California Forever envisions retro housing in Solano County

Billionaire-financed planned city would include row houses because they’re affordable

California Forever Envisions Retro Housing in Solano County
Flannery Associates' Jan Sramek; renderings of California Forever (LinkedIn, California Forever, Getty)

A utopian city backed by Silicon Valley billionaires in distant Solano County could end up looking more like historic Philadelphia.

The head of the newly renamed California Forever project said he wants the city-of-the-future that emerges out of 55,000 acres of secretly bought farmland to be decidedly retro, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. And that means row houses like those lining the streets of Philadelphia and Baltimore.

“We want to build a city of yesterday,” Jan Sramek, founder and CEO of California Forever, told the newspaper. “We do believe that one of the dominant types of housing in the new city should be row houses.

“You can have small construction firms build them. They can be built much more cheaply. They can be single-family row houses where you have a yard.”

The former Goldman Sachs investor and London School of Economics graduate, a native of the Czech Republic, was revealed by the New York Times last month to have led the mystery company behind $800 million in farmland purchases.

Backed by such billionaires as Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, Sramek conducted a five-year campaign to pay top dollar for dirt in order to build more affordable housing.

This month, he moved his family to the county 60 miles northeast of San Francisco, where he’s working to convince skeptical voters  to approve the city planned around Travis Air Force Base. His goal: put the controversial issue on the November 2024 ballot.

In an interview with the Chronicle, Sramek said he expects to release a detailed proposal for the new city by January. 

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He also said that public money would be needed to fund its infrastructure, possibly in the form of Mello-Roos and other financing districts, or programs where property taxes and related bonds pay for infrastructure work.

 “I think that great projects like this are built in partnerships with government,” Sramek told the Chronicle, adding that California Forever will move forward while other projects fail because it’s a project that’s “affordable by design.”

Sramek said his billionaire tech investors want to make money on the new city, but have also invested in California while many have moved out of state.

“We’ve gone out and found a group of people who want to double down in California,” he said, “who believe in the state, who believe in the optimism and the dynamism, and who want to use their resources to build something great in California.” 

Fairfield Mayor Catherine Moy has her doubts.

“There are other areas that this group could develop in and do a lot of good for humanity, including our downtown,” Moy told the Chronicle. “Putting a city in an area that is 98 percent (agricultural) is not a good idea. We are running out of (farm) land. We don’t need to develop it.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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