Founder and CEO of Flannery Associates Jan Sramek sits down with ABC10 to talk about the land grab for his visionary city.
SOLANO COUNTY, Calif. — California Forever's CEO sat down with ABC10 months after being identified as the mastermind behind wanting to create a new city in Solano County.
Jan Sramek, founder of Flannery Associates LLC — the company that purchased more than 50,000 acres in the county over the last five years — says he is doing this for his own and California's future.
He says investors in the California Forever project are focusing on California when "a lot of other people have given up on the state.”
Domestic investors include LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, American Entrepreneur Marc Andreessen and Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.
Foreign investors include those in the United Kingdom and Ireland, like Stripe's co-founders John and Patrick Collison.
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Sramek got the idea nearly a decade ago after learning about the county and his growing fascination for melding European and American city formats together. He grew interested in walkable cities after living in them for years and wanted to bring them to this part of California.
"I just saw the impact that that has on community, health, relationships, economic opportunity and mobility," he told ABC10. "[I] had the idea that you could build one of [those cities] here in a way that would really bring up the whole community and be able to sell assets to Solano County."
Their goal is to make a new city from the ground up and they have bought all the land they need to do it in Solano County. For context, the land they own is twice the size of Elk Grove and larger than Stockton.
Sramek wants it to be a "city of yesterday," or similar to something that already exists, not a Tomorrowland utopia.
Sramek and his family moved to Fairfield in September and will be one of the first families to move into the new city once it's built.
“My wife and I are young parents and if we had to commute an hour and a half every day, we would never see our kids for breakfast or for dinner. You only get to tell your two-year-old a bedtime story 365 days in your life, and then it's gone,” he said.
Controversy has flooded this project since the very beginning and exploded in July when the federal government began looking into who Flannery Associates was.
From concerns about the security of Travis Air Force Base or the viability of building on the land to issues with how secretive they were, people still have doubts. Sramek says it was all methodical and doesn't regret how things were done.
"We never had the intention of building a city next to Travis Air Force Base, we started buying property far away from the base," he said. "We've been quiet like any other company when you're working on a new product."
To quell some concern, Sramek has been meeting with elected leaders, city mayors, and residents who are still hesitant about the project. Experts still have questions and concerns.
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Molly Turner, a professor at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, focuses on how technological ventures play into society. She says tech investors prefer to start from scratch with projects like this but struggle with making the idea a reality.
"I'm not very optimistic on how [it's] going to work out because historically, tech leaders have not demonstrated a real understanding of how cities work, of what local residents really need, and how to responsibly integrate all their new technologies into real-world cities," she said.
Sramek says this idea for California Forever, a placeholder name until they actually name the city, is different because it won't be its own thing. He wants it to be part of and work with the existing county.
"We have no plans to build any kind of utopia or any kind of city of different governance," he said. "We would love to build a great community that is in unincorporated Solano County for a long time and run by the county, it pays taxes to the county."
He says the city will be green and walkable, reducing its carbon footprint, and expanding opportunities within the city.
With how rural the area is, only accessible by highways 12 and 114 out of Dixon and Rio Vista, experts still have concerns about carbon footprint and commuting. Additional questions that haven't fully been answered pertain to where water, power and transit will come in.
"If you don’t have a way for people to get there then it’s a real problem because you are putting more cars on the road at a time when most of the country is trying to get away from private cars,” said Zachary Lamb, UC Berkeley professor who focuses on city planning and urban design with climate change. "As far as I’m aware, none of that exists in this corner of Solano County... The feasibility of realizing a vision like what we see in the renderings is quite low."
Sramek says the new city will use the North Bay Aqueduct, which currently supplies water to Travis Air Force Base and Rio Vista, for their water source.
As for why try and execute this idea now? Sramek says there are too many problems in California that have to be solved soon.
"There are a lot of California families that are asking whether they're going to have a future in the state or whether they should leave. There's a lot of California companies that are reevaluating their footprint after COVID and thinking about if they are going to stay," he said. "If California is going to build a big project that really makes a dent in many of these issues, now is the time to do it."
He aims to break ground as soon as possible, wanting to make sure California's usual slow-moving pace with projects doesn't impact this one.
California Forever says they will propose a more specific plan with where the community will be and the solar plan in the coming months.