Americas Business

California Forever projected to address housing woes in Solano County

By Cesar Antonio Nucum Jr

VACAVILLE, California – The American Dream has been elusive to many migrants more so to those wanting to enter the U.S. border to escape persecutions (political, religious, economic, etc.), violence famine, poor quality of life, poverty, absence of work opportunities, financial insecurity, among others.

Filipino migrants are not much different from many of those from other ethnic groups although they may be not be suffering from other worse reasons than their counterparts from other countries. But just like many successful migrants who are now in the land of melting pot of races, many still are chasing the full realization of the American dream or if you happen to be in the Golden State, the California Dream.
And one very important component of that California is having a house one can call his own and toward this realization, California Governor Gavin Newsom has a commitment to increase housing, build emergency shelters, and provide services for the homeless will be key to addressing the needs of California’s most vulnerable communities. 
Newsom’s goal is building 3.5 million homes that to hopefully address the more than 2.2 million low-income renter households that will also somehow mitigate the situation to complement the ongoing funding to a state-local partnership program that would also increase the overall number affordable housing units where they are most needed.  
And this goal to somehow complement the California housing initiative and measure is where California Forever comes in as their project’s goal is to create a walkable, middle-class community: a place where people can walk to local shops, ride bikes safely, take public transit, and generally enjoy the conveniences of city life would come in handy. 

The project believes that walkable neighborhoods are under-supplied today, and as a result they’ve become too expensive for most Americans and the minds behind this intend to show that it is still possible to create a new walkable & safe community that is viewed as “backward looking” nor is it “futuristic” or “utopian” as they believe that the principles of compact growth and walkability are timeless. 
 
Now the company behind the project has gone public, submitting a ballot initiative to the county to establish a new city. The initiative would give the company great flexibility with regards to planning and zoning in that new city, meaning they will basically be able to design it from scratch.
 
