Orange County mayoral candidates give their take on sustainability


On Wednesday, Orange County mayoral candidates – County Commissioner Pete Clarke, County Sheriff Jerry Demings and local businessman Rob Panepinto – spoke at the inaugural Sustainability Forum.

The event focused on approaching sustainability through the lens of equity. As event organizer LeAnn Siefferman described it, it was "a democratic, collaborative process, hosted by a committee of leaders from across the sustainability spectrum."

Demings, who was first of the candidates to speak, highlighted his position on how he'd like to create a countywide office of sustainability, with the intent of more efficiently managing the local energy and water supply.

"In the recent past, Orange County did not have a specific manager that was responsible for this particular area," Demings, a Democrat, told those in attendance. "With the 72 million visitors and the nearly 1.4 million permanent residents who live here, we're going to have some growing pains – and because of those growing pains we're going to see ourselves having additional challenges related to water and we manage the water supply."

Demings went on to note the potential water crisis that the city may be coping with in the coming years, and how he understands that the city will have to look at alternative water sources in the coming future.

Clarke, a Republican and self-described "unabashed environmentalist," was the next to step up, following a coin toss to decide each candidate's turn. He noted how housing is a key issue to the future of the city's growth, and how we need to protect at-risk rural and wetland properties, in particular noting the "vital lands in the Split Oak forest."

Clarke also took the time to speak on how Community Emergency Response Teams, or CERT programs, are the best way to protect minority communities during natural disasters.

"I worked in disaster management for 17 years," Clarke said. "If we are not treating everybody equally, we have a serious problem – we have a very serious problem. When I was in disaster management, in the areas that were oppressed, we spent more time there because we wanted to make sure everybody that needed to go to a special need shelter, or anybody that needed anything special, was actually listened to and taken care of."

Panepinto, a Republican and local entrepreneur, noted how as companies are looking to grow and expand, they're keeping an eye on how environmentally sustainable a city actually is.

"So if we are trying to grow and diversity this economy, that needs to be on our radar," Panepinto said. "It's an important factor in where we want to go with the economy."

Panepinto also said he supports the clean energy by the year 2050 initiative, which the City Council voted for in unanimous favor last year. However, Panepinto says he supports the initiative with stipulations, such as how he would prefer that solar co-ops are kept as a private endeavor.

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