Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County mayoral candidate Rob Panepinto.
Why are you running for the open Orange County mayoral seat?
I want my daughters, and others like them, to see our community as the place they can build their lives, careers, and families. We are a community with so many positives and potential. Yet, we are 160th in average wages, a third of our renters pay 50% of their income in rent, and 25% of our kids live in poverty. Creating higher wage jobs, expanding affordable housing options, building a world-class infrastructure, and continuing to help those in need requires experience that is not found in those who have spent their entire careers in government.
Describe three reasons why county residents should vote for you.
We need a Mayor who will drive results. I am the only candidate with a defined blueprint for an even better Orange County, founded on my experience of growing successful businesses and working as a civic leader who has invested heavily in this community.
I will bring new perspective and innovation, as a job creator and nonprofit leader who understands the impact of government policy on our everyday lives. I will bring a broader set of voices to county government to create higher-wage jobs, reduce the cost of housing, and improve the quality of life for our residents.
What would be your priorities for the county, if elected?
We need innovative and effective leadership now to ensure that we are intentional and strategic about prioritizing major issues around economic diversification, higher-wage jobs, affordable housing, transportation, growing a skilled workforce and public safety.
Here is my blueprint for an even better Orange County: Attract new jobs and higher incomes, reduce our cost of housing, encourage entrepreneurship and small-business growth, ensure we have abundant educational opportunities to help prepare a skilled workforce to support new industries, improve public transit, invest in personnel and resources for first responders and public-safety officers, and invest in our infrastructure.
How would you deal with the county’s affordable housing shortage?
This is a critical concern for our community, and I am the only candidate with a detailed plan to impact our real need. I will push the state to not raid the Sadowski fund, but that cannot be an excuse for future local government inaction. Let’s allow housing designs that drive affordability including multi-generational homes, reduce inefficiencies in the permitting and inspection processes, and create a Housing Innovation Fund that supports private market development of affordable and workforce housing. This will be a public-private partnership with dollars coming from existing County resources, participating municipalities, business, and philanthropy.
What would you do differently to balance growth and transportation infrastructure?
We need a comprehensive transportation network that includes car, bus, rail, and bicycle options. Closer coordination or consolidation of Lynx, SunRail, and the Expressway Authority could allow for dollars to be allocated across different modes of transportation. Let’s expand SunRail to the airport and run it more frequently. Once connected to the new multi-modal station, let’s explore mass transit options to the Convention Center, Disney and Universal, leveraging potential for a high speed rail service to Tampa.
We also need to expand last-mile connectivity from SunRail stations to key centers of commerce/housing leveraging Lynx, taxi, and rideshare services.
In your opinion, what is key to improving Orange County residents’ quality of life?
Creating more economic opportunity and higher wage jobs will positively impact all our residents. Our current low wages directly impact all our other community issues. Less money in families’ pockets is a major factor in our housing and poverty challenges. Lower wages mean a lower tax base – limiting the dollars we can invest in transportation, social services and public safety.
For west Orange County, I know there are continued concerns about growth and traffic. I want to drive more economic development in the area, creating jobs closer to where our west Orange County residents live.
How would your approach to the role of county mayor differ from the current mayor?
I have great respect for Mayor Jacobs and would continue to see a focus on fiscal responsibility and government transparency. However, as someone who absolutely believes that solving our community needs the innovation and results-oriented focus of the private sector working with the public sector, I would seek greater involvement and input from a broader range of community voices and leaders.
You will also see a strategic prioritization of creating more high-wage jobs, by encouraging local business growth, increased vocational training, and recruiting new businesses and capital to our region.