Building a City From the Ground Up

An ambitious plan heads to the November ballot.

PUBLISHED JAN 28, 2024 10:23 P.M.
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New neighbors might be moving to Solano County soon. A whole lot of them.

New neighbors might be moving to Solano County soon. A whole lot of them.   Crusty Rusty   Shutterstock/standard

We’ve been following the saga of California Forever, an ambitious project to build a city of up to 400,000 residents on 60,000 acres of recently and sometimes contentiously acquired land in Solano County.

Because the laws governing land use in the county have mandated that development be focused around already established cities and communities, an initiative (PDF download) sponsored by California Forever is headed to the November ballot to amend restrictions on the books in the county and its cities so their project can advance to the next step.

So, whoa, there’s a lot to unpack just in that last two paragraphs. Can a city of 400,000 really be built from the ground up?

Maybe. Maybe not.

We've developed an editorial product called a “Tracker” at California Local for things like California Forever.

As the name indicates, it tracks a civic project or process. It acts as a one-stop portal with all related information, including maps, photos, FAQs with links to primary documentation, and other information resources, as well as Explainers about the stakeholders and the processes at play.

We’re buiding these Trackers because a lot of journalism is reported in chunks, but doesn’t usually accrete, so it can be hard to catch up if you walk in during the middle of the show.

Understanding civic processes or large development projects like this can be dificult from a stream of separate, unrelated stories from different newsrooms, so we built the Tracker as a means of accumulating and organizing information and reporting in one place.

With $900 million spent (so far!) to acquire over 90 square miles of land to build a city which will almost double the population of rural Solano County, sprinkled with talk of “experimenting with new forms of governance,” it’s clear that California Forever is something worth tracking.

So we’ve started the work of building out our database for Solano County, and hope to bring our California Forever tracker online in a few weeks, to help inform and guide the civic discussion about this massive project as it heads to the ballot this November.

In the Sierra foothills along Highway 120 on the way east toward Yosemite, between the communities of Big Oak Flat and Groveland, there’s a roadside parcel of several acres known to locals as “The Scar.”

The site of a failed small-scale development from decades past, the area was leveled and graded. A gas station and restaurant were started and then abandoned—left to age and crumble. What happened? Somebody died or financing dried up—nobody knows. The heavy snows of the last winter caused the big steel canopy of the unfinished gas station to finally collapse in a gnarled pile of rusted metal. 

What happens if the California Forever ballot measure doesn’t pass in November, or if the project advances partially and still fails? 

The tech billionaires backing California Forever will be just fine. Their accountants will expertly weave the financial loss into a tax win and they’ll be better off.

So if this particular Icarus flies too close to the sun and plummets to the earth, only to rise again from such a mighty fall to walk away uscathed, the resulting crater will still leave a scar on the local communities for years, perhaps generations, to come.

No matter what happens with this project, Solano County will never be the same. We hope our upcoming Tracker will help the citizens of the county plot their future.

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