California Forever plan in Solano County heads to November ballot

Utopian city backed by Silicon Valley billionaires requires voter OK to rezone farmland

California Forever's Jan Sramek; Representative Mike Thompson; photos of proposed city by California Forever (Getty, California Forever, Linkedin)
California Forever's Jan Sramek; Representative Mike Thompson; photos of proposed city by California Forever (Getty, California Forever, Linkedin)

It’s official. A month after flooding a Solano County elections office with tens of thousands of signatures, California Forever has qualified its utopian city initiative for the November ballot.

The Fairfield-based firm backed by Silicon Valley billionaires had its signatures certified by the Solano County Registrar of Voters, allowing voters to decide the future of the proposed city of 400,000 residents between Travis Air Force Base and the city of Rio Vista, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Early last month, California Forever submitted more than 20,000 signatures for the ballot box measure to allow urban development on land zoned for agriculture. The threshold was 13,000 valid John Hancocks.

The land-use change would be necessary for the master-planned development for tens of thousands of homes, businesses, a youth sports complex, parks, bike lanes, open space and a large solar farm on pastures now dotted with cows.

The controversial venture, led by former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek, is supported by such moguls as Marc Andreessen, Michael Moritz, Reid Hoffman, Patrick and John Collison  and Laurene Powell Jobs.

Sramek outraged locals by using Folsom-based Flannery Associates to secretly buy more than 50,000 acres of farmland for $800 million, then suing farmers who refused to sell.

The proposed city faces strong opposition by elected officials and environmental groups concerned about the loss of habitat, who say Sramek’s plan is a speculative money grab that’s sparse on details.

Sramek told the Times the question before Solano County voters is nothing less than “a referendum on what do we want the future of California to be.”

The state, he told the newspaper, was once a great place “that built all these incredible things, bridges, water infrastructure, great public works, and now it is this oasis for the rich, or people who bought houses when they were cheap and they get to live here.”

Amid a critical lack of affordable housing, he said, his proposed new city offers a way “out of this defeatist-build-nothing-argue-about-everything mode.” 

Project opponents said a recent poll they conducted found that 70 percent of the people surveyed were skeptical of the utopian project.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“There’s a litany of reasons” to oppose the project, former Solano County Supervisor Duane Kromm, who has pushed for growth limits in the county and heads the group that funded the poll, told the Times.

Among the reasons, he said, is the county’s longtime commitment to keeping development confined to existing cities, along with what he said is a lack of transparency by project proponents.

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, published an op-ed against the project in the local newspaper.

“I strongly support efforts to increase the number of good-paying jobs, implement clean energy and provide opportunity for our region,” he wrote. “But these efforts require sound public policy that works with our community, not lavish promises that may never be realized.”

California Forever, meanwhile, has added local sweeteners to help sell its plan. 

They include a giant youth sports complex; $500,000 in grants to local organizations; a pledge to create at least 15,000 jobs; $500 million to assist with down payments for housing, scholarships and other benefits for residents; and $200 million to revitalize the downtowns of such nearby cities as Rio Vista, Benicia and Dixon.

They also include commitments to preserve open space, create walkable neighborhoods and improve traffic flow on roads surrounding the new city.

Ron Kott, the mayor of Rio Vista, said he sees “a lot of advantages.” Among them, he said, the unnamed city could enhance his town’s retail businesses, and possibly lure a much-needed healthcare clinic.

“I need more business,” Kott told the Times. “I need more sales tax revenue. I need essential services.”

— Dana Bartholomew

Read more

California Forever Submits Signatures for November Ballot
San Francisco
California Forever submits signatures for November ballot initiative
California Forever adds sports complex to utopian city planned for Solano County
San Francisco
California Forever adds sports complex to utopian city plan
California Forever Details Plan for City in Solano County
San Francisco
California Forever details plan for utopian city in Solano County
Recommended For You