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Delia Garza recalls 2019 as a good year

Friday, December 20, 2019 by Jo Clifton

The year 2019 has been a good year for Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza. The former firefighter pushed hard for new fire stations for her District 2 constituents, and she got a great birthday present on June 5 when the city broke ground on a new station for the Del Valle/Moore’s Crossing area.

“It was a great birthday present because that fire station was not slated to be built for at least 10 years,” she told the Austin Monitor. But Garza fought for the changes and that one station moved up the ladder. However, the city is not keeping up with its firefighting needs. “This will continue to be a problem as the city sprawls,” Garza said, “and even more of a problem with revenue caps,” as the city struggles to find money to fund new stations.

In the meantime, Garza’s Del Valle constituents now have a new temporary fire station because Sen. Kirk Watson arranged for the city to revamp an old Texas Highway 130 tollbooth that wasn’t being used. Garza said renovating the tollbooth only cost the city about $50,000 and included an oven and workout facilities for the firefighters.

Area homeowners have faced having to pay an extra $1,000 a year in insurance premiums because their homes are too far from fire stations. Garza said those premiums would go down after the improvements have been in place for a year.

Garza is also pleased that the city will be able to fund a new child care facility with the establishment of a new Municipal Court station in Southeast Austin while the city is renovating the downtown Municipal Court.

“It’s a good thing that people in Southeast Austin have any access to any municipal service,” she said. “It takes time to get to where there’s actually shovels and groundbreaking and … I feel like this was a good year to see the fruits of that work.”

Additionally, Garza said she was happy that the city would be providing a one-time investment in pre-K classes for both the Austin and Del Valle school districts.

As for the big issues citywide, Garza cites decriminalizing homeless camping and the revision of the Land Development Code. “I think it’s always hard to tackle these incredibly difficult challenges and explain them in 10 words. And there was so much misinformation on this it became very difficult. … Our no sit/no lie ordinances were hurting those in poverty,” she said, recalling city audit reports that criticized the city’s efforts in the area.

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently declined to hear an appeal from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturning a similar camping ban in Boise, Idaho. The non-decision gives more ammunition to those who supported overturning the ban, but does not prevent the state of Texas from trying to enact something similar.

Even though the vote to repeal the ordinances was taken early in the morning after a long night of meeting, Garza said the timing was not intended to prevent the public from knowing about it. And it was in line with Council’s policy agenda to help the homeless. Looking back, Garza said, “I believe we did what was right,” in spite of pushback from the members of the public.

Garza was on the winning side of a recent 7-4 vote to adopt the new Land Development Code on first reading, but she believes she and her colleagues actually have the same goals for the city. “This is one of those incredibly complex topics,” she said, noting that she did not come to the Council with a background in zoning. While the preliminary adoption of the new code came with a split vote, Garza said the disagreements among Council members are theoretical.

Noting that Austin is not only growing, but growing exponentially, Garza said the city needs a new code to handle some of its many problems, including lack of affordable housing, gentrification and the displacement of longtime residents.

“It’s one of the harder discussions that we’ve had on the Council. We have been kicking this can down the road for a very, very long time. We’ve got to make some decisions and we’ve got to change things in our code,” but what Council adopted “is not set in stone … we have time to make tweaks.” Still, change must come because Austin is no longer the “sleepy college town” it once was, she said.

Garza has thrown her hat in the ring for Travis County attorney, signaling that she will not run for reelection to her District 2 seat in November.

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