“Silicon Valley billionaires behind a secretive $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 still must win over skeptical voters and local leaders.”
After years of ducking scrutiny, Jan Sramek, the former Goldman Sachs trader spearheading the effort, launched a website Thursday about “California Forever.” The site billed the project as “a chance for a new community, good paying local jobs, solar farms, and open space” in Solano, a rural county between San Francisco and Sacramento that is now home to 450,000 people. He also began meeting with key politicians representing the area who have been trying unsuccessfully for years to find out who was behind the mysterious Flannery Associates LLC as it bought up huge swaths of land, making it the largest single landholder in the county…
[T]o build anything resembling a city on what is now farmland, the group must first convince Solano County voters to approve a ballot initiative to allow for urban uses on that land, a protection that has been in place since 1984. Local and federal officials still have questions about the group’s intentions… California is in dire need of more housing, especially affordable homes for teachers, firefighters, service and hospitality workers. But cities and counties can’t figure out where to build as established neighborhoods argue against new homes that they say would congest their roads and spoil their quiet way of life.
In many ways, Solano County is ideal for development. It is 60 miles northeast of San Francisco and 35 miles southwest of California’s capital city of Sacramento. Solano County homes are among the most affordable in the San Francisco Bay Area, with a median sales price of $600,000 last month. But Princess Washington, mayor pro tempore of Suisun City, said residents deliberately decided to protect open space and keep the area around Travis Air Force Base free of encroachment given its significance. She’s suspicious that the group’s real purpose is “to create a city for the elite” under the guise of more housing.
The web site for “California Forever” acknowledges they’ve purchased 50,000 acres — about 78 squares miles — “strategically located” in Northern California’s Solano County with access to water and low fire risk.
Speculative illustrations on the site “evoke a cityscape with a dreamy white stucco and red rooftop Mediterranean vibe that might be found in a Greek or Italian village,” writes the San Francisco Chronicle.
There are hillside neighborhoods stepping down to what must be the banks of the Sacramento River, kayakers tooling through lily pads and anglers fishing from the riverbank at sunrise… The website also names an investor who has not been named previously — venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, an early investor in Google, Slack and other companies…
While California Forever may have billions to invest in the project, it will face staunch opposition from some ranchers who argue that the city would disrupt the economy of a county that is 62% farmland.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s urban design critic writes “OK, this is something new — an elevator pitch for a whole new city…”
But the website launched Thursday by California Forever offers no real details, such as the projected population or precise location. Instead, there are renderings of cuddly townscapes and soothing talk of building “a remarkable place for Solano residents.” Oh, and an earnest promise to “begin the phase of our work that matters most: our conversation with you.” Let the eye-rolling commence. It’s impossible to critique the vision of the investors, because what was unfurled is so innocuous as to be an insult…
The website also refers to how this will be a center of “economic opportunity” and “new employers.” Great! But only two of the 12 renderings show people at work, including one where three men install solar panels while the sun sets in the west. Let’s hope they’re being paid overtime… The Bay Area needs housing and jobs. It also needs honest approaches to making this happen. Let’s hope when California Forever 2.0 launches, there is less fluff and more facts.