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Our View: A new city for billionaires but not for 5M Californians?

For a while now, there have been reports of a mysterious investment firm, Flannery Associates, buying up big chunks of land ($800M+ for 140 properties) near Travis AFB in Solano County. The land purchases raised eyebrows as a possible national security threat to Travis. It did not help that the investors were paying much more for the land than the going market rates. The land (in the Jepson Prairie and Montezuma Hills areas) is essentially rural, currently used for grazing and wind farms.

It turns out that Flannery Associates seeks to, as reported in the SF Chronicle, create a new city. And, per the NY Times (behind a paywall) and the SF Chronicle, their investors are Silicon Valley A-list billionaires:

Michael MoritzVC-Sequoia CapitalS.F.
Reid HoffmanLinkedIn, AirB&B, PayPal, VC-Greylock PartnersPalo Alto
Marc AndreesenNetscape, VC-Andreessen HorowitzAtherton
Chris DixonCoinbase, VC-Andreessen HorowitzMenlo Park
John CollisonStripeS.F.
Patrick CollisonStripeS.F.
Laurene Powell JobsApple & Disney stock, VC-Emerson collectivePalo Alto
Nat FriedmanMicrosoft, GitHUBMenlo Park
Daniel GrossY Combinator, cue, VC-PioneerSili Valley

Those people have a wealth (pun intended) of knowledge about disrupting things with money. Well, good for them. Trouble is, they either don't know or don't care much about real world local government and land use issues. They live in ultra-privileged cities; their world is a bubble of advantage and entitlement. To them, all you need to do to "fix the housing problem" is create a new city in the boonies. Hey, wait a sec! That's been done so many times before here in California that there is a household name for it: SPRAWL. Sure, shiny and new infrastructure is cool, but it ultimately has to be operated and maintained. Who will do that? Hah! As if Disrupting Investors from Sili Valley would bother to think about mundane things like that.

The investors don't seem concerned with the realitiies of land development either. Here's the Mayor of Fairfield's assessment from an article in the Daily Beast:

It’s an area that is known for its drought conditions. It makes zero sense. There’s no mass transit. It does not have fresh water. There is some water, but not enough for tens of thousands of homes. You’d have to dig wells or convince Fairfield to give water and that would be a big fat no from us. The roads out there are already dangerous. Highway 12 is the highway that goes through there out to Highway 99 and Highway 5. It’s called Blood Alley for a reason.
Mayor Catherine Moy, as reported by Tracy Connor, "Tech Billionaires Behind Secretive Plan for New California Metropolis", Daily Beast, August 25, 2023

You can rest assured, though, that the fine people who move and shake the Bay Area, Solano County and the Legislature will be paying plenty of ga-ga attention to a proposed new city on tens of thousands of acres in the Jepson Prairie and Montezuma HIlls area. As will the Media. Money talks. Wealth and power are surely attractive. Who can resist Flannery's elevator pitch, as reported in the NY Times:

Take an arid patch of brown hills cut by a two-lane highway between suburbs and rural land, and convert into it into a community with tens of thousands of residents, clean energy, public transportation and dense urban life.
Conor Dougherty and Erin Griffith, New York Times, "The Silicon Valley Elite Who Want to Build a City From Scratch", August 25, 2023


May contain: outdoors, nature, water, aerial view, and windmill
Oh, look! Open land with Bay views! Just rain money for shiny new gated communities there and "presto" no more housing shortage! It's not sprawl, it's nimble and quick urban development, thanks to Sili Valley investors.

Meanwhile, what's not attractive is the ongoing plight of the 5 million Californians who live in existing urban areas that happen to be unincorporated. State policies work against local control for their communities. Where they live  lacks sex appeal for Sili Valley investors to spend megabucks on infill housing and infrastructure upgrades. Their communities - all over the place and largely disadvantaged - will likely be left to rot away while investors instead dump money into ag lands and open space in order to create new utopian communities. In the enlightened minds of Sili Valley, the "land use space" and the "local governance space" are fertile ground for disruptive investments. If you have money to burn, snapping up open grasslands on the outer fringe of the Bay Area is a much higher priority than addressing the inherent unfairness imposed on people who do not have Mayors and City Councils to look out for them. Unlike Sili Valley billionaires, local unincorporated communities don't get to make a new city.

The land use messes and local government dysfunctionality inflicted on existing urbanized, unincorporated areas are of little concern to powerful people. Hidden behind whimsical notions of sustainability and quality of life, the Solano County land grab is just another example of our state's dilemma: unincorporated land, once exploited, will become forgotten. This has to change.

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