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In the past November election, Santa Clara County residents voted to keep Measure B in place. It allows the County to continue a safe, reliable water supply, flood control protection programs, and stream stewardship programs. Helping to ensure that this gets done is Chief Operating Officer (COO) Norma Camacho.Camacho was born and raised in central Los Angeles. She is the second in her family with one brother and two sisters. Growing up in the 1960’s, she recalls a lot of tension, the Watt Riots and the walkouts. “It was tough. My parents did not have a lot of money,” said Camacho. “My father was first generation from Mexico. My mom actually LA born.”
Camacho’s mother is of Japanese heritage and was interned in the camps as a child. After the war she went back to Japan. Her parents met at a community college while they were both trying to learn English. She remembers her father getting very involved with the labor unions and fair wages. Although he was a pressman, the person who pressed records to make sure it was a good copy of vinyl, he eventually left and became very active with the unions.
Camacho’s ties to the Bay Area came soon in life. As a kid she was exposed to the United Farm Workers lead by Cesar Chavez. She would eventually make her way to the peninsula. Camacho grew up in a poor section of town where not much was expected. It was assumed that after graduating high school a job was next. A lot of students had a sense of defeat as early as middle school, but she learned to take advantage of the opportunities that came along her way. One of those included the gifted program. It was then with the involvement of her teachers she got a sense that she could do a lot more in the world.
It was clear to her that college was attainable and it was something that her teachers promoted. She was given the chance to demonstrate what she can do within the classroom environment. After graduating Los Angeles High School, Camacho attended Stanford University where she received a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering (structural). Before joining the Santa Clara Valley Water District, Camacho held a job in the Philadelphia area and then made her way back to California. She settled in Ventura County. There she started as an engineer and worked with the solid waste projects and landfill development.
Camacho worked her way to the county’s executive office to do budget analysis and capital projects. She went back to her engineering roots and became director of the watershed protection district. After 25 years, Camacho wanted to return to the Bay Area, so she applied for her current position and eventually was offered the job.
“My favorite thing (about my job) is learning about this county and meeting all the people here. Santa Clara county and this area, Silicon Valley, is really special,” said Camacho. “You have the best and brightest here and people with excellent ideas on things that we can put in place. And really, when you’re talking about the spirit of innovation, it exists here and that’s what makes it exciting.”
One of the ultimate goals of Measure B, also known as the Safe Clean Water Program, is to protect over 30,000 properties in the county that are in the inundation zone. Project by Project Camacho and her team are bringing that to fruition. Another component of the program is habitat restoration and environmental stewardship that includes cleaning up the illegal encampments along the streams. Camacho loves running and most recently ran in the Heart & Soul 5k, a fundraiser to have salad bars in schools. She believes in providing a healthy environment in schools and supporting them.
She is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Public Works Association, and currently serves as vice-chair of the County Engineers Association of California Flood Control Committee.Camacho grew up with the Dodgers but was brave enough to admit she wore a Giants shirt last year. Next month will mark her second year as COO.