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Tech-backed plan to build Bay Area city from scratch qualifies for ballot

The image shows a scenic view of a neighborhood by a lake, with a backdrop of lush greenery, golden fields, wind turbines, and mountains under a clear blue sky.
California Forever, which has been purchasing land in the area, hopes to build a city in eastern Solano County. | Source: Noah Berger for The Standard

A plan bankrolled by tech billionaires to build a city from scratch in rural Solano County has qualified for the November ballot, election officials announced Tuesday.

Dubbed the “Homes, Jobs and Clean Energy Initiative,” the measure asks voters to approve zoning for a brand new city of up to 400,000 people, which its backers are calling the “East Solano Plan.” In a letter Tuesday, Solano County Registrar of Voters Tim Flanagan said he determined that a petition to place the plan on the ballot received a sufficient number of signatures after verifying a sample of the more than 20,000 signatures submitted.

The plan has been hugely controversial, with tensions flaring at informational town halls about the project as people sounded off about the plan. Residents have raised concerns about the mass-purchasing of more than 50,000 acres of land from farmers and expressed fear that jobs will dry up after the construction is complete.

The Sierra Club, one of California’s most venerable environmental organizations, derided the land acquisitions as a “hostile takeover.”

The community is being planned by California Forever, which is backed by a who’s-who of well-heeled investors, many of whom made their fortune in the tech industry.

Aerial view of a dense urban area with various modern buildings and green spaces.
A rendering of a city proposed by the billionaire-backed company California Forever in Solano County. | Source: Courtesy California Forever

California Forever’s investors include Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Chris Dixon, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison, billionaire philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and Michael Moritz, formerly of Sequoia Capital. Moritz is chairman of The Standard.

Former investment banker and California Forever CEO Jan Sramek spearheaded the land acquisition effort starting in 2017.

The county Board of Supervisors will consider formally placing the initiative on the ballot at its June 25 meeting. It could also instead order a report to assess the plan’s impacts before putting it on the ballot.

If the plan is approved by voters, the soonest construction could begin would be in the late 2020s, according to a FAQ on the East Solano Plan’s website.

Sramek did not immediately respond to The Standard’s request for comment, but he told KQED Tuesday that spirits were high.

“We’re feeling great,” Sramek said. “We’ve had an incredibly exciting six weeks now that we submitted the signatures; we’ve had the opportunity to start delivering on all of [our] initiatives. This is just the beginning.”