ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando City Commissioner Patty Sheehan was the first openly gay elected official in Central Florida when she won her seat in 2000. She has been a champion for the LGBTQ community since then, passing domestic partnership legislation and providing non-discrimination protections for city employees.
Sheehan joined News 6 anchor Justin Warmoth on "The Weekly on ClickOrlando.com" to discuss the changes she has seen in Orlando over the last 20 years.
"There has been a lot of growth," Sheehan said. "People get mad about that sometimes, but a city is like an egg. It should be its most dense at the core and then go out from there. The density at our core is actually a good thing."
The rapid growth, though, is causing a few issues in and around the city. With more than 70,000 people commuting downtown for work every day, Sheehan says the lack of public transit is starting to show.
"SunRail is the backbone and then you have the ribs, so to speak, which is the bus system and it's not reliable enough," Sheehan explained. "In a healthy city, you have the commuter line that brings people in, you have the bus service that goes across town and then people can use the bikes or walk. The idea is to have public transportation within 10 minutes of everyone."
Sheehan pointed to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings' plan to increase the sales tax by a penny for transportation improvements as a possible solution. Demings said he wants voters to decide on the proposed tax hike, which would generate an estimated $635 million annually, in 2020.
"When you're thinking about voting on that transportation tax, you need to think about whether you want to have that [mass transit] availability," Sheehan said. "We have to pay for it. I can't just magically make things fall from heaven."
While it continues to be a problem nationwide, Central Florida is one of the worst places in the country for affordable housing. Sheehan said the crises is top of mind at Orlando City Hall.
"We've got HUD talking about taking out 1,000 units of affordable housing [in Orlando] and not renovating Reeves Terrace, Griffin Park and all of these other housing projects in the city of Orlando," she said. "We have an 8,000-family waiting list and we're talking about doing away with it? As an elected official that is alarming to me."
Sheehan also discussed the upcoming Orlando mayoral election, downtown homelessness and the revitalization of Lake Eola.
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