A local academic and researcher hopes to bring his community-building efforts to Saanich council.
“My biggest thing is community building,” said Teale Phelps Bondaroff, in an interview after announcing his candidacy for Saanich council.
“By changing the environment in which we operate, the spaces that we live in, we actually build community,” he said.
Saanich, for a long time, has largely focused on infrastructure and policies. While important, they do not necessarily define a community, he said. “At the end of the day, a city is not a bunch of infrastructure, but a community.”
Phelps Bondaroff, who holds a PhD in politics and international studies from the University of Cambridge, enters the race for Saanich council as co-founder of Idea Tree Consulting, a research firm that has worked with clients from around the world on environmental and governance issues. But if Phelps Bondaroff is familiar with the finer details of international maritime law, he enters the campaign as an immersed participant and observer of local community life.
He has been trying to foster that sense of community through his volunteer work, with likely none more visible than his work with the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network.
It defines placemaking as “the planning, design, management and programming of shared use spaces” and Phelps Bondaroff has in many ways become the face of Victoria’s Little Free Libraries, a network of more than 170 take-a-book-leave-a-book libraries placed around the Greater Victoria region.
This emphasis on community building appears under his platform point of Vibrant Villages.
“[It] captures a host of policies and approaches that are all about fostering community,” he said. They will include policies that help develop walkable, inter-generational communities that mix uses to create affordable, sustainable housing, he said, pointing to the mixed-use developments that have popped up around Rutledge Park.
His platform also promotes a host of policies that fall under the heading of Safe Streets. They include the implementation of Saanich’s Active Transportation Plan and lowering speed limits on secondary streets. “That is crucial,” he said. “It makes streets more accessible, and we are not just building streets for cars. We are building transportation for people.”
While Phelps Bondaroff praises Saanich’s Active Transportation Plan as a “robust piece” of policy, the district will not meet its goals. Saanich would like to see active transportation modes (walking, biking, taking transit) account for 50 per cent of all trips by 2050.
“We are not going to get there unless we show some leadership on council,” he said.
Finally, Phelps Bondaroff plans to emphasize what he calls good governance. He said Saanich council has had challenges with making sound decisions. Saanich needs diverse and inclusive forms of public consultation, he said. It should also avoid mistakes like repealing policies (like the Environmental Development Permit Area bylaw) without adequate substitutes, he added.
Specifically, he pointed to the decision to criticize the provincial speculation tax.
“It had three contradictory clauses,” he said. “We don’t think there is a problem, we don’t know the scale of the problem, and we think this is going to hurt Saanich. You can’t have all of those three things,” he said. “It’s incoherent policy.”
Phelps Bondaroff belongs to a growing cadre of council candidates, whose personal biography differs from the profile that currently prevails among incumbent council candidates. Other non-incumbent candidates advertising themselves as fresher voices include Ned Taylor and Rebecca Mersereau. So where does Bondaroff himself?
“I might be in a young cohort, but I don’t lack for experience,” he said. “I have been a community organizers for over 15 years. I have set up [non-governmental organizations]. I have helped numerous community projects. I have worked on policy on the international level at the United Nations. I have done research on everything from Greenland Halibut fisheries to ocean plastics. So I have a lot of experience in that respect.”