A new city has been proposed in California, and I’ve never been more captivated by a vision for the future of my home state in my lifetime. This post is part of a series I’m writing about this bold proposal.

California Forever was founded by Jan Sramek in 2017 as a way to create the missing economic engine for Solano County while helping to solve the region’s growing housing crisis in a scalable, financially self-supporting way. He began pitching the project to wealthy Californians who were committed to the long-term health and success of the state.

Jan described it as an investment that would achieve these goals and also could make money long-term if it succeeded. This resonated with people like Laurene Powell Jobs, Mike Moritz, John and Patrick Collison, Marc Andreessen, Chris Dixon, and Reid Hoffman, who ended up investing a combined hundreds of millions of dollars to the project.

A photo from the area where the new city has been proposed
A map showing the location for the proposed new city

Over the next 6 years, California Forever bought over 60,000 acres of land in Solano County. (This is a lot of land; for comparison, Golden Gate Park is about 1,000 acres and San Francisco is about 30,000 acres.) They made these purchases without telling people in advance what their ideas were for the land, similar to how Disney purchased the land for Disney World. They knew that if they announced the plan upfront, the land prices would spike and the project would no longer be possible.

As the years went on and California Forever bought more and more land, neighbors grew curious and, later, concerned about who was behind the project. Farmers were selling at prices that part of the county had never seen before, with many of them making out with millions of dollars, and eventually the proximity to Travis Air Force Base made people concerned that perhaps some foreign adversary was buying the land.

In summer 2023, the team was preparing for a public launch in the fall. But before California Forever could make their planned announcement, the project leaked – the start of a rocky rollout to the public. It’s clear to me that the land assembly could never have happened if they had told the whole world what they were doing in advance. It’s also clear to me why some Solano residents would feel suspicious about an entity that purchased so much land quietly, and why California Forever would need to make up for that.
CEO Jan Sramek at a December town hall in Rio Vista, a town neighboring the proposed new city (The Reporter)

Over the following months, California Forever went into community engagement mode — talking to people in the county, setting up a community advisory committee, organizing town halls, and hosting meetings with electeds and community groups. These conversations became input into the plan for the new city. "To make sure those programs reflect input from all residents, we need your advice on what causes to prioritize in these community benefit programs," said a blog post from late 2023 that outlined some of the themes they had heard Solano voters say were priorities for them, such as down payment assistance, childcare, and education and training.

On January 17, after incorporating input from Solano stakeholders, California Forever announced the ballot initiative that will go in front of voters in November. The proposed legislation is called the East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative. If passed, its contents would become legally binding. Here are key aspects of the project as spelled out in the initiative:
  • The city would use just 17,500 acres, or about a quarter of the total land that California Forever owns. 4,000 of those acres would be used for parks, trails, urban ecological habitat, community gardens, and other types of open space.
  • Neighborhoods would be centered around local shopping streets and schools, and designed so that families can live within a short walk for most daily needs.
  • The community is designed to provide a range of transportation alternatives to cars, including walking, biking, and frequent transit service.
  • The initiative describes 10 guarantees to ensure the plan will benefit citizens all across Solano County, such as tying the new city’s ability to grow to the creation of 15,000 new jobs and $400 million in downpayment assistance. (I’ll dive deeper into these guarantees in a later post in the series.)

The company made some minor modifications in a revised initiative submitted on January 29th. Travis Air Force base still had some concerns about the impact of the project on their flight operations, so on February 14, California Forever modified the plan based on this input to shift uses farther from the base. In response, Travis Airforce Base said that the amended initiative will work for them, allowing them to continue their full mission. (I’ll dive deeper into this topic in a later post in the series.)

The next step is for California Forever to collect approximately 13,500 signatures to place the initiative on the ballot in November 2024 (10% of Solano residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election). Then, it’ll go to a vote of Solano residents in November 2024, and they will decide what happens next.

Now that you have an overview of the story so far, here are the other posts in the series that dive into various key aspects of California Forever’s proposed new city: