Billionaire-backed plan for new California city gets its debut

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After enduring months of criticism, a company backed by billionaire tech moguls has pulled back the shroud of secrecy on their proposal to build a new California city — outlining a plan to transform farmland northeast of San Francisco into a pedestrian-friendly community that could grow to 400,000 in the coming decades.

California Forever, which quietly bought 60,000 rural acres in Solano County, says now it hopes to build on about a third of that land — with a mix of apartments and townhouses that would stand apart from traditional suburban developments.

“It’s medium density,” said Gabriel Metcalf, the group’s head of planning. “It’s not traditional suburbia, it’s not Manhattan, it’s in the middle.”

First, however, they need to get through the voters — and that may not be easy.

The project, which would be located on what is now largely windswept farmland just west of the small city of Rio Vista, violates the county’s decades-old Orderly Growth Initiative and General Plan and would require voter approval to go forward.

California Forever — which has not yet released a proposed name for its new city — is preparing a campaign for a November ballot initiative to secure that approval. At a series of town halls in recent weeks, the public reaction has been overwhelmingly negative, with many people insisting that new development stay within existing cities as the orderly growth initiative requires.

Documents shown by the company to POLITICO ahead of the launch aim to address some of the criticism levels at the town halls, with California Forever pledging to set aside thousands of acres around nearby Travis Air Force Base, the largest employer in the county, to ensure their project doesn’t interfere with operations there or raise concerns for the military.

The company also plans to offer what it says is a legally binding agreement that the project will create at least 15,000 jobs that pay at least 125 percent of the county average weekly wage by the time the new city reaches its first 50,000 residents.

California Forever also says it will be able to buy sufficient water for the project and pay its required share to widen the state highways that provide the only access to the area.

The city itself will feature dense, “walkable” streets. Homes will either be apartments or townhomes, most of which will be attached. There will be no large-lot single family homes.

Organizers estimate they’ll need to submit about 14,000 valid signatures by late April in order to put the measure on Solano County ballots in November.

They haven’t disclosed their campaign budget but it could be substantial. California Forever CEO Jan Sramek is a former Goldman Sachs trader who has created online social media and education companies. Project backers include uber-wealthy Silicon Valley investors, including Michael Moritz, chair of Sequoia Capital; Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn; Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective and widow of the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs; Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison; and Marc Andreessen, an investor and co-founder of Netscape.

If voters approve the measure in November, organizers estimate they could start building basic infrastructure — like roads, sewers and gutters — by 2026.

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