California Forever: billionaire-backed utopian plans unveiled

Ambitious plan to transform 55,000 acres of agricultural land on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area

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Name of a municipality of the future or the title of a Red Hot Chili Peppers track that wound up on the cutting room floor?

The ambitious plan to transform 55,000 acres of agricultural land on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area into a modern utopian city has been officially named “California Forever,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Backed by Silicon Valley billionaires and spearheaded by the parent company, Flannery Associates, the first renderings of the Solano County development were unveiled through a website.

​​“This has, understandably, created interest, concern, and speculation. Now that we’re no longer limited by confidentiality, we are eager to begin a conversation about the future of Solano County,” the website says.

The initial designs depict a cityscape with Mediterranean-inspired architecture, characterized by white stucco buildings and red rooftops and hillside neighborhoods cascading down to what appears to be the banks of the Sacramento River. 

The scenes include kayakers navigating through lily pads and anglers casting their lines along the riverbanks at sunrise, while other visuals showcase a city rising on a hill behind fertile farmland and urban scenes featuring pedestrians strolling along narrow streets with cafes and farm stands, solar panel installations, and commuters waiting for streetcars.

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The website says the goal is to start a conversation about the eastern part of Solano County, promising the creation of a new community, job opportunities with competitive wages, solar farms, and open spaces.

Solano County, nestled between Sacramento, the Delta, San Francisco, and Napa Valley, is described as a region that encapsulates the diversity of California’s landscapes and its people. It is recognized for its agricultural and green energy industries, middle-class communities, and the presence of a major Air Force base.

The pitch for California Forever, whose five-year, stealth campaign was unveiled during a recent poll of residents 60 miles northeast of San Francisco, was swallowed by some of Silicon Valley’s richest residents including venture capitalist John Doerr of Kleiner Perkins, Gabriel Metcalf (former CEO of SPUR), Marc Andreessen, Patrick and John Collison, Chris Dixon, Nat Friedman, Daniel Gross, Reid Hoffman, Michael Moritz, and Laurene Powell Jobs.

They said on the website that they conducted surveys and interviews with 2,000 Solano County residents.  The feedback, the group said, highlighted the need for more opportunities to purchase homes in safe, walkable communities, improved schools, public safety, and efforts to reduce homelessness.

While California Forever has a seemingly bottomless amount of financial resources, it faces strong opposition from a number of groups, who say, among other things, that the modern utopia would disrupt the county’s economy, primarily composed of farmland, which makes up 62 percent of Solano County. 

Additionally, the project appears to conflict with Solano County’s Orderly Growth Measure, which mandates that urban development occur within city boundaries rather than in unincorporated areas. California Forever asserts its support for the Orderly Growth Measure but intends to seek voter approval for its development plans, asserting that it aligns with safeguarding Solano County from sprawl and disorderly growth in the long term.

— Ted Glanzer