Billionaires' plan for Solano County utopian city faces big hurdles

A billionaire-backed plan to transform 55,000 acres of land into a utopian oasis in Solano County faces a significant hurdle, according to county officials in a press release issued on Wednesday.

Flannery Associates LLC, the investor group that discretely acquired $800 million worth of land in the rural county, situated between San Francisco and Sacramento, will need to garner voter support.

The undertaking, known as "California Forever," desires to bring offer "a chance for a new community, good paying local jobs, solar farms, and open space," to the county that is already home to 450,000 residents.

However, a substantial portion of the land procured by Flannery Associates carries agricultural zoning.

Solano County officials said that they have been monitoring the group's land acquisitions since 2018 and have maintained regular communication with local and state agencies regarding Flannery's extensive land holdings, spanning from Fairfield to Rio Vista.

However, communications between the county and Flannery "have been limited despite the County’s efforts to understand their intentions for the use of the land they had been acquiring," the county's statement said.


A potential new major city between Rio Vista and Fairfield

After many months of reporters trying to find out who was buying up a large chunk of rural Solano County, we now know that an investor group, Flannery, which now calls itself Forever California, is behind the silent and mostly secret project.

An all-star lineup of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists is endorsing the project, including philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

After years of evading scrutiny over their clandestine land purchases, Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader spearheading the initiative, launched the California Forever website to initiate discussions with the community regarding the proposed city.

Nevertheless, county officials pointed out that establishing a modern-day city in Solano County presents complex challenges. The General Plan and Orderly Growth Ordinance, approved by voters, restricts the majority of California Forever's acquired land to agricultural uses.

"To change the land designation and zoning of the properties to accommodate urban development, a measure would have to be placed on the ballot and approved by a majority of Solano County voters," the county said. Adding, "For decades, Solano County residents have consistently decided at the ballot box that preservation of agricultural land is priority."

Another pressing concern is the proximity of the proposed city to Travis Air Force Base, which houses the U.S. military's largest cargo and aerial refueling aircraft.

Local leaders who spent years investigating whether foreign adversaries or investors were behind the land acquisitions around the U.S. Air Force base were furious that Flannery concealed its identity for so long.

"The FBI, the Department of Treasury, everyone has been doing work trying to figure out who these people are," said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents much of the county. "Their secrecy has caused a lot of problems, a lot of time, and a lot of expense."

The investment group said secrecy was required until enough land was purchased, in order to avoid short-term speculation, but that it is now ready to hear from Solano households via a mailed survey and creation of a community advisory board.

Princess Washington, the mayor pro tempore of Suisun City, expressed skepticism that the group's true intention is "to create a city for the elite" under the pretense of addressing housing needs.

"Economic blight is everywhere. So why do you need to spend upwards of a billion dollars to create a brand new city when you have all these other things that can be achieved throughout the Bay Area?"she said.

County officials underscored that they have not received any project information or proposals directly from Flannery.

Furthermore, beyond any efforts to place a land-use change on the ballot, there would be substantial entitlement and permitting processes involving county, state, and federal agencies, according to the county.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.