One of California's most venerable environmental organizations has come out against plans to create a billionaire-backed tech-utopian city in a corner of the Bay Area better known for thousands of acres of remote farmland.
In the run-up to a series of town halls hosted by Flannery Associates at several Solano County locations on its California Forever plan, The Sierra Club said it would lay out the terms of its opposition.
The new urban area would be as walkable as Paris and create tens of thousands of jobs, according to a pitch from venture capitalist Michael Moritz.
Former investment banker Jan Sramek spearheaded the land acquisition effort starting in 2017. An elite group of tech entrepreneurs and investors joined, including Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison, billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and Moritz, formerly of Sequoia Capital. Moritz is chairman of The Standard.
The Sierra Club described Flannery as "a cabal of billionaires" in a Monday press release. The group's efforts to purchase 50,000 acres of land threaten to undo years of local and regional growth planning, the environmental organization said.
“Ignoring the current voter-approved uses of land that Flannery has acquired in order to jack their investment’s economic return is nothing short of a hostile takeover,” said Suisun City Vice Mayor and Sierra Club Solano Group Chair Princess Washington.
“These land use rules have allowed for a harmonious relationship of agricultural uses and open space with the urban environment of the seven existing cities in Solano County," Washington added. "There will be an increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).”
'Billionaires Getting Richer'
"We see this as a distinct violation" of the county's orderly growth initiative, Joe Feller, a board member for the Sierra Club's Redwood Chapter and Solano Group, said. He pointed out its previous renewals by voters since its initial approval in 1984. "We do not see any advantages to the project. The only thing we see is billionaires getting richer. That's all we see."
Feller expressed concern Monday that transit and housing needs for the county's incorporated cities could be "blown out of the water with this new community, which will have its own housing requirements," as well as other worries that lobbying on behalf of Highway 12 in Sacramento could undercut work that's gone into Highway 37.
The land—some 78 square miles between San Francisco and Sacramento—was purchased under the corporate name Flannery Associates. Seven Bay Area billionaires spent $800 million to scoop up the farmland in the hopes of transforming it into a modern metropolis. Flannery launched a website touting the venture, which said the project’s parent company is called California Forever.
Several residents who spoke to The Standard in September expressed measures of scorn and worry, alongside grudging consideration and acknowledgment of potential, about the possible effects on a region long defined by its sense of separation from urban sprawl.
"With respect to these project opponents, who made up their minds before ever seeing details of the project, they are entitled to their own opinions—but not their own 'facts,'" said California Forever's Sramek. "By giving voters the final say, this project explicitly adheres to the Orderly Growth Initiative, by asking Solano voters whether they want to turn an area with the least productive and least ecologically valuable soils in all of Solano County into a new economic engine for the county."
Sramek added that VMT would reduce under the utopia plans "by helping rebalance job distribution in Northern California by bringing more good-paying jobs to Solano County."
California Forever Town Halls
The town halls, which Flannery said in a statement would be "an opportunity for residents of Solano County" to meet and provide feedback, will begin Wednesday at the Vallejo Naval Historical Museum, followed by similar town halls during December in Rio Vista, Vacaville, Fairfield/Suisun City, Benicia and Dixon. Actual project plans are slated to follow in early 2024, with more town halls to introduce them.
The town halls, each starting at 5 p.m., are scheduled as follows, with RSVPs required to reserve seats:
- November 29: Vallejo Town Hall at the Vallejo Naval Historical Museum (RSVP here)
- December 5: Rio Vista Town Hall at Legion Hall at the Memorial Veterans Building (RSVP here)
- December 6: Vacaville Town Hall at Journey Downtown theater (RSVP here)
- December 7: Fairfield/Suisun Town Hall at Willow Hall Fairfield Community Center (RSVP here)
- December 14: Benicia Town Hall at Charles P. Stone Hall and Spenger Memorial Garden at the Museum of History Benicia (RSVP here)
- December 18: Dixon Town Hall at Olde Vets Hall (RSVP here)