For years, people in the know have been buying farmland northeast of San Francisco for a new city. On Wednesday, the CEO of a company backed by Silicon Valley billionaires told voters about his plan for a walkable, cheap community that would make them feel proud to be from California.
Jan Sramek, a former trader at Goldman Sachs who is leading the ambitious effort to build a city, gave the public its first thorough look at his plan on Wednesday. He wants to build at least 20,000 homes in rural Solano County, which is located between Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.
To get around rules put in place in 1984 to keep farmland from being turned into cities, his plan needs to be approved by voters in the county in November. If allowed, it would be built on more than $800 million worth of rural land that Sramek and his company, California Forever, bought in secret over a few years, making people in the area very suspicious.
People in Texas and Florida are regularly beating up California, which he said was unimaginable 50 years ago when everyone was talking about the “California Dream.” He said the project could be “an amazing success story” in a state that needs a victory.
Sramek, who was born in the Czech Republic and now lives in Solano County, said, “California used to be this place of hope.” “I think this project will change the conversation if it’s done right.” This will lead to a new direction for the state and the area.
The state needs a lot more homes, especially ones that teachers, firefighters, and other city workers can buy. These people are the backbone of any community. People who want to build the project say that Solano County is the best place to do it, and that military contractors would be interested in the site near Travis Air Force Base.
But some people, like a lawmaker and environmental groups like the Sierra Club, are still not sure what the project’s goals are. This is especially true since Sramek’s company spent years buying land around the base in secret and even sued farmers who wouldn’t sell. That more cities could hurt fragile ecosystems and put more stress on the area’s already limited water supply, they say.
“For decades, buying up farmland at low prices and rezoning it for housing development has been a quick way to make money in California,” the Solano Farm Bureau said in a statement posted by Solano Together, a group that is against the initiative.
The company’s new 83-page initiative was sent to county elections on Wednesday. The campaign needs to get a ballot title and description from the county before it can start collecting signatures. There are about 13,000 county voters who need to sign on for the measure to go to the November ballot.
Because his project’s backers are wealthy, like donor Laurene Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and others, it could lead to a very expensive election battle in this area. It’s not clear if the resistance is about to raise a lot of money.
Sramek told the media and supporters about his plan for 50,000 people to live in rowhouses and apartment buildings three to six stories high, close to jobs, schools, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores. The presentation took place in a veterans memorial building in the small city of Rio Vista, which would be on the eastern edge of the new community.
Group says the city could have 400,000 people one day, but only if it can make at least 15,000 jobs that pay more than the average wage. The plan calls for an initial investment of $400 million to help people from Solano County and the air force base buy homes in the planned town. The money could also be used to build new affordable homes for soldiers, seniors, and farm workers.
Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic adviser, said it will be hard for the group to win over locals at a time when voters are skeptical, political parties are fighting, and people are naturally wary of rich outsiders moving into the area. He said, “People are afraid of the unknown.” Supporters “need to show voters in Solano County that this is better for them than what they have now.” People don’t trust vote measures; if they did, more of them would pass.
Carrick thought it might cost at least $10 million, but Sramek wouldn’t say how much he is willing to spend. He said the effort wasn’t about getting money, but about getting local leaders and people who live in the area to really want to build a sustainable community. After the speech, he told reporters, “I’m going to make this happen no matter what.”