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.How Solano County May Add 400,000 Residents and a New City

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For more about California Forever, read about CEO Jan Sramek’s ideas about democracy and city planning.

In 2023, news got out that an anonymous entity was buying up large tracts of land in Solano County, located east of the populous Bay Area. Concern was expressed about the proximity of these land purchases to Travis Air Force Base, so much so that local members of Congress started to demand information. In August, it was revealed that the buyer was a corporation named California Forever, founded by Czech-born entrepreneur Jan Sramek, with plans to build a new community in stages to eventually house up to 400,000 people.

Because the Solano County General Plan mandates that new housing development occur within existing communities, a ballot measure was drafted and published in January 2024 to make amendments necessary to move forward with the project. It was announced on April 30 that the signatures had been gathered and submitted to the county to allow the measure to be added to the November ballot for voter approval.

Information and details about the project reveal plans to build an all-electric community following the “15 minute city” urban planning model. This includes medium-density housing concentrated in buildings of up to six stories, separate bike, mass-transit and car lanes, and all-underground utilities. The project commits to “10 Guarantees” to the citizens of the county, which include hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives to the county and existing local communities, as well as a promise to provide at least 15,000 local jobs paying 125% of the average wage in the county.

A community services district would be formed to raise funds through parcel assessments to provide some municipal and utility services, with other necessary services—such as police and fire protection and public education—to be provided by existing county agencies.

Photo of a farm in the distance with a
LAND USE The California Forever project envisions medium-density housing concentrated in buildings of up to six stories, separate bike, mass-transit and car lanes, and all-underground utilities. Photo by Eric Johnson

The project is located on close to 60,000 acres in Solano County between the cities of Fairfield and Rio Vista at the north end of San Francisco Bay. The topogrphy is flat with some low rolling hills noted on county parcel maps as not-prime agricultural land used currently for livestock grazing. The project site is bounded to the south by two-lane rural Highway 12 running east-west, and bisected by two-lane rural Highway 113 running north-south. A major Amtrak/Southern Pacific commuter and freight rail corridor serves the area a few miles to the west with a station at Fairfield/Suisun City.

The Good

There are several positive aspects to California Forever. 

Perhaps the most important is that it is a greenfield project, meaning it is being built on previously undeveloped land. This allows for the most cost-effective use of the latest materials, techniques and planning methodologies.

Also important is the site’s location. It’s away from the coast, so does not fall under regulation of the California Coastal Commission. The topography reduces the need for grading and complicated drainage. It’s close to Sacramento, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

It is designated as marginal agricultural land on county parcel maps, consisting mainly of grasslands used for livestock grazing. This means that the project will not be displacing farms on prime agricultural land, and the lack of trees and forests means the project is less vulnerable to wildfire risk.

Medium-density housing built with modern materials to modern efficiency standards is more sustainable from the standpoint of infrastructure. Stacked housing uses less water for landscaping. Electric heating and cooling with modern heat pumps is energy efficient, and the proximity to wind farms south of Highway 12 and planned solar facilities make for a more sustainable energy supply. Denser housing also requires a smaller surface transportation footprint and makes mass transit more cost-effective.

POWER SOURCE Proximity to wind farms and planned solar facilities make for a more sustainable energy supply for California Forever. Photo by Eric Johnson

Underground power and communications facilities are more resilient to fire and inclement weather. 

Proximity to the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train service makes it easy to commute to Sacramento, the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

Nearby telecommunications fiber optic cable facilities guarantee the area will be well connected by phone and high-speed internet service.

The rezoning of the project parcels from agricultural zoning, mostly under Williamson Act contract, to residential or commercial zoning will result in a significant increase in property tax revenue to the county and state.

The project plans indicate a commitment to environmental sustainability with an emphasis on pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation.

The Bad

There are some significant challenges to be surmounted.

Non-rail surface transportation is problematic and will need to be addressed.  The main vehicle arterials for the new community are Highways 12 and 113, rural two-lane highways connecting the area to Interstate 80 to the west and Interstate 5 to the east. 

Interstate 80 connects to Highway 12 at the communities of Fairfield and Suisun City, and is already a nightmare in the mornings and afternoons with bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go traffic.

The Highway 12 route east to connect with Interstate 5 is complicated by the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers and several bridges that are more than 100 years old.

BOTTLENECK The Helen Madere Memorial Bridge on Highway 12 would need an upgrade if California Forever comes to fruition. Photo by Chris Neklason

Highway 12 passes through the city of Rio Vista and crosses the Helen Madere Memorial Bridge over the Sacramento River, a major shipping corridor to West Sacramento to the north. The bridge at Rio Vista has a mechanical lift section which is raised between two towers to accommodate shipping, and this causes traffic on Highway 12 to halt while this occurs. Because of the age of the mechanical components and lack of spare parts, the bridge has been “stuck” and impassable several times, disrupting traffic for hours. A solution was already called for and becomes more urgent if California Forever is to be built.

Traffic mitigation will be an immediate need, will be costly, and could be time-consuming to plan and implement.

The Ugly

Building the first phase of California Forever to house the initial 50,000 residents will likely be a messy and painful process for local residents and the developers.

Highway 12 is already pretty busy during parts of the day, and the periodic stream of heavy equipment and raw materials delivery to the site project site, and the daily commute of hundreds of workers to and from their jobs will be a pain point for everybody.

The project has already resulted in litigation, and will probably result in more during the planning and environmental review process if approved by voters and advancing to the next stage.

California has been home to many large-scale planned communities over the years, especially around the Sacramento region and in El Dorado County, where a large-scale development of 8,000 homes on 2,800 acres is currently being proposed.

While California Forever is an ambitious project and of a larger scale than most, it appears doable in theory. It remains to be seen if  Solano County voters will find it desirable in November.

Chris Neklason is co-founder and director of product development of CaliforniaLocal.com. These articles were originally published on its site.

1 COMMENT

  1. How about adding more police and fixed/repairing current school hire more teachers and pay special needs staff more money.
    Fixing up down town Fairfield
    Oh yes let’s not forget Vallejo who is so short on police and fix up down town Vallejo so it doesn’t look like a ghost town!
    How about helping the homeless and giving them somewhere to go.
    Give the homeless life skills (for those who want it) how to have a bank account balance a check book how to read
    LEAVE THE FARM LAND ALONE!!!

    • Please sign me up for the newsletter - Yes

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