On Jan. 6, 2015 Delia Garza made history, becoming the first Latina elected to the Austin City Council.
“Some of the greatest compliments I get is when I go to schools and little Latinas are just, you know, they're so excited to see me,” Garza said.
“It's humbling, it's a great honor,” she added. “It's a little sad that it took that long, frankly. You know, I stand on the shoulders of many other Latinas who had attempted it and because of the at-large system weren't able to do that.”
Still, the former Austin firefighter turned attorney said she decided to run for office while the at-large system was still in place.
“It was campaigning for 10-1 that I got, frankly, frustrated with the process,” Garza recalled, “and I said 'you know, I'm going to run even if 10-1 doesn't pass. South Austin deserves a strong voice.'”
10-1 did pass with Austin voters deciding to trade in an at-large elected council for geographic representation and Garza became the voice for District 2 which is made up of southeast Austin.
Garza was born in San Antonio, Texas and attended Texas A&M University where she graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Journalism.
In 2001, she moved into the Dove Springs neighborhood as a fire cadet for the Austin Fire Department and in 2003, she purchased a home in the area now known as District 2.
In 2007, Garza rented out her home and moved to Washington to attend law school at the Gonzaga University School of Law. She returned to Austin in 2010 and went on to become an Assistant Attorney General. In 2014, she was elected to serve on the first 10-1 council.
While in office, Garza said the action she’s most proud of is the work that’s been done to increase the city’s health and human services budget.
“Previous council found out that we were not investing in our health and human services the way we should, the way that other cities do and we're the most economical city, and so they passed resolutions as a goal to invest more in our health and human services and we were able, I was able to lead on, I think it was $5.5 million, we added to the budget last time and this time we were able to add about $1.1 million,” said Garza.
“That is going to fund programs that help our working families, help our middle-class families. And, you know, when families are having to choose between paying the rent, or paying for daycare or keeping the lights on, many of these programs help them. So that's the most significant one I'm very proud of,” she added. “I think we've made gains in affordable housing as well. We've passed a lot of great policy that has elevated the conversation about the importance of affordable housing.”
Still, Garza said there is much left to accomplish, which is why she is running for re-election.
“I won't be satisfied until I stop seeing our middle-class families leaving Austin,” Garza said.
“I won't feel that I have made an impact until I see that we're not exporting our lowest income families. And so, that's what drives me every day, to keep those families here. I think we're better as a community when we have all different income levels, all different levels of people. We have to have a great mix of people to continue to make Austin the great city that it is and until we're no longer the most economically segregated, that will drive me to continue doing all that I can to stop those very unfortunate statistics.”
Garza added her experience on council makes her the best candidate in the race.
“It's been such an honor to have been given the opportunity to do this job. You realize how quickly, there is so much to learn about it and I really do feel like I've just begun, but even just beginning we've accomplished so much. I really think we have forwarded great, progressive policy that continues to help families and I think our district would be at a disadvantage if they basically had to start all over again,” Garza said. “I have two years of understanding how City Hall works, I have two years of building relationships with our staff at city hall and I think that that just makes these next four years even stronger, which will just help us produce even better policy to really move the needle on our affordability crisis and to make sure that we're protecting our middle-class families, keeping them here in Austin. And so I would love the opportunity to be able to continue serving.”
ON THE ISSUES
Q: Are you for or against Proposition 1, Austin’s Mobility Bond, and why?
“I lean no. I've been very neutral because of so much of our bonding capacity being used, our credit card limit basically, we're using so much of our credit card limit on it. I was concerned about the fast public input process, there was not a single face-to-face public input meeting in my district. We have often been a neglected part of Austin, and so I think there are some great things in this bond, but it is not going to solve all of our congestion problems. And I'm okay making a big investment, as long as everybody understands there's going to be more asks for more big investments and as long as everybody's on the same page, that's great, but there's also, there're so many needs in our community. We're five fire stations behind, we could always use more in affordable housing bonds and so I wish there had been a more holistic approach to what kind of bond we present, it was very narrowed in on transportation.”
Q: What action do you believe the city needs to take to address traffic congestion?
“I think we invest more in our public transit. And that was another one of my concerns with this bond, there is no direct investment in our public transit and I don't think we can build our way out of our congestion issue, we have to get people out of their cars and the way to get people out of their cars is to have efficient and reliable public transit. And I think we're moving in that direction, we've got more buses on the most frequently used lines, which means that wait times have gone down, but we need to get better at that. We need priority bus lanes. People will get out of their cars if they see buses passing them up on the way to work. And so, I would, I am very supportive of ways that we can invest more in our public transit.”
