California YIMBY backs California Forever in Solano County vote

Advocacy group calls proposed city of 400K “a welcome break” to “status quo” in state

California YIMBY Backs Vote for New City in Solano County

From left: California YIMBY former CEO Melissa Breach and California YIMBY CEO Brian Hanlon (Getty, California YIMBY, East Solano Plan)

California YIMBY, one of the largest pro-housing advocacy groups in the state, has thrown its weight behind a November ballot initiative to create a new city on farms in Solano County.

The Sacramento-based group cast its support for the East Solano Plan, the initiative by California Forever that would allow urban development on land zoned for agriculture between Travis Air Force Base and the city of Rio Vista, reported

The land-use change would be needed for the development of 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 unnamed city planned by Fairfield-based California Forever could house as many as 400,000 people.

“To the extent that the East Solano Plan is a welcome break from this status quo approach to building, we think it deserves a chance,” California YIMBY said in a statement. “As proposed, this project addresses many of the mistakes made by previous large-scale greenfield developments.”

A former executive of California YIMBY challenged the project as “comically ill-advised.”

The controversial venture, led by former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek, is supported by such Silicon Valley billionaires 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.

California YIMBY, which stands for “yes in my backyard,” was founded in 2017 with the financial backing of Bay Area tech firms and executives who pushed back against not-in-my-backyard opponents of housing. The lobbying group touts 18 pro-housing bills it has helped pass into law.

With the state ordering the Bay Area to plan for 441,176 homes by 2031, California YIMBY decided the need for housing outweighs any “environmental uncertainties” of the proposed city in Solano County.

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Located between San Francisco and Sacramento, California Forever’s city could connect to railroads and highways, California YIMBY said. The group also praised its mixed-use design and higher walkability than previous developments atop virgin land or farms.

It claimed the project could not only be innovative. It could also set the tone for future housing across the state.

“This project has been designed by some of the brightest minds in California planning, and it shows,” California YIMBY said. “If successful, this project could set the tone for a much more sustainable pattern of urban growth over the next century.”

Not so fast, said Melissa Breach, a former California YIMBY senior vice president, who on X came out swinging against the instant farmland city she called “just sprawl” and “utopian.”

She said the California YIMBY endorsement would not convince voters in Solano County, while at the same time cause infighting within the broad YIMBY movement.

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“This is disappointing and short-sighted,” Breach, the former chief operating officer for California YIMBY, wrote in reference to the endorsement. “Before leaving in April, I spent five years helping grow and lead (California YIMBY) — building YIMBY power, advocating for infill housing and making building homes near jobs, transit and community resources faster and cheaper.

“This is not that.”

Breach called for California Forever and its Silicon Valley backers to invest instead in helping to build up existing communities in the rural county north of Suisun Bay.

“Why risk creating a political wedge inside the YIMBY movement at a time when our power is growing? New cities may be inevitable as California grows, but where and how we build them matters,” she wrote. “This particular project is comically ill-advised.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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