In recent years the progressive acquisition of a series of lands in Northern California by an unknown company had become something of a mystery for locals, but in the last few weeks things have become clearer. The New York Times revealed that behind the massive investment there is a group of billionaires and entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley who plan to build us a kind of ideal city, with thousands of new jobs, solar-powered buildings and « a new community» that attracts more and more people. The project has been outlined on the californiaforever.com website, which has been online for a few days, and has already attracted several controversies.
On the site you can see some images of hypothetical scenes of life in the new city, which as The Verge site observes were almost certainly created with artificial intelligence: houses along a river at sunset with fishermen on the shore, people sitting at the tables of the clubs in a square full of trees, and still children on bicycles, solar panels and wind turbines. Not even a car around. The site also explains that California Forever is the holding company that controls Flannery Associates, the company that according to reconstructions by the New York Times over the last five years has spent a total of 900 million dollars (more than 800 million euros) to purchase approximately 140 properties in eastern Solano County, which lies between San Francisco and Sacramento: the poorest area in California.
Flannery Associates was founded in 2017 by former Goldman Sachs executive Jan Sramek, 36, who recently bought a home in Solano County. Over time, Sramek involved billionaire and investor Michael Moritz, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and Patrick and John Collison, the founders of the online payments company Stripe, in the idea of buying land to build a new city. Other investors also include Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon of the investment firm Andreessen Horowitz, the entrepreneur Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, and the entrepreneurs Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross.
In recent years, without attracting too much attention, the company has purchased agricultural land for a total area of over 200 square kilometers, more than that of the city of Milan. The group claims that it does not aim to interfere with the activities of farmers and ranchers in the area, but rather that it wants to build “tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar power plant, orchards with more than a million new trees and more of 40 square kilometers of parks and free spaces». The site does not give specifics on the possible dimensions of the city, it does not clarify how many residents it could accommodate and does not even vaguely indicate times and methods of construction. He emphasizes that this is only “the beginning of a decade-long collaboration” with residents, the county administration and all stakeholders in the area.
California was built on its pioneering spirit, its boundless optimism, and the utter conviction that if we work hard, and together, that our best days still lie ahead, waiting to be built, for our children, and for all the generations to come. Join us.
— California Forever (@CAForever) September 1, 2023
The area around San Francisco is one of the most expensive in the United States, where finding an affordable place to live is so complicated that it has created a housing emergency that has lasted for many years and is among the most notorious in the world . The growing demand and shortage of housing have led more and more people – even those who are wealthy and have jobs in the finance and technology sectors – to move to other states, such as Texas or Idaho, or to live on the streets, if necessary. of the poorest people. It is one of the most remarkable paradoxes of California, which despite its wealth, its progressive political history and as a state symbol of innovation and opportunity is today one of the most exclusive and unequal. It is also for this reason that in the past other entrepreneurs had proposed alternative and equally ambitious solutions, including those of building new cities from scratch.
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Flannery had conducted its operations largely covert for years. At a certain point the local authorities had begun to become suspicious because, as reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, to conclude the negotiations the company paid three, four or five times the estimated value of the land, and had become the one with the most properties in the whole County. The name of California Forever and those of its investors were discovered thanks to an investigation conducted by federal authorities launched after Flannery had purchased parcels of land near the Travis military base, which is located near Fairfield, also in the county. Later California Forever revealed itself through the new site.
Even if the operation has made some families in the county very rich, says the San Francisco Chronicle, a hypothetical new city of tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of inhabitants is creating various controversies, and in any case it is not clear whether the whole thing is feasible according to local laws.
County Administrator Bill Emlen, for example, pointed out that local regulations place limits on the use of various types of land and mean that major residential developments must take place in existing cities. Speaking to ABC7 News, the mayor of Fairfield Catherine May instead defined the project as unrealistic, also because the area of the county is known for drought, does not have large reservoirs, is at risk of fires and the roads are dangerous and inadequate. “There is some water,” May said, “but it wouldn’t be enough for tens of thousands of homes.” According to State Representative Mike Thompson, the company “doesn’t have a plan, it has a vision, an idea. And to say that the road will be long, very long, is probably an understatement of reality”.
In order to move forward with the project, the company would almost certainly have to convince the local population and the proposal would have to be approved with their vote, specified the New York Times. It is also for this reason that the company recently circulated some surveys among the inhabitants in which, among other things, it claims that the project would keep young people intending to leave the county, offering in exchange “the opportunity of a new community” with efficient homes, livable neighborhoods and lots of open spaces.
“In the end it doesn’t even matter whether these cities are built or not,” said University of Glasgow sociology professor Elisabetta Ferrari, an expert on digital media. What matters for these entrepreneurs according to Ferrari is that they talk about it: «To show the public that they are not only rich, but that they are also people with a vision and entrepreneurs who want to do something for people».
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