Christophe Etoré has been mayor of Valbonne since last October and life in this pretty, dynamic town – which includes the prosperous Sophia Antipolis technology hub - is, in almost every respect, good. Valbonne Sophia Antipolis - to give the town its full name - has something special about it. While it doesn’t quite have the dramatic views of the region that other villages in the hinterland boast, its quaint medieval centre with the arcade-lined has that authentic Provence atmosphere. All life and activity is focused here and not only on Fridays - the bustling market day – but all year round. People come from across the Côte d’Azur to enjoy its restaurants, cafés and boutiques in the pedestrianised streets.
English is Valbonne’s second language, but many other nationalities have also made this town their home over the years. Its 13,000-strong population is spread out over a vast territory divided up by neighbourhoods and large swathes of wooden nature reserves and parks. 60% of Sophia Antipolis with its 1,400 companies and 31,000 employees is a part of Valbonne - the main reason this place is financially doing very well compared to other towns in the region. Valbonne is also the only commune in the Alpes Maritimes to be dominated by socialists: the majority of votes has been on the left since 1989. Of course, the new mayor is also a socialist.
Marc Daunis, who presided and directed the town for over 20 years, chose to say goodbye to the communal stage at the end of October 2016. He will, however, continue in his role as a senator in Paris and as the vice president of the Sophia Antipolis area (Communauté d’agglomération de Sophia Antipolis). Etoré was elected by the Conseil Municipal as the new mayor with a clear majority.
Etoré originally comes from Paris, but has been living in Valbonne for almost 20 years. He has two adult children. From a professional teaching background, Etoré last worked in teacher training and also in the Grasse prison. He has to give up these roles now: the mayor’s office in Valbonne is a full-time job.
The life of a politician is something Etoré is used to; his father had worked as the adjoint au maire and later the mayor of a Paris suburb. “But I really did not intend to go into politics,” says the 54-year-old. He encountered Daunis, respected him and found himself on his ‘list’. They also became firm friends. Etoré led the campaigns for the former mayor in the last two local elections.
“Humanity has always been my motive,” says Etoré, who has been in charge of education in Valbonne since 2005. “Living together in peace, the wellbeing of children, clubs and associations, culture and festivals… All of that is very important to me.”
‘Will he put his own stamp on the policies of Valbonne now he’s in charge?’ Riviera Insider asks, but Etoré waves us down energetically. He shares the strategies and visions of Daunis, and was a contributor towards them. Until the next mayoral elections in 2020, the long-term projects and construction plans devised by Daunis and his team in 2014 will continue.
Etoré tells us in concrete terms that he and his staff will work to ensure that Valbonne retains its exceptional character. In addition to the protection of the environment, urban development here is carried out with great care. Valbonne is one of only three municipalities in the Alpes Maritimes that complies with the government’s 20% quota of social housing and it’s not stopping there. Valbonne is keen to progress with its plans to expand the logements pour les actifs concept, which brings affordable housing to first time buyers. It is also conscious of mixing up residential sectors to avoid concentrations of solely social housing.
There is a focus on the development of ‘clean’ vehicles such as electric bikes. With the extreme traffic jams found around Sophia Antipolis during peak travel times in mind, extra car park and parking spaces are to be built in strategic locations to nurture car sharing and people are being encouraged to travel outside of rush hour.
Improving employment rates is also on the agenda as is bolstering the long-standing involvement of Valbonne’s citizens in its policies through démocratie participative, the lowering of the town’s comparatively low debt and slimming down the brigade of civil servants at the mairie.
“Creating the same conditions for each and every child has always been a priority for me,” says the mayor. This is the reason why Valbonne was one of the first places to reintroduce school on a Wednesday. Whether or not the decision has had Etoré’s desired effect is currently being evaluated.
“We are fortunate enough in Valbonne to live in a world of tomorrow, a world of the future,” says Etoré, “and not just in terms of technology, but also humanity. We live in a mix of cultures and that’s why there is an openness here that is not necessarily experienced elsewhere.”
As a mayor, Etoré’s duties are much more enjoyable than for the average mayor in the Alpes-Maritimes. In addition to his day-to-day responsibilities, Valbonne is also preparing for two large celebrations: the 500th birthday of the town itself and the 50th anniversary, of Sophia Antipolis. Both fall in 2019. “La ville continue à faire rêver,” he concludes with a smile, “Valbonne continues to dream and build dreams.”