Q: The Martin Prosperity Institute found Austin is the “most economically segregated major metro area in the U.S.,” how do you propose Austin address this?
“One is increasing how we provide services as a city. If 70-percent of our budget is public safety, where does the rest, where do we spend the rest of our budget? We absolutely need a strong front line and we need a well-equipped police force and fire department. I'm a former firefighter, you know we need well equipped public safety, but we also need to weigh that with the fact that we're the most economically segregated and invest in our families. And the way we invest in our families is we invest properly in our health and human services and the programs that help these families. And many of these programs, these families just need a little help, after school care of some sort, early childhood education, and then that gives them the tools to be able to be better and do better and provide for their family. And you know during the budget season when mothers came and said, you know, 'please help us with this after school program, this helps me,' no mother wants to have to ask their government for help, but she knows that then maybe her child won't have to ask for help. And so I think that we need to invest. Our budget should reflect our values which should be invested in families.”
Q: How can the city increase affordability related to the cost of houses in Austin?
“We do need to add supply but we need to do it in a sustainable way. We have seen how flooding affects different parts of Austin, especially my district, and so we can't just build, build, build. We need to do it sustainably because it is partially a supply issue, it's also we need to be more efficient in our permitting process. If it takes a developer [longer] to put housing online, that adds to their cost, that gets passed on to the person who's purchasing or the person who's renting whatever they're building, so we've taken steps to make that process more efficient with investing in our permitting process, giving them more staff, giving them more resources, and I think it's just putting our heads together and making it a priority…and I think I have done that. I've sponsored resolutions, asking the city manager, directing the city manager to bring forward suggestions to address this issue and a couple of weeks ago I sponsored a resolution that will get the city to partner with lending institutions and help families become homeowners. Most families build their wealth in home ownership. That's my best investment has been buying a home. I would have never thought to do it. My dad said you have to buy, you know that's how you build equity so I think there're tools that we can use.”
Q: What do you believe is the biggest need of the residents in District 2?
“District 2's a reflection of the entire city, so it's affordable housing, it's affordability. The families in my district, they have a tighter budget, they have less to work with than other families do, they're feeling that crunch a little bit harder, they're moving away because it's harder to pay the mortgage, and so that's why I've put that attention on affordability. But affordability there's so many things that affect it. Your transportation affects it. If we can improve our bus system, invest in our public transit, maybe a family could give up a car or two and they won't have that monthly expense. It's affordability, it's keeping our middle-class families. My district, according to our demographer, has the most families and we want families to live in Austin.”
Q: On a lighter note, Austinites like to believe we live in the “Live Music Capitol of the World,” so tell us, what’s your favorite song?
“I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack
MORE ON DELIA GARZA
- Previous Occupation: Asst. Attorney General, former Austin Firefighter
- Education: Texas A&M - BS in Journalism; Gonzaga University School of Law - Juris Doctor
- Birthplace: San Antonio, Texas
- Years in Austin: 13 (nonconsecutive)
- Mobility Bond: Neutral, Leaning Against
Delia Garza has been endorsed by the following organizations/individuals:
FSMA Local 1624 Austin Environmental Democrats
Austin Fire Association Local 975 Austin Neighborhood Council
Austin Police Association Austin Tejano Democrats
Austin Young Democrats Austin/Travis County EMS Employee Association
Central Austin Democrats Clean Water Action
IBEW Local 520 Laborers International Union of North American, Local 753
Left Up to Us Liberal Austin Democrats
South Austin Democrats Stonewall Democrats of Austin
University Democrats West Austin Democrats
Workers Defense Action Fund Hon. Amalia Rodriguez-Mendoza
Hon. Ann Kitchen Hon. Bob Perkins
Hon. Brigid Shea Hon. Dolores Ortega-Carter
Hon. Eddie Rodriguez Hon. Gina Hinojosa
Hon. Gonzalo Barrientos Hon. Jackie Goodman
Hon. Laura Morrison Hon. Lloyd Doggett
Hon. Mike Martinez Hon. Paul Saldana
Hon. Pio Renteria Hon. Sarah Eckhardt
Hon. Susanna Woody
To Read More About Delia Garza, go here.