Austin City Council District 4 Election: Meet Gonzalo Camacho

AUSTIN - When Gonzalo Camacho was looking for a city to retire in, he chose Austin in 2010.

“I was looking for a place to retire, to grow old because I like to get involved with the community. I was looking for that combination of professional, intellectual and community and long term, so I came to Austin for that,” Camacho said.

The traffic and transportation engineer was born in Boliva, South America. His family moved to the United States and he graduated from high school in Minnesota. From there, he moved to Arlington to attend the University of Texas where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts in General Studies, Bachelors of Science in Civil Engineering and a Master’s of Science in Civil Engineering – Traffic and Transportation.

After college, Camacho moved to Houston, working in traffic engineering for 10 years before starting his own consulting business.

While living in Houston for a total of 20 years, Camacho ran for the Houston City Council twice.

Camacho bought a home in 2011 in the area now categorized as District 4. He said it wasn’t long before he realized his dreams of retiring in Austin may not happen.

“I realized I cannot retire in Austin because the rate of property taxes is going up every year, it's just never stop working. So I was looking at going somewhere else, you know for retirement, and then I thought, well why not try running for city council and see if we can make some change because if I'm having a bad situation and cannot retire in Austin, what about other folks who have less incomes that I do.”

Camacho said his decision to run was not based on performance of incumbent Greg Casar, but he believes he brings something to the table Casar does not.

“What I realized is some of the issues are huge and not only requires passion, it requires experience and knowledge.”

“I'm 54-years old, or something like that I forget, he said laughing. “I have over 20 years in the engineering field, you know, I work on my own consulting, it's a lot of experience that goes with it. I can stand up with anybody and discuss the issues on the facts because I have all that experience.”

ON THE ISSUES

Q: Are you for or against Proposition 1, Austin’s Mobility Bond, and why?

“I'm totally against the transportation bond. I read the documents and it's just sad that with so much knowledge that we have in the city, we haven't been able to figure out what we want to do with transportation. So putting a huge amount of money is not going to solve the problem.”

“There's a letter written by one of the administrative individuals, Mr. [Robert] Goode, that was responding to questions from city council about the bond and I was reading that letter and it's just amazing. There's an item that says city staff indicates that the projects in the bond will actually cost $1.5 billion, not $720 million. There's another item that says the city might have to increase the monthly transportation user fee three to four percent for the maintenance of this bond project. Most people don't know that every month we pay $9.77 to the city as a transportation user fee. That's on our bill, our utility bill. You know and I was like do people know they might have to increase that monthly fee that we pay in addition to it. And the other thing is debt. Bond is debt. You know we're borrowing the money to do this improvement that means that we have to pay interest, we have to pay banks in New York, we have to pay accountants to carry all of these notes, plus overhead. You know there's another note in that letter that says the city will have to hire 20 to 24 staff to manage this. That's staff making $100,000 a year for eight years, plus benefits…these are $40 a hour jobs, I mean these are expensive jobs and we're borrowing money to do all of this. On the other hand the city says it's going to cost $5 per household per month to pay for this bond. Well we all have this transportation user fee that we're paying, at our own will, $9.77, why couldn't we just increase it to $15 and pay for these needs without having to go through all this bond stuff. So it does not make sense. It does not make sense financially, it does not make sense in terms of traffic engineering and I'm a professional working on this for more than 20 years and it doesn’t make sense to me. I don't know how the city council makes decisions.”

Q: What action do you believe the city needs to take to address traffic congestion?

“To me, traffic congestion is an outcome of good economic health of the region. There's nowhere in the world where congestion has been solved. Wherever the economy is good, congestion exists. So I think we have to rethink what we think is the problem and I think we have to go back to fundamentals. Fundamentals of traffic flow, fundamentals of maintenance of pavement, fundamentals of traffic signals. All of those things, the little things make up for the whole.”

Q: How can the city increase affordability related to the cost of houses in Austin?

“It's a complex issue.”

“Taxing, adding taxing, adding city budget, adding bonds, that's direct taxation on the families.”

“The problem about housing is the increased property taxes; fundamental. Okay, the cost of housing, I look at my bill, 50 percent of that property tax is school district about and the next largest percent is the city. The city has decreased the taxing rate, but still, our property taxes have gone up.”

“I think we have to go back to fundamentals of more effective and efficient government.”

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? 

"Another complex question looking for a quick answer and solutions.  If it was that simple the city would have solve it already. Maybe the Austin City Council should look at that it has done in the past to address the economic segregation and revisit related policies. What City Council should not do, the $720 million transportation mobility bond estimated by city staff to cost $1.5 billion. [It] will increase the cost of living but not address the overall mobility challenges.  The mobility bond proposes reconstruct Airport, Lamar, Burnet, etc.  Construction will impact small businesses the most and once done, it will increase the cost of adjacent properties. City Council reduced the tax rate but according to last news report the property taxes for an "average" home will go up $87/year. Isn't the increase in the cost of housing not making economic segregation worst?

Why organizations that aid the low income and the poor think that more taxes and bonds will help them afford living in the city?  A not for profit organization asked me to support a $2 million budget item for labor training for $15/hour jobs and a bond program for helping the low income.  Both are taxes paid by Austin residents. How can increase in taxes reduce the cost of living in Austin?

For District 4 the mean family income is $39,200/year, that is about $19/hour full time not counting benefits.  Cost of health care is going up every year.

Economic segregation is a complex issue.  As you can tell many people in Austin might not be properly informed on the actual costs of living."

Q: What do you believe is the biggest need of the residents in District 4?

“Property taxes. I think that's the most critical one because where I live is my commitment to my community. If I'm priced out of my house, I cannot commit my time to the community. I have to be looking for somewhere else, I'm stressed out, you now, so yes family economy, property taxes is probably the most critical. So if we're going to look into that, we have to look into where are those funds going? You know, it's not just the City of Austin, it's also the school district, the medical center, the community college, all of these bonds and all these taxes. We have to have a very critical element, we have to look into the taxation process see how every year if my house is a homestead, every year the value, the taxing, is increased 10 percent. That's compounded annually. Most people have no clue what compounding means, you know, those are things people have to understand. We cannot continue this process. Bottom line, we cannot continue borrowing money. We have put our fundamentals, our economy at risk. People who have been in Austin all their lives, they know it, their economy's at risk. People like myself have moved into the city six, seven years ago, I cannot live here anymore. So it's complex but I think property taxes is a big factor. There's an element of our safety, you know in the north area, in this area there’s a safety factor that's dealing with police. Office fronts, I would love to see some office fronts. We need to have a more gentle engagement with the community by police. Office fronts is a wonderful idea. In Houston... office fronts there are amazing. I used to know all of the officers in the office fronts, they used to come to the house, it's incredible.”

MORE ON GONZALO CAMACHO

  • Occupation: Traffic Engineer/ Principal Owner of Camacho and Associates
  • Education: the University of Texas at Arlington: BA in General Studies, the University of Texas at Arlington: BS in Civil Engineering, the University of Texas at Arlington: MS in Civil Engineering - Traffic/Transportation
  • Birthplace: Bolivia, South America
  • Favorite Song: The Musical "Time" by Dave Clark

To Read More About Gonzalo Camacho, go here

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