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Margaret Gómez: Whatever it takes to get things done

Tuesday, December 29, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano

Travis County Commissioner Margaret Gómez describes this year as “tumultuous.”

“It’s been really up and down and kind of a rough ride,” she told the Austin Monitor.

Gómez knows it could have been much rougher if the county didn’t have financial policies in place that allowed it to react quickly and distribute the $61 million in stimulus money it received this year to people who needed help with food, rent, mortgages and health care. Gómez was also glad to be able to help small businesses and small cities in the county that keep people employed. At the time of this interview, the reality of more federal funding was uncertain, but Gómez was not.

“Whatever we get, we can handle,” she said. “And that’s a very good feeling.”

On a personal level, though, Gómez was not prepared for the number of deaths Covid-19 would cause. She said the spike in cases in El Paso really drove home the severity of the pandemic in Texas.

“I’m not sure a lot of us took it as seriously as we should have,” she said. “That’s too many deaths.”

Despite the overwhelming presence of the virus, Gómez is proud to have gotten some non-pandemic things done.

Notably, she was a part of getting water out to Las Lomitas – finally, after two decades – through an interlocal agreement with the Creedmoor-Maha Water Supply Corp. “We got that going. It got done,” she said. “It’s just an example of some of the projects that people will call in about.”

Gómez is also happy to report that a new bridge in Southeast Travis County is under construction. The project, which will expand Elroy Road and make it a safe evacuation route during floods, was financed by a 2017 bond.

“It makes for a much safer route to get back and forth,” Gómez said. “Once it gets done, it’s going to be much better for everybody. Please be patient.”

“The other thing that is really serious is the need for a health clinic in Southeast Travis County. Some of the residents have asked for that. And I’ve asked for that for several years,” she said. “Residents have been waiting for quite a long time … and they’re still waiting for the clinic.”

She notes that residents are angry – and rightly so – that they’ve paid taxes to Central Health for the past 10 years and have still not gotten the promised clinic. “That’s been something that has been really frustrating,” she said. “We’re constantly meeting with them.”

“All we can do with them is to meet with them and constantly say this is needed,” she said. Gómez also noted that the closure of clinics in the area when the pandemic first started panicked residents. “Thankfully, I have the support of the Commissioners Court.”

This year, the county voted to approve incentives for Tesla’s new Gigafactory in Southeast Austin. Gómez abstained. She told the Monitor that she was concerned about the lack of affordable housing in the area for people earning $15 an hour at the plant.

“Where are they going to live?” she asked. “What do we do? Do we further displace people? Do we gentrify this area? … We keep going for a bigger and bigger city, and bigger and bigger things. But we’re not really attending to the issues that keep people safe or help them afford to live in Travis County.”

“I think we leave people behind,” Gómez reflected. “We have some real deep thinking to do.”

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