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’s proposal includes 10 Voter Guarantees that go far beyond what typical developers offer. These are structured as legally binding commitments – written into the ballot initiative that is going to voters in November – that tie the growth of the new city to the well-being of Solano's residents.

  1. Solano Jobs Guarantee: "We will bring 15,000 new jobs [...] that pay at least 125% of the average wage. The community won't be able to grow beyond 50,000 residents until we've fulfilled that commitment."
  2. Solano Homes for All: "We will provide $400 million [...] to help Solano County residents buy homes in the new community, and to build more affordable homes. If $300 million is allocated to the downpayment assistance, that's enough to provide 6,000 Solano families with $50,000 each towards their downpayment."
  3. Solano Scholarships: "We will provide $70 million [...] to help Solano residents pay for college, vocational training, or to start or expand a small business."
  4. Green Solano: "We are providing $30 million [...] for protecting open space and natural habitats, improving public parks and trails, and supporting Solano's agriculture economy. "
  5. Solano Downtowns: "We'll [...] invest $200 million in renovating or building [...] downtown areas of Benicia, Dixon, Fairfield, Rio Vista, Suisun City, Vacaville, and Vallejo."
  6. Smart Growth Guarantee: "If our community grows beyond 50,000 residents, all of these financial commitments will continue to scale up in proportion to the growth of our community."
  7. Water Guarantee: "Before the first brick is laid, we guarantee to prove our own water availability."
  8. Transportation Guarantee: "We'll provide right of way for upgrades to Highways 12 and 113, including the Rio Vista and Dixon bypass, and pay more than our proportionate share of cost to do those upgrades."
  9. Schools Guarantee: "We commit to build 100% of our own schools [...] from day one. Our community will still remain in the existing school districts – we just guarantee that we will build new schools by the time the first children move in."
  10. Solano Taxpayer Guarantee: "Our project will pay its own way through the tax revenue it generates [...] at no cost to Solano taxpayers."

These are bold guarantees, summing to about $700 million of benefits to Solano residents for every 50,000 residents as the city grows. The Smart Growth Guarantee then says that these investments would scale further with each increment of 50,000 residents.

Some of the community benefits include "funding for protecting open space and natural habitats, improving public parks and trails, and supporting Solano's agriculture economy, including family farms and agricultural workers."
To put the scale of these investments into perspective, the entire GDP of Solano County was $35 billion in 2022. This scale of investment flowing into Solano County from the development of this new city will accelerate prosperity for current residents, and that’s even before accounting for all the new business and opportunities that will happen once the residents of the new city move in.

This is an interesting way to align the immediate interests of existing residents with the long-term prosperity of the county and the well-being of future residents who will get to live there if this city is built. Long-term, the benefits of bringing more people and jobs to the county are tremendous: the new city will create a new economic engine for the county, it will bring a higher quality, wider range of services because there will be more customers to serve, and it’ll bring the cost of housing down. But this will take time to bear fruit, because it will take years to build out all the infrastructure before the first residents can move in (although in the meantime it will create lots of jobs in construction!). The guarantees proposed by California Forever address this time gap by accelerating the benefits for existing residents so that they can see some of the created value come back to them sooner.

When I first read about the voter guarantees, the numbers seemed so large as to be a fantasy. However, I think there are a few things going on that make this possible.

With respect to the $200 million for investments in existing downtowns in Solano cities, California Forever has been very clear that these are not grants, they are commercial investments by California Forever. Since almost no development has happened in those downtowns so far (Fairfield and Vallejo have both been trying to attract developers downtown, but so far, that has not worked), it’s likely that developing in those downtowns does not pencil out and is not profitable. But that’s still different to just giving a grant. California Forever is committing here to make investments that others won’t – i.e., they may be expecting to lose money on those investments in order to help revitalize those downtowns – but the buildings they renovate and build will still be worth something, even if less than $200 million.

With respect to the $500 million that is committed to community benefits and grants, this is still a staggering number, but it’s in the same ballpark as other investments that California Forever needs to make to make the project work, like building water and wastewater treatment plans, contributing to improvements to highways, and more.

What this investment has in common with those infrastructure improvements is likely one of the company’s core insights: as the size of the proposed project increases, the total amount of value created gets big enough to both fund the necessary infrastructure and to deliver benefits to the community that would otherwise never be possible.

Additionally, the proposed initiative will approve the project all at once and create a flexible envelope for development, which is in stark contrast compared to the patchwork of approvals that dominates development patterns right now. This will remove delays and deadweight economic loss that exist in the current process, which will allow the company to use those gains to provide the community with large benefits.

These community benefits are California Forever’s way of committing to making sure that the city benefits existing residents of Solano County as well as the new residents of the city. If crafted correctly, these benefits have the potential to align the interests of the existing residents with the long-term prosperity of the county and region overall, creating a win-win situation for everyone.

If you’re interested in understanding more about the new city that California Forever has proposed, here are the other posts in the series: