Billionaire-Backed Effort to Build New California City Advances to November Ballot

A field at the site of a proposed development by California Forever in Solano County, California.

Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
May 1, 2024 at 3:45 AM GMT+8
Updated on
May 1, 2024 at 7:29 AM GMT+8

A group backed by Silicon Valley investors aiming to build a new city in California has collected enough support from residents to place a key zoning-change measure on the upcoming ballot.

The campaign said Tuesday it has surpassed the required 13,000 signatures, gathering the endorsement of more than 20,000 residents of Solano County, a largely agricultural community located northeast of San Francisco. The initiative, if approved by voters in the county, would pave the way from construction to begin by overturning restrictive zoning laws from the 1980s that limit development outside existing cities.

"That number reflects the breadth and the depth of the support for the east Solano plan across Solano County from people from all walks of life, all parts of the county," said Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader who is the founder and chief executive officer of the company behind the project, California Forever.

The proposed ballot measure includes zoning changes to allow for the development of 17,500 acres for the new city, which is expected to house 50,000 residents.

With backers including former Sequoia Capital Chairman Michael Moritz and social-impact investor Laurene Powell Jobs, Sramek and his team say they’re on mission to ease California’s housing crisis and restore the era of walkable downtowns that was lost to the rise of suburbs and American car culture.

Tuesday’s announcement at an event in Vallejo marks a significant milestone for a campaign that’s been marred by controversy from the start. Since first revealed to the public, the secretive project has faced fierce criticism from locals, farmers and politicians who have accused Sramek and his supporters of using intimidation tactics to acquire the land needed to construct the development.

Many residents have expressed concerns over the future of the community’s farmers and the project’s impact on the environment. And in recent months the campaign has come under more scrutiny after county officials said some residents who signed the ballot petition felt confused or misled about what they had signed.

Another hurdle has involved the security around nearby Travis Air Force Base, although military officials said earlier this year that their concerns had been addressed.

If the measure passes in November, Sramek said it will help usher in thousands of new jobs for locals, spur much-needed affordable housing and create a dense and green community in a state struggling to ease a housing crisis that’s priced out most Californians from buying a home.

Completing the project in the region between the San Francisco Bay Area and Sacramento could take as long as 50 years.

"We’re here because we believe in Solano County," Sramek said. "We want to end these long commutes and have good-paying jobs here close by."

    — With assistance from Karen Breslau and Eliyahu Kamisher

    (Updates with Sramek comment in last paragraph)

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