California Forever subsidiary Flannery Associates has reportedly spent $900 million to buy 62,000 acres of farmland (about the size of Sacramento) in the area since 2017 — that proposes to build on 17,500 acres of that land (about the size of Vacaville)
This voter initiative is proposing to build a new community that brings 15,000 local jobs paying over $88,000/year, $500 million in community benefits for downpayment assistance, scholarships, and small business grants for Solano residents, and a $200 million commitment to invest in revitalizing downtowns in existing Solano cities.
In an exclusive interview by Philippine News Today Publisher Francis Espiritu with Founder and Chief Executive Officer Jan Sramek, it was learned that the Sramek was trying to solve the series of problems in the Bay Area California that he really cared about in the face of the challenge that families are being “pushed out of the state because they made housing unaffordable made it impossible.”
“I wanted to build walkable neighborhoods great for community and creativity and economic opportunity. And then I wanted to bring a bunch of new jobs and restaurants to the county. And I have come to know the county because I used to come out here to Rio Vista to fish and because of that I learned some of the local challenges,” Sramek intimated. “Here is one wonderful community needing more economic activity and an economic engine with good-paying jobs but people are traveling a great distance from here to work. At one point, I had the idea if we could build a new community here and it would help solve all the issues at the same time.”
Sramek’s young family lives in Solano County and he has come to know very well the challenge on how long is spent on commuting to and from work taking away much of family time to see and spend with young children having a two and a half-year-old and a four-month-old baby of their own. 
Sramek also divulged that the transportation system in Europe would be “an inspiration to our approach to urban design, architecture and transportation and that 80% of traditional American urbanism and 20% from other places like Europe.”
“In terms of public transportation, I would say yes it is one of the few areas where Europe is better than America they did figure our public transport one of the lessons where we can learn how to do it,” Sramek admits. “If you look at our neighborhoods, they look very much some of the most beloved places in America. It can look like the West Village in New York and Georgetown in Washington DC or Noe Valley in San Francisco with medium density 2 to 5 stories the neighborhood is built on a grid, we have a lot of school buildings shopping streets all inspired by American urbanism with some European influence.” 
As to ownership structure, Sramek informed that California Forever is an American company owned 97% by American investors that include Laurene Powell Jobs widow of Steve Jobs founder of Apple. They include Reid Hoffman co-founder of LinkedIn and other investors business largely people in Silicon Valley they are Californians who doubled down the state who believed in California and back the California dream with 4 or 5 investors who are British or Irish.   
On the vision of the city in terms of job, economic stability and environmental sustainability, Sramek revealed that, on the job front, “we start by having the Solano jobs guarantee. And the Solano jobs guarantee says that by the time that our community grows to 50,000 residents, we have to have created at least 15,000 new jobs that pay at least 125% of the average wage in Solano County so they would be better jobs here in Solano County today. Otherwise, we cannot expand.” 
“We are really excited about the industries where innovation meets the real world. What I mean by that is that it is not pure technology they are adjacent to it. So it would be areas like advance manufacturing, defense, aerospace, engineering, agriculture-technology, vertical farms, new types of green houses, construction technology. It’s the industry that software comes together with skilled labor to build things in the physical world. The community won’t be able to grow beyond 50,000 residents until we’ve fulfilled that commitment,” Sramek underscored.
Sramek also thinks their company’s projections will do spectacular things for small businesses and medium-sized businesses like those in the manufacturing of construction materials like cement company, wood company, gravel company, paint, metal sheet blocks etc. all the money will go to the companies and this will attract other business owners to Solano County.   
“This project just by the sheer size of it will be the greatest economic opportunity for the businesses in the area. Then in terms of employers in the community, the people are really attracted to Solano County. The communities here, the amenities here, we can complement that with a walkable city a place to live in,” Sramek projects optimism. “But the biggest is the idea of a new community that is being planned and has been approved where they know they have room to grow for the next thirty years.” 
“Our target is to break ground in 2027 — that is ambitious by California standards. A couple of things have to happen for that to be the case. But we’re pretty optimistic that we will be able to do that.  In terms of completing it, it’s a multi-decade project, and that we’ve sized it, we are approving it all at once so that people have the visibility, so that employers have the visibility that this is going to be here,” Sramek stressed. “And so, I certainly hope to be working on it in 20 or 30 years.” 
Sramek addressed those who are wary that it is risky to come to a new area and open your factory. In saying that their project works, can grow for the next thirty or forty years because “we know we have enough approvals that if you want to build another office or factory, there will always be room for that and that will be enough new homes to buy for your employees as we grow. And that is what attracts them. the long-term connectivity is what going to attracts them.” 
Asked if Solano County may become a junior Silicon Valley, Sramek responded that in talking about advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and defense, Silicon Valey has  largely become a big important area “but California and America need an innovation ecosystem where we can innovate in the physical world.”
“Build machines, build cars, build homes, manufacture chips, vaccines and all that are needed and we don’t have of all them right now. They have been spread in different parts of the country and we think in Solano County because we do have a lot of land here, we have the right size for it and the proximity to Silicon Valley is helpful. It has the opportunity   to be a new thing to be innovative have good-paying jobs, companies and employment.” Sramek foresees. 
Add to this, Solano County will also be a corridor from the Bay Area to Sacramento as “our understanding is that when companies look into whether they will come to Solano County including to biotech hub in Vacaville one of the questions is always is there enough critical mass? because as you know large businesses like to co-locate, it makes easier to retain talent and hire companies. there is a supply chain that revolves around it.” 
“We can also help solve one of the biggest issues employers have when they come to the County on the availability of power. We know that Fairfield and Vacaville have lost employers in the last two years because there wasn’t enough generation capacity on the grid. One of the things we are doing is that we are building a large solar power farm on about 15,000 acres that can provide up to 2 gigawatts of power, enough to power not just for our community but also for Solano County and border regions,” Sramek explained.  
Sramek also shared that, about three weeks ago, the Travis Air Force Base put out statement commending on the plan that they submitted. 
“What the statement said is the base appreciated the efforts we made to design the community to be compatible with the base. With these new plans, the base will be able to continue flying its full mission. And they recognize the opportunities of this community to improve the quality of live for the families in the base. And when we talked with airmen who live here and work on Travis, we hear that they have two main issues – the first one is that it is very difficult to get affordable high-quality housing here. many of them go leave Travis to Stockton or Sacramento because they cannot afford to live here.  The second is that it is hard for their spouses to find a good paying job nearby. And our project can help address both issues. I think there’s a lot we can do together if we try,” disclosed Sramek. 
To the Filipinos that comprises 15% of Solano County, Sramek wished to say that what they are trying to do is bring back the California dream that they came to work for work hard to bring their children to college to give them a better future. 
“I know in the Filipino community, as in others, what is happening now is their kids are going to live in Texas, Arizona and other states. And when you grow in a certain community you lived your whole life there where you worked hard in life, you want your kids to be able to stay in the place where you grew up. So that is what we are trying to do. I hope to have a big Filipino community in our community and I love food and hope to have good Filipino restaurants. It goes to this project is about the very thing that so many immigrants came to work hard for. It just keeps going back,” assured Sramek. “And the cost of housing is a major component. If you ask people what is the American/California dream, first on the list is have your own house and after which so many things will fall in place. We have been under building homes in California for 50 years and the cost of that is that we’ve ruined the California dream for so many people and many of them have left the state and I think that’s unacceptable