood obesity, food insecurity and limited access to grocery stores.

“I don’t think it would be hard to get that kind of support on Council to address those things. I think everybody would see the benefit of making sure our families are working families,” said Garza.

Garza also prioritizes drawing good jobs with living wages to her district. She emphasized her support for renewable energy projects and factories, though she stressed that her primary concern was bringing living wages for families to the area.

“I feel like so much of the economic development has been concentrated on the north-central corridor and not really on South Austin at all. I feel like in so many ways South Austin has been ignored, and economic development is one of those,” said Garza.

She also hopes to address the affordability issue that dominated most campaigns this past year. Her goal is to prevent working families from leaving Austin because they can no longer afford it, but acknowledged that it is a complex issue. She is reticent to embrace a proposed 20 percent homestead exemption touted by other recently elected Council members, however. Garza noted that, in her district, it would save residents something like $9 a month.

“I’m not absolutely opposed to it,” said Garza. “But I think we should look at other things. I’m concerned about that $36 million coming out of the general fund, because that always comes out of Health and Human Services … and those are the kinds of services I really feel benefit my district.”

Instead, Garza said that she would like to look into lower utility rates, more efficient bus routes and other ways to keep monthly costs down.

Garza also hopes to form an affordability commission that will look at strategies employed by peer cities and ways to increase affordable housing. That is an issue that is especially pressing in District 2, she notes, as 47 percent of the residents there are cost-burdened.

She hopes that having four Council members from South Austin will help the city focus on the transportation needs south of the river.

“Really, my district is one of the districts that depends most on mass transportation, and it needs to be efficient,” said Garza, who plans to take the bus to work at City Hall.

Photo courtesy of The Hall Monitor

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