When California Forever—the $800 million venture to build a city on rural land in Silicon Valley—was first unveiled in September, it was light on specifics. Now, a filing with the Solano Registrar of Voters, and via a new set of renderings, the vision for a speculative community that’s twice the size of San Francisco has become a little bit clearer.
Phase one of the project seeks to house about 50,000 residents across an 18,600-acre site in Solano County, California between San Francisco and Sacramento, just outside the Travis Air Force Base. While most of the acreage will be used for housing, schools, office, and commercial use, about 4,000 acres will be used for parks, trails, urban ecological habitat, community gardens, and other types of open space, California Forever said. Renderings even show jovial factory workers within a manufacturing hub to demonstrate the full range of blue- and white collar jobs California Forever is looking to create and foster.
The East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative—and the auxiliary new renderings—are the result of an extensive community engagement process with over 12,000 people, California Forever said. “Over the past five months, we’ve run an extensive community engagement process with Solano County residents,” the website stated. This feedback is reflected in the plan. The plan was crafted with the voters, and reflects the character and priorities of Solano County.”
The document submitted for voter approval debuted a new Travis Security Zone, which nearly doubles the size of the current buffer from 7,971 acres in the 2008 General Plan to a new total of about 15,000 acres from the air base. The backers have also pledged an additional $30 million to populate the site with parks, green spaces, protected ecological habitats, and agriculture.
As previously reported by AN, urban design for the community is by SITELAB Urban Studio, a San Francisco office. CMG is the landscape architect, and Fehr & Peers is responsible for transportation planning. The community takes cues from the New York Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities of To-Morrow proposal from 1898, the 1905 Burnham Plan for San Francisco, and even the more contemporary writings of Leon Krier, California Forever’s team of in-house designers said.
The new community is replete with urban fabric that’s practically identical to blocks in the Upper West Side, or Brooklyn Heights. It evokes what New Urbanists call the 15-minute city, where everything from housing, grocery stores, schools, etc. is reachable by foot, bike, or train within a fifteen minute commute. (The full design principles can be read here.)
Flannery Associates, the corporation that had been pulling the strings for the project, now simply known as California Forever, has grabbed news headlines for the past six years after acquiring over 50,000 acres of largely agriculturally zoned land. In September, following the release of WPA-style artistic interpretations and a website landing page, Solano County said in a press release: “…the concept of creating a new urban center in Solano County raises some complex issues. The voter-approved General Plan and Orderly Growth Ordinance allows only for agricultural uses on the majority of land California Forever has acquired.”
This latest announcement coincides with updated visuals, improving on the previous illustrations. New renderings show more photorealistic aspirations of what developer Jan Sramek—a former Goldman Sachs partner—hopes to build.
The East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative is further described by California Forever as a plan to build middle-class homes in safe, walkable neighborhoods and serve as an economic engine for Solano County. It prescribes myriad pledges by California Forever to citizens of Solano. This includes a Taxpayer Guarantee which states that the entire $800 million project will be independently financed by its residents and employers, and will not impose any new taxes or fiscal obligations on existing Solano County residents or businesses.
The Initiative filed to the Register of Voters also lays out a Water Guarantee to ensure new residents will have water access without overburdening existing supply. A Transportation Guarantee drives at improving highway safety and capacity for Highways 12 and 113 with new right of ways. Furthermore, a Schools Guarantee promises to not overcrowd existing school facilities with new construction; and a Smart Growth Guarantee pledges to connect existing residents and business to jobs and capital.
Surveyors found that, today, 81 percent of Solano County parents believe their children won’t be able to afford to live in the neighborhood they grew up in the future. “Let’s change that, and make sure that every Solano family has a future here, now and for generations to come,” the new announcement stated.