• February 29, 2024, 6:20 pm

Utopian ‘city of yesterday’ project has all the land it needs SoftAIT

Reporter Name 19 Time View
Update : Tuesday, November 7, 2023

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A billionaire-backed Silicon Valley company says it now owns enough land to move forward with the next phases in creating a high-tech, utopian “city of yesterday.” In a recent email to PopSci, California Forever CEO Jan Sramek says he hopes “residents [will] keep an open mind [and] hear what we have to say,” while promising “we’ll do the same in kind.”

The news marked a turning point in the secretive, years-long campaign costing over $800 million, alongside a recently dropped $510 million lawsuit against local landowners. According to the project’s website, the group intends to build a new, green smart municipality from scratch atop its 53,000 acres. But despite promising “novel methods of design, construction and governance,” the project’s details remain vague.

[Related: Silicon Valley’s wealthiest want to build their own city outside of San Francisco.]

Founded by Sramek, a 36-year-old former Goldman Sachs trader, California Forever has quietly bought up tens of thousands of acres northeast of San Francisco since at least 2018. Investors include prominent venture capitalists, LinkedIn’s co-founder, as well as Lauren Powell Jobs, billionaire philanthropist and wife of the late Steve Jobs.

After years spent flying under-the-radar, Flannery Associate’s parent company finally launched a public-facing website in September featuring conceptual renderings and CGI walkthroughs of an idyllic townscape. The official site’s FAQ section argues the stealth campaign was “the only way to avoid creating a rush of reckless short-term land speculation.”

Credit: California Forever

In a separate statement provided to PopSci on Monday, a Flannery spokesperson relayed the company “does not anticipate making any additional purchases” once it finalizes the “few remaining properties” under contract in the coming weeks. It is unclear if the final properties under contract differ from those recently purchased from local Solano County farmers following the contentious legal battle. Flannery filed its $510 million lawsuit in May 2023 against a group of local landowners, citing antitrust violations.

Speaking with PopSci last week via email, Flannery’s spokesperson contended this “small group” of residents engaged in a “targeted campaign” of slander, but denied that the company was suing local farmers for simply refusing to sell. The spokesperson cited an alleged incident from July 2022, when a farmer offered his property to Flannery for $32,000 per acre—nearly 10 times “fair market value” at the time, claims Flannery. After company representatives refused to buy at that price point, the farmer allegedly engaged in a “secret conspiracy” alongside fellow landowners to agree upon a standard selling price “so [Flannery] cannot play owners against owners,” the spokesperson said.

“Flannery has been reasonable when settling the case with many of the defendants, and has been willing to negotiate generous settlements with the remaining defendants,” the spokesperson concluded last week. On November 3, Bloomberg Business revealed the lawsuit’s defendants have since agreed to sell their remaining land to Flannery Associates for $18,000 per acre.

California Forever town concept art on lake
Credit: California Forever

Critics, however, continue to voice concerns over the project’s logistical, legal, and governmental vagaries. Earlier this year, Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) argued to a local California news outlet that the area’s proximity to Travis Air Force Base meant “[foreign] spy operations or any other nefarious activity could take place” there. Rep. Garamendi added such issues “could detrimentally impact the [base’s] ability…  to operate in a moment of national emergency,” and criticized Flannery’s then-ongoing lawsuit against locals. PopSci has reached out to Rep. Garamendi’s office for comment, but did not receive a response at the time of writing.

“Travis Air Force Base is critical to both our national security and to Solano County. We fully support its mission and always will,” reads a portion of California Forever’s FAQ page.

[Related: Why the tech billionaires can’t save themselves.]

In August, Solano County residents began receiving text and email opinion polls regarding a potential future ballot initiative. The messages at the time described an urban project including “a new city with tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar energy farm, orchards with over a million new trees, and over 10,000 acres of new parks and open space.” In an interview with local Bay Area news outlet ABC 7 in September, Sramek also said he envisions it to be “one of the most walkable places in California, probably in America” while possessing a “very traditional feeling to it.”

“The idea of building a new community and economic opportunity in eastern Solano seemed impossible on the surface,” Sramek wrote to PopSci last week. “But after spending a lot of time learning about the community, which I now call home, I became convinced that with thoughtful design, the right long-term patient investors, and strong partnerships… we can create a new community,” Sramek said at the time.



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