The tech billionaire-backed landgrab in Solano County California might finally be out of the shadows, but the local officials who have finally had the opportunity to speak to the developers say the group simply has no real plan to make good on promises to build a beautiful, sustainable, and exclusive Bay Area tech utopia.
As reported by local ABC affiliate KGO, the congresspeople representing Solano County, where the group plans to build their new metropolis, and neighboring areas said the people behind the project essentially have no good idea what the hell they’re doing with the 55,000 acres they’ve snatched up over the past several years. The project is being headed up by self-described former Goldman Sachs investor Jan Shramek, and in his second round of meetings with local officials, he reportedly could not offer any sort of details on how they would deal with the land located near Travis Air Force Base.
Democratic Rep. John Garamendi told KGO there was a “serious threat” to national security because many of the parcels bought up by Flannery Associates and its parent company California Forever are located close to Travis. The area is zoned for agriculture with additional restrictive overlays preventing extra development on that land that could compromise the area’s security. Even with those special provisions for development, Garamendi said the developers did not commit to maintaining the current zoning requirements around the base.
More than anything, the congressman said it’s “clear” the group intends to change the zoning requirements on the land parcels. Doing so may “eliminate” the protections Travis currently enjoys.
“No specific development plans were given to us, and I don’t believe they have any specific development plans,” Garamendi said, adding that all their ideas were “pie in the sky, a fairy tale.”
Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson, whose district encompasses the northern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area including Napa County, said that Flannery’s heads told him that they had considered building housing near the base, though Flannery Associates told KGO there were no plans to build housing near the base. Flannery did say it had some plans to build olive orchards near the base, but it was otherwise exploring possibilities.
Gizmodo reached out to California Forever for comment, but we did not hear back by press time.
The project has some major big tech backers who have helped finance the $800 million land grab around Solano County. According to The New York Times, this includes the usual faces like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, a16z’s Marc Andreessen, and Laurene Powell Jobs, but there are also folks like venture capitalist Michael Moritz.
The Times investigation showed Moritz had a heavy hand in promoting the project to his fellow ultra-rich Silicon Valley types where he positioned California Forever as a kind of “blank slate” to be molded in the image of tech tycoons. In a previous opinion piece published by NYT earlier this year, Moritz condemned San Francisco, complaining that the powers that be had been corrupted by one-party rule, and even dastardly socialists who “peddle radicalism” compared to the good ol’ boys like Charles Schwab, a major Republican donor who donated millions to support pro-Donald Trump groups, though he since claimed he’s sworn off PAC payments. Otherwise, Moritz tried to condemn the lack of “minority, middle-class voters” who could stymie the supposed radicals of city government.
So what California Forever is selling is a kind of tech utopia, one where the “middle class” can bear fruit away from the influence of left-leaning politicians and policies. That is what has been sold to locals in and around Solano County, but according to local politicians who spoke to Flannery and Janek, the group behind the project has no exact vision in mind, at least not yet.
“The Leadership of Flannery group is trying to figure out how to justify what they have sold,” Geramendi told KGO.
The group released renderings that seemed to include San Francisco townhomes as well as seaside, multi-story mansions. Gizmodo’s own readers pointed out that at least one of the images has strange artifacts, including trees growing out of roofs, that point to the image being to some extent created by AI. The faces in some of the images are also heavily distorted.
We asked California Forever to confirm whether its renderings were constructed by AI, but if they were, it wouldn’t help the group’s case that they really do have plans for their utopian vision beyond the vagaries of olive orchards and single-family homes situated near a U.S. Air Force base.