Thursday, February 29, 2024

Billionaire backers of California’s new city seek voter approval after secret farmland grab

RIO VISTA, Calif. After years of secretly seizing land for a new city northeast of San Francisco, the CEO of a company backed by Silicon Valley billionaires pitched to voters Wednesday with his vision for a walkable, affordable community that captures their California pride.

Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader leading the city’s ambitious building effort, offered the first detailed look Wednesday at his proposal to build at least 20,000 homes in rural Solano County. , between Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area.

His plan requires the approval of county voters in November to bypass protections put in place in 1984 to prevent agricultural land from becoming urban space. If approved, it would be built on more than $800 million of rural land that Sramek and his company, California Forever, secretly purchased over a period of years to the great suspicion of locals.

He said the development would be “an incredible success story” in a state that needs a win at a time when leaders in Texas and Florida consistently beat California, something he said was unthinkable 50 years ago when all that could be discussed was. the “California Dream.”

“California used to be a place of optimism,” said Sramek, who was born in the Czech Republic and now lives in Solano County. “And if this project is done right, I think it will change the conversation. It will open a new path for the state and for the region.

The state needs more housing, especially affordable housing for teachers, firefighters, and other municipal employees who make up a community. Project proponents say Solano County is a good place to build, and the location near Travis Air Force Base will attract military contractors.

But critics, including a congressman and environmental groups like the Sierra Club, remain skeptical of the project’s intentions, especially after Sramek’s company spent years secretly buying up land around the base. and even suing local farmers who refused to sell. They said that more urban sprawl will damage the sensitive ecosystem and tax the region’s depleted water supply.

“Buying farmland at low prices and rezoning for housing development has been an easy way to make a profit for decades in California,” the Solano Farm Bureau said in a statement released by Solano Together, a coalition against the initiative.

It could lead to an expensive ballot fight by local standards, given the deep pockets of the backers of his project: philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, and others. It is not clear whether the opposition is ready to raise more money.

Sramek’s presentation to media and supporters inside a veterans memorial building in the small city of Rio Vista, located near the eastern end of the new community, outlined his plan for the 50,000 residents who live in rowhouses and apartment buildings between three and six stories high in the distance. to jobs, schools, bars, restaurants, and grocery stores.

Eventually, the city can grow to 400,000 people, the group says, but only if it can create at least 15,000 jobs that pay above-average wages. The plan calls for an initial $400 million to help Solano County residents and air force base families buy homes in the proposed community, among other investments. The money could also go toward new affordable housing for seniors, veterans, and farm workers.

Veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick said the group faces a tough challenge in winning over local residents at a time of high voter cynicism, animosity between political parties, and the inevitable misgivings about wealthy outsiders coming into the community.

“People are wary of the unknown,” Carrick said. Advocates “need to convince the voters of Solano County that this is better for them than the current status quo. People are skeptical about ballot measures; otherwise, more of them would pass. ”

Carrick estimated it could cost at least $10 million, although Sramek declined to say how much he was willing to spend. He said the campaign is not about money but about tapping into a real desire from local officials and residents to build a sustainable community.

“I’m going to do it no matter what,” he told reporters after the presentation.

Since being created in 2017, California Forever has purchased over 78 square miles (202 square kilometers) of farmland in Solano County. Sramek set his sights on town halls around the county last month but didn’t silence skeptical critics.

Critics of the project had signs outside the building on Wednesday, indicating they were closed. They spoke to reporters about their fear that Solano County does not have the roads and other infrastructure to accommodate the growth.

“I feel like they’re marketing to the younger generation, and they’re putting out a lot of financial incentives to make it look bright and shiny to people,” said Rio Vista resident Roxanne Stiles-Donnelly, who retired from nursing.

But inside, artist and musician Radhika Lynette says she loves the passion behind the project. The Vallejo resident left San Francisco 17 years ago in search of cheaper rent and Victorians.

“Who hasn’t dreamed of a place where it’s more sustainable? We seem to be behind on that in America, I feel. The walkable element is a big thing,” he said.

Sramek said he decided to build from scratch because the needs were too great to simply build within existing cities, as some critics have suggested. He said the cost of construction is too high to make affordable housing work and there is not enough land to meet the demand for jobs and homes.

World Nation News Desk
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