“Silicon Valley billionaires behind a a secret $800 million land-buying spree in Northern California have finally released some details about their plans for a new green city,” reports the Associated Press“but they have yet to convince skeptical voters and local leaders.”
After years of dodging, Jan Sramek, the former Goldman Sachs trader spearheading this effort, launched a website Thursday on “California ForeverThe site presents the project as “a chance for a new community, well-paying local jobs, solar farms and open spaces” in Solano, a rural county between San Francisco and Sacramento that is now home to 450,000 people. also began meeting with key politicians representing the region who have been trying in vain for years to find out who is behind the mysterious Flannery Associates LLC, which has purchased huge tracts of land, making it the world’s largest landowner County…
To build something resembling a city on what is now farmland, the group must first convince Solano County voters to approve a ballot initiative allowing urban uses on the land, a protection in place since 1984. Local and federal officials still have questions about the group’s intentions…California badly needs more housing, especially affordable housing for teachers, firefighters, service workers and the hotel industry. But cities and counties are unsure where to build, while established neighborhoods resist building new homes that they say will clutter their roads and ruin their quiet way of life.
In many ways, Solano County is ideal for development. It lies 60 miles northeast of San Francisco and 35 miles southwest of California’s capital, Sacramento. Homes in Solano County are among the most affordable in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a median sale price of $600,000 last month. But Princess Washington, acting mayor of Suisun City, said residents made a conscious decision to protect open spaces and keep the area around Travis Air Force Base free of encroachment, given its importance. She suspects the group’s real goal is to “create a city for the elite” under the guise of more housing.
The ‘California Forever’ website acknowledges that they purchased 50,000 acres – about 78 square miles – ‘strategically located’ in Solano County, Northern California, with access to water and low risk of ‘fire.
Speculative illustrations on the site “evoke a cityscape with dreamy white stucco and a Mediterranean vibe over red rooftops that one might find in a Greek or Italian village”, writes the San Francisco Chronicle.
There are hillside neighborhoods sloping down to what must be the banks of the Sacramento River, kayakers navigating among lily pads and anglers fishing from the riverbank at sunrise. The website also names a previously unnamed investor: venture capitalist John Doerr. from Kleiner Perkins, an early investor in Google, Slack and other companies…
Although California Forever may have billions to invest in the project, it will face fierce opposition from some ranchers who say the city would disrupt the economy of a county that is 62% farmland.
THE The San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic writes “OK, this is something new: a whirlwind pitch for a whole new city…”
But the website launched Thursday by California Forever offers no real details, such as projected population or precise location. Instead, there are cuddly renderings of cityscapes and soothing discussions of building a “remarkable place for the residents of Solano.” Oh, and a heartfelt promise to “begin the phase of our work that matters most: our conversation with you.” Let the rolling eyes begin. It is impossible to criticize the vision of the investors, because what has been revealed is so innocuous that it constitutes an insult…
The website also makes reference to it being a center of “economic opportunity” and “new employers”. Great! But only two of the 12 renders show people at work, including one where three men install solar panels as the sun sets in the west. Let’s hope they get paid overtime… The Bay Area needs housing and jobs. It also requires honest approaches to achieve this. Hopefully, when California Forever 2.0 launches, there will be less frills and more facts.