The Sandspur’s coverage of Winter Park commissioner candidates does not indicate The Sandspur‘s or Rollins College’s endorsement.
The Democracy Project and WP Voter held a virtual debate for candidates running for Winter Park City Commissioner Seats Three and Four on Feb. 7. The debate consisted of pre-selected questions as well as audience-submitted questions.
The candidates running for Seat Three are Anjali Vaya and Kris Cruzada. Their debate was split into four sections of predetermined questions: preservation, livability and affordability; constituent communication and engagement; city green space; and the city economy. An assortment of audience questions were taken at the end of the debate.
The current Seat Three commissioner is Carolyn Cooper, whose term ends in March.
Below are summarized responses of Vaya and Cruzada, who took turns responding to Abbatta’s questions.
Seat 3 Opening Remarks
Vaya is a 14-year resident of Winter Park. She was born and raised in Zambia, Africa before moving to the United States in 1990 to pursue her education. Vaya received a bachelors degree in respiratory therapy and a master’s degree in healthcare administration from the University of Michigan. A US citizen since 1999, she currently serves as vice president of the Indian American Chamber of Commerce. Additionally, she serves on Winter Park’s Community Redevelopment Agency advisory board.
Cruzada grew up in Winter Park and raised his family in the city. He received an accounting degree from the University of Central Florida, as well as a law degree from Saint Louis University. He currently serves on the board of directors for the Florida Association of Housing Redevelopment Officials. He is also a member of the Economic Development Advisory Board for the Orange County government and serves on the housing subcommittee for the Catholic Charities of Central Florida.
Preservation, Liveability, and Affordability
Abbatta opened this questioning period by asking the candidates to comment on the claim that “Winter Park is an exclusive place to live.”
Cruzada said that affordable houses can be found “on the periphery of the City of Winter Park […] The homes are still livable and pretty well maintained.”
“For exclusivity, there is a sentiment about that,” Cruzada said. “I understand that because of the amenities, the close proximity to Orlando and the close proximity to the central business district, but I think there is something for everyone here.”
In her response, Vaya spoke about the impact a lack of affordable housing has on younger generations.
“We have some great colleges here in Winter Park. How wonderful would it be for us to have to move affordable options for them as they make and start their careers,” Vaya said. “I was once that girl […] I’m a girl from Zambia, from central Africa that really never had anything and I’m so blessed, I feel so lucky to be here.”
Vaya also said that many multigenerational households on the west side of Winter Park are concerned about affordability.
“When some of these elders do move on, what happens to the younger generation? What will be that affordability for them? So I do realize that this is an issue,” Vaya said.
Constituent Communication and Engagement
Abbatta asked the candidates about engaging with the community via technology.
Cruzada said, “I think for me it would be using email and text messaging and calling so that I can have a interconnectedness with all of the residents and citizens in Winter Park; not so much with social media, but with direct communication.”
When asked by Abatta to clarify his stance on social media, Cruzada said, “I’m adaptable to change if more of the constituents in this age bracket are on social media. Yes, I will go in that direction and of course it’s also related to what type of social media.”
“I’m not sure if technology is always a solution,” Cruzada said. “As a lawyer, I deal with civil procedures a lot and sometimes it’s just about the amount of time you give somebody in advance to let them know something is coming, and maybe that’s what we need to do, is lengthen the time of the notice.”
Vaya highlighted the importance of summarizing meetings so that community members can save time and remain engaged in community discourse.
“It is very important for us to engage with every age bracket with our constituents. Not everyone has time to go through these six and seven or even 10 hour meetings,” Vaya said. She also added that she wants to implement a “standard uniform message that comes out after decisions are made from our Communications Department straight from the city.”
Vaya also suggested the creation of a youth advisory board in order to engage the Rollins demographic within Winter Park.
Both candidates supported the decision of purchasing the Winter Pines Golf Course, a purchase that would cost the city an estimated 7.4 million dollars.
When discussing the importance of green spaces in Winter Park, Vaya said that having them “is so important to our quality of life, and we have amazing green spaces surrounding Winter Park, and each one of them has a very different functional use.”
Cruzada agreed, adding, “I think having the city set up different types of uses, recreational uses within the green space, helps us to get more use out of it and helps us to have it open to being utilized for a multitude of purposes.”
When asked about providing variances or permits for households to be used as business offices, Cruzada said, “I know that’s probably already going on and many of the homes in Winter Park where Zoom meetings are going on […] I think with COVID […] we’ve changed the way companies and businesses are interacting with customers and with its stakeholders […] I would have to see how the variance would be structured […] although it sounds really good, I’m very apprehensive with getting inside somebody’s house where they’re communicating.”
Vaya agreed, adding, “Variances and conducting an actual business is difficult, and it would be very dependent on the sector that you’re operating [in]. So no, I wouldn’t really want somebody selling merchandise out of their house.”
Vaya also emphasized her support for business incubation supported by the City Chamber, in which the city would support young businesses until they are ready to survive on their own.
Audience Q & A
Students from Rollins were also able to ask the candidates questions. Bobby Sena (‘24) asked the candidates about their plans to make Winter Park more sustainable.
In Cruzada’s response, he highlighted the city’s partnership with the Florida Municipal Power Agency.
“We got 30 percent of their power from renewable energy, solar and the like, so keeping on track with that, I think will go a long way to maintaining some level of sustainability,” Cruzada said.
Vaya said, “A lot of cities across the United States are looking at sustainable plans, and it would be again something that I would like to advocate to actually have a sustainability plan and to really get some ideas going on, start a conversation of what our residents think of sustainability.”
Residents also asked about the candidates’ vision for the ratio of corporate stores to small businesses in Winter Park.
Cruzada started, saying, “I don’t want to make it more difficult for the central business district because it is a very unique space. There is something to be said about — especially after COVID — having a shopping area outside […] so that people can socially gather and communicate with each other. I just don’t think the big box store has that feel and look, and I’m not sure if that would be in line with what Winter Park is.”
Vaya’s response echoed Cruzada’s, emphasizing her experience as a small business owner.
“One of the reasons I’ve loved Winter Park for the past 14 years is its small scale village charm that we have with the boutiques and with all of these great specialized stores and spaces that we have as well as restaurants,” Vaya said.
Voting for city commissioner Seats Three and Four takes place on Mar. 8. Winter Park residents can find their local polling location here.