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Billionaires want to build a new city in rural California. They must convince voters first

by Lucas Garcia
4 comments
Urban Development

Wealthy individuals from Silicon Valley are embarking on an ambitious endeavor to construct a new city in rural California, having committed an estimated $800 million towards acquiring land in Northern California. While these billionaires are now beginning to unveil their plans for this new city, they face the challenging task of winning over skeptical voters and local leaders who have been left in the dark for years.

Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader at the forefront of this initiative, recently launched a website titled “California Forever,” which outlines the vision for the project. It is presented as an opportunity to establish a fresh community, generate well-paying local employment opportunities, develop solar farms, and conserve open spaces within Solano County. This county, situated between San Francisco and Sacramento, currently boasts a population of approximately 450,000 residents.

To garner support for their proposal, Sramek and his team have initiated discussions with influential political figures representing the region. Over the years, these officials have been attempting to uncover the identities behind Flannery Associates LLC, a mysterious entity that has been steadily acquiring substantial amounts of land and now holds the distinction of being the primary landowner in the county.

Impressive Silicon Valley luminaries, including philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, are throwing their support behind the initiative. The intent behind the project, led by the parent company California Forever, which oversees Flannery, has been to secure significant portions of farmland spanning over 78 square miles (202 square kilometers) within Solano County since 2018. This land acquisition primarily encompasses the southeastern region of the county, stretching from Fairfield to Rio Vista. Sramek’s personal affinity for the area, influenced by fishing excursions, led to him purchasing a residence in the county for his expanding family.

Aiming to gauge public sentiment, the project administrators issued a poll to residents, inquiring about their backing for a “new city with tens and thousands of new homes.” This proposed city would also feature a solar energy farm and new parks, with funding originating solely from the private sector. However, the project confronts a critical hurdle before embarking on its transformation of farmland into a cityscape. The group must successfully convince Solano County voters to approve a ballot initiative that would permit urban development on the land—a safeguard that has been in place since 1984. Additionally, local and federal authorities are still seeking clarifications regarding the group’s intentions.

In the quest to ascertain the real players behind the land acquisitions near the crucial U.S. Air Force base and its impact on national security and the local economy, two congressmen from the area expressed their frustration. Their efforts to unveil the identity of the enigmatic Flannery were met with resistance, given the company’s secretive approach. The recently launched website reveals that 97% of the funding stems from U.S. investors, while the remaining portion originates from the United Kingdom and Ireland.

While the group previously justified its secrecy as a measure to discourage speculative activity, it now seeks input from Solano households via a mailed survey and the establishment of a community advisory board. Previous surveys indicated that parents were most concerned about their children’s future prospects. The project’s overarching goal, as articulated by the website, is to forge a new community that not only attracts fresh employers and fosters well-paying local jobs but also constructs homes in walkable neighborhoods. Environmental stewardship is highlighted, and the projected growth in the tax base is anticipated to benefit the entire county.

California confronts an acute shortage of housing, particularly in the realm of affordable homes for essential workers such as teachers, firefighters, and service industry employees. The challenge lies in identifying suitable locations for development, as existing neighborhoods are often resistant to new housing due to concerns about increased traffic congestion and disruptions to their peaceful way of life.

Solano County presents an appealing prospect for development due to its strategic location—60 miles (96 kilometers) northeast of San Francisco and 35 miles (56 kilometers) southwest of the state capital, Sacramento. Homes in Solano County are relatively affordable within the context of the San Francisco Bay Area, with a median sales price of $600,000 recorded in the previous month.

However, some local officials, like Princess Washington, mayor pro tempore of Suisun City, express reservations. They perceive the venture as a guise for creating an elite enclave, rather than a genuine effort to address economic concerns. Washington contends that considerable resources are being allocated to establish a new city, whereas existing issues throughout the Bay Area remain unaddressed.

The project has garnered additional controversy by suing various landowners for alleged price-fixing of properties, causing further friction with locals. In recent weeks, residents received a push poll inquiring about support for a “major new project,” including a new city with tens of thousands of homes. The poll sought to determine whether support would increase if county residents were given priority and financial assistance for leasing or buying these new homes.

In meetings with politicians and officials, Sramek’s approach has been criticized for its lack of clarity and a perceived lack of understanding of the county’s values. While the project developers assert that they will safeguard the military base and permit farmers to continue their agricultural activities, questions and concerns persist regarding the project’s true intentions and impacts on the local area.

Despite the potential benefits, the project faces significant challenges, including gaining approval for urban development on previously protected farmland and alleviating skepticism from local leaders and residents. The project’s success hinges on its ability to address these concerns and present a comprehensive plan that aligns with the interests and values of the community. As this ambitious venture unfolds, its outcome will have far-reaching implications for the region and its stakeholders.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Urban Development

What is the main focus of the billionaires’ project in rural California?

The main focus of the billionaires’ project is to establish a new green city in rural California through substantial land acquisition and urban development.

Who is leading the effort behind the project?

Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader, is spearheading the initiative to create the new city in Northern California.

What are the key elements of the project’s vision?

The project envisions creating a new community with well-paying local jobs, solar farms, open spaces, and tens of thousands of new homes within Solano County.

Who are some of the prominent backers of the project?

Notable supporters include Silicon Valley entrepreneurs like philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

What has been the strategy behind the secrecy surrounding the project?

Secrecy was maintained to avoid short-term speculation during the land acquisition phase, which involved purchasing significant portions of farmland.

What is the major challenge the project faces?

The project needs to secure approval from Solano County voters through a ballot initiative to allow urban development on the acquired land, a protection that has been in place since 1984.

How has the local community reacted to the project?

Skepticism and concerns have been raised by local leaders and residents, including worries about the project’s true intentions and potential impacts on the area.

How has the project addressed concerns about affordable housing?

The project aims to address California’s housing shortage by proposing tens of thousands of new homes, including affordable options for essential workers.

What steps have been taken to gauge public sentiment?

The project team issued polls and surveys to residents to understand their views and preferences regarding the proposed new city.

What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of the project?

While the project could bring economic growth, job opportunities, and improved infrastructure, it also raises concerns about congestion, noise, and preserving the region’s unique lifestyle.

How has the project engaged with the community?

Efforts include forming a community advisory board and seeking input from residents to ensure that the project aligns with local values and needs.

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4 comments

PoliticoInsider September 2, 2023 - 4:34 am

Hmmm, wealthy Silicon Valley types unveil city plans. Can they convince locals? Hope they got a solid pitch.

Reply
JohnDoe123 September 2, 2023 - 7:59 am

wow, them billionaires rly gonna build a new city? dat’s cray cray! wonder if voters gonna buy into it tho.

Reply
EconGuru September 2, 2023 - 11:43 am

Silly billionaires splashin’ cash for a new city. Will they win voters ova tho? Time to watch this play out.

Reply
CryptoQueen September 2, 2023 - 6:19 pm

omg Silicon Valley peeps at it again! building a new city sounds kewl, but voters be like, “show me the moni!”

Reply

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