Silicon Valley ‘utopian city’: Ranchers living in middle of new town planned by tech billionaires blast ‘arrogant’ tycoons for $800M land grab
- Farmers near the land purchased by the Silicon Valley tech billionaires planning the California Forever development say they are furious over the purchase
- Local ranchers said the tech billionaires’ actions are ‘so arrogant it’s amazing’
- Tech giants purchased 50,000 acres of land in Solano County for $800M
Farmers who live near the land purchased by Silicon Valley titans looking to create a ‘utopian city’ are terrified the development will cripple their livelihoods.
On Friday, renderings for the California Forever project were released and showed plans for a 50,000 acre idealistic city backed by tech billionaires and giants.
The project immediately sparked backlash from farmers and ranchers who live near the land bought by ‘Flannery Associates’ as they decried the group’s actions.
‘They are so arrogant it’s amazing,’ said a farmer who talked with SF Chronicle. ‘They know what they are going to do but they don’t even know anyone who lives here?’
California Forever is now the largest landowner in Solano County – about 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. The group paid more than $800 million for the land.
Jeannie McCormack and Al Medvitz, local ranchers in Solano County, told the Bay Area outlet that they worry about how long their ranch can survive after the tech titans swept up the land near them.
‘If they want a new city, San Jose is ripe,’ Medvitz said. ‘Fix what’s there.’
The ranch they live on – which sits on six square miles – is right near the agricultural district where California Forever is planned.
It’s also the home to nearly 2,000 sheep, as well as wheat, barley, alfalfa and grape vineyards. The McCormack Ranch is now ‘totally surrounded by Flannery.’
‘That means we have new issues because we have to deal with neighbors who have no experience or expertise in agriculture,’ Medvitz said.
McCormack’s own grandfather founded the ranch in 1896 and her family has been living there and working there for the past 125 years.
It’s one of the only ranches that doesn’t have any windmills from the Sacramento Municipal Utilities District, which net farmers $25,000 a year per windmill.
Medvitz said that they are worried that the development will cause major negative impacts for Solano County and the family-owned farmers.
Multi-generational farming families have a ‘profound bonding to the land.’
‘With this new proposal and the way the new people are behaving, all of that is going to be lost,’ Medvitz said. ‘For a fantasy.’
Ranchers aren’t the only ones speaking out about the planned development.
After the renderings were released, local and state politicians discussed the utopian city and the negative impact on the residents.
‘The community is very angry — by the secrecy, by the duplicity, by the attack on family farmers,’ said Rep. John Garamendi. ‘The atmosphere is very, very negative.’
West Sacramento’s former mayor Christopher Cabaldon said that even if the farmers are able to survive, it would be too difficult without critical mass.
‘When a single, non agriculture-based owner establishes a monopoly in the entire agricultural infrastructure of the region, it becomes very difficult for any single farmer to continue’ farming, he said.
The project is led by former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek and has names like LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Andreessen Horowitz investor Marc Andreessen, and Steve Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell Jobs attached.
It’s not smooth sailing, though, as the group’s acquisition of the land – which also surrounds Travis Air Force Base – had sparked national security concerns and a federal investigation.
On their newly published website, California Forever offered the first renderings of its plans to turn the arid, hilly farming region into an ideal planned community.
The drawings show Mediterranean-style homes clustered on hillsides and shorelines, with wind farms dotting the background.
Streetscapes are dominated by pedestrians and cyclists, with outdoor cafes filling the town square and no cars to be seen.
In one drawing, kayakers paddle in a nature preserve, while another shows workers installing a solar energy panel.
In a statement, the group acknowledge that its silence as it mysteriously snapped up land had ‘understandably, created interest, concern, and speculation.’
‘Now that we’re no longer limited by confidentiality, we are eager to begin a conversation about the future of Solano County,’ the group added, saying the area ‘faces many challenges – but also presents countless opportunities.’
‘Residents want more opportunities to buy homes in safe, walkable communities. Good paying local jobs, so they can both live and work in the county,’ said California Forever.
‘Better funding to improve schools, promote public safety, and reduce homelessness, as well as resources to invest in infrastructure for transportation, water, and wildfire protection,’ the site added.
Jan Sramek, the leader of California Forever, is a 36-year-old financial prodigy who made a name and fortune by his early 20s as an emerging markets trader in Goldman Sachs’ London office.
Days after his 24th birthday, Sramek mysteriously quit Goldman Sachs and dropped out of the limelight.
Since then, Sramek relocated to the Bay Area, and appears to have been quietly working on his plan for California Forever since 2017.
US Rep. Mike Thompson told the Daily Beast that he met with Sramek earlier this week, and relayed that the investment guru said he’d chosen Solano County based on studies that determined the area was a prime target for Bay Area expansion.
Sramek said he grew up in a walkable, blue-collar town in the Czech Republic and that it had always been his dream to recreate that in the US, according to Thompson.
‘After moving to California a decade ago, Jan spent time in Solano County during fishing trips on the California Delta and fell in love with the area.
‘He became committed to a vision for the future of Solano County,’ the site added.
Sramek and his pregnant wife Naytri recently purchased their first home in Solano, where the live with their toddler daughter and golden retriever named Bruce, the group says.
California Forever’s other financial backers include billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, who has recently been vocal in his criticism of San Francisco’s failures in governance and public safety.
In a February essay for the Financial Times, Moritz slammed San Francisco as a city that ‘bans plastic straws but permits plastic needles’
‘Fentanyl, the synthetic drug that is 50 times more powerful than and a fraction of the cost of heroin, has turned many blocks of the city into zombie zones,’ he wrote.
Mortiz lamented the city’s failing schools, rising crime, deserted downtown, and exorbitant housing costs, placing the blame on the city’s fractured governing structure, with a mayor and board of supervisors vying for power.
In a separate essay for the New York Times in February, he wrote: ‘Even Superman equipped with a light saber would not be able to govern San Francisco.’
‘Like it or not, San Francisco has become a prize example of how we Democrats have become our own worst enemy,’ he added, noting that he himself is a longtime supporter of the Democratic Party.
Moritz characterized the city as disintegrating under the control of petty bureaucrats who deceive voters and perpetually re-write local rules in their quest to retain individual power.
‘The core of the issue, in San Francisco and other cities, is that government is more malleable at the city level than at higher levels of government,’ he wrote. ‘If the US Constitution requires decades and a chisel and hammer to change, San Francisco’s City Charter is like a live Google doc controlled by manipulative copy editors.’
In a 2017 letter to investors in the Solano County project obtained by the NYT, Moritz said ‘this effort should relieve some of the Silicon Valley pressures we all feel — rising home prices, homelessness, congestion etc.’
Moritz, 68, last month exited as a partner at VC giant Sequoia Capital after 38 years, and will now focus on Sequoia Heritage, a separate $15 billion wealth management fund that he helped launch in 2010, according to Reuters.
The backers of the California Forever include Marc Andreessen, Patrick and John Collison, Chris Dixon, John Doerr, Nat Friedman, Daniel Gross, Reid Hoffman, Michael Moritz, and Laurene Powell Jobs, the group says.
Califorina Forever says approximately 97 percent of its capital comes from U.S. investors, with the remaining 3 percent comes from Patrick and John Collison, and other UK and Irish investors.