For Years, He Secretly Bought Land. Now, His Plans Emerge

Jan Sramek's billionaire-backed 'California Forever' firm wants to build a city in Solano County
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 18, 2024 6:20 PM CST
For Years, He Secretly Bought Land. Now, His Plans Emerge
This aerial photo shows farmland in rural Solano County, California, on Aug. 30.   (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vasquez, File)

After years of secretly snapping up farmland for a new city northeast of San Francisco, the CEO of a company backed by Silicon Valley billionaires pitched voters Wednesday on his vision for a walkable, affordable community that would appeal to their California pride. Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader spearheading the ambitious city-building effort, offered the first detailed look Wednesday at his proposal to construct at least 20,000 homes in rural Solano County, between Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, per the AP. His plan needs the approval of county voters in November to bypass protections put in place in 1984 to keep agricultural land from being turned into urban space. If approved, it would be built on more than $800 million of rural land Sramek and his company, California Forever, stealthily purchased over a period of years, to the great suspicion of locals.

The state is in desperate need of more housing, and project proponents say Solano County is the ideal place to build, especially since the location near Travis Air Force Base would appeal to military contractors. But critics, including a congressman and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, remain skeptical, especially after Sramek's company spent years secretly buying up land around the base and even suing local farmers who refused to sell. They say more urban sprawl could harm sensitive ecosystems and tax the region's already strained water supply. "Buying up farmland at low prices and rezoning for housing development has been a quick way to make a buck for decades in California," the Solano County Farm Bureau said in a statement released by Solano Together, a coalition that opposes the initiative.

The project's backers have deep pockets, including philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs (Steve Jobs' widow), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. Sramek envisions 50,000 residents living in row houses and apartment buildings between three and six stories high within walking distance to jobs, schools, restaurants, and grocery stores. Eventually, the city could grow to 400,000, 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 community, among other investments. Sramek says the development could be "an amazing success story" in a state that "used to be this place of optimism. And if this project is done right, I do think it's going to change the conversation." More here.

(More California stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.