A city from scratch: unravelling the debate surrounding California’s newest urban venture

A new initiative aiming to create a brand-new city in Solano County, California promises affordable housing, an influx of jobs, and a commitment to sustainability measures, but faces several challenges before it gets the go-ahead

‘California Forever’, the name of the initiative that aims to build a city from scratch in Solano – a county on the outskirts of the Bay area, San Francisco – promises to invest heavily in infrastructure and community development. The initiative will focus on new housing and creating more jobs, sweetened further by the guarantee that county taxpayers outside of the new community will not have to pay for any of it.

But is the proposal viable? Certainly, the venture capitalists backing the project (including philanthropist Laurene Powell Jobs and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman) seem to think so. Yet convincing the public to approve this initiative may prove an uphill battle. This project is a particular concern for local Solano County residents, who are concerned with the implications that come with adding hundreds of thousands of residents to the area.

A city of dreams

The California Forever initiative proposes building a new community that will bring in 15,000 local jobs (with a salary no lower than $88,000 per year), $500 million in community benefits for downpayment assistance, scholarships and small business grants for residents of Solano County, as well as a $200 million commitment to invest in existing Solano cities. A key selling point of the initiative is the housing: the plan commits to building a minimum of 40,000 new homes, with the opportunity to scale this up to as many as 160,000. In an area where places to live are in short supply, this is a much-anticipated investment.

Sustainability is also high on the agenda for California Forever. The proposal promises to incorporate sustainable infrastructure – building thermal energy systems to ensure affordable electrification of heating loads, using clean and renewable sources including geothermal and waste heat recovery. The scheme pledges to provide at least 10 acres of open space per thousand residents, believing that open, green spaces are the heart of every community.

One thing the city hasn’t fully considered, however, is public transport access. With no immediate plans to incorporate the city into public bus and rail networks, any trips beyond the city would seem to rely on driving on highways that are already congested. Although the initiative proposes starting with a private shuttle system, it seems there is a way to go before a long-term transport solution becomes viable.

With election season heating up in the US, the real estate development corporation behind California Forever is aiming to secure a minimum of 13,000 signatures from Solano County voters for its East Solano ‘Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative’. If approved, this would overturn a 1984 rule that prevents agricultural land from being developed, enabling a clearer path forward for California Forever.

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