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Billionaires’ Vision For New Californian City Mired By Ongoing Trouble

California Forever, but not yet and potentially, never.

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology

Dr. Russell Moul

Russell is a Science Writer with IFLScience and has a PhD in the History of Science, Medicine and Technology.

Science Writer

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The residents of Solano County are not convinced by the promises being offered by some of Silicon Valley’s billionaires.

Image credit: Paul Thomas Curry/Shutterstock.com

The billionaire-backed effort, California Forever, is having a hard time delivering its utopian dream. The vision, to create a new city in northern California, is being met with harsh opposition from the local communities who are just not buying it.

What is this dream?

California Forever is owned by parent company Flannery Associates, which has spent over $800 million buying up massive amounts of farmland in the Solano County region. Since 2017, the company has bought Bay Area land parcels amounting to about 22,000 hectares (52,000 acres).

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For a long time, the company kept its overall plans a secret, but it has now announced that it hopes to create “a community with tens of thousands of residents, clean energy, public transportation and dense urban life”, as the New York Times noted. So, what could possibly be the problem with such a plan that is backed by some of Silicon Valley’s biggest bigwigs?

Aside from the project already being described as “utopian”, there’s the sneaking suspicion that all is not as egalitarian as it seems. In this case, the army of investors, including tech luminaries and venture capitalists, want to create a city that can serve as a model for future urban development. And of course, they expect to earn a lot of money from it.

When the project was originally pitched in 2017, the venture capitalist Michael Moritz explained that, as the New York Times put it, the “financial gains [from the city] could be huge.” Or, in Mortiz’s own words, “If the plans materialize anywhere close to what is being contemplated, this should be a spectacular investment.”

What do the residents think?

In the last few weeks, Flannery Associates has held multiple “town hall” meetings with local communities in an effort to win them over to the project’s ideals and to address questions and concerns. Let’s just put it this way – it hasn’t gone well for them.

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It seems local residents are far from keen on the idea. A local journalist who attended the first town hall in November described the event as “tense” and that, ultimately, many in the local community “don’t want this in their backyard.”

The Napa Valley Register, described the project as being “savaged” at the first hurdle, and that the “emotionally charged town hall” was filled with “outbursts, accusations and disdain”.

Rather than reassurance, the outlet summarized the first meeting as having fostered resentment and that “anger at California Forever and its approach to public outreach added fuel to many attendees' doubts about the company's promises of economic growth and fears about the harm the project might cause the county.”

Video footage shows attendees yelling at and criticizing the company CEO, former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek, during his presentation on the plans.

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Subsequent meetings have not fared much better either. In the second town hall, one attendee pointedly asked “How do you expect anyone in this room or the county to believe what you’re saying?”

The last town hall is to be held on December 18th, and if previous events are anything to go by, it is likely that opinion will be just as heated there too. Unfortunately for the army of billionaires backing this initiative, whether it is out of a genuine desire to help or just another opportunity to make money, the project may not survive without public support.

[H/T: Gizmodo]


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