back to article Tech billionaires ask Californians to give new utopian city their blessing

Californians wondering why a shady shell company spent time buying up vast acreages of scrubland in Solano County can wonder no more – because a gaggle of tech billionaires are going on a charm offensive to get a city built from scratch. Until recently, the identity of Flannery Associates was shrouded in mystery. Residents …

  1. Jim Mitchell

    "Our proposal is for a walkable, medium density, mixed-use community," said Head of Planning Gabriel Metcalf. "This would be not just housing, but jobs of all different kinds, parks and playgrounds, schools and grocery stores, bars and restaurants, hotels and hospitals. Everything that goes into a complete community."

    Sounds like a 15 minute city plan to me. Does that mean we get to burn them at the stake? Or is that no longer a heresy?

    1. gandalfcn Silver badge

      "Sounds like a 15 minute city plan to me" Sounds more like a company town, in fact that's precisely what it is. The antithesis of the 15 minute city.

    2. JessicaRabbit

      Could very well end up being another Bijlmer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJsu7Tv-fRY

  2. Paul Herber Silver badge

    'to create at least 15,000 jobs'

    gardeners, housekeepers, cleaners, car washers, flunkies, shop assistants, street cleaners, road gangs ...

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Coat

      Yes, all those jobs you'd want to send off on the B-ark...

      1. juice

        > Yes, all those jobs you'd want to send off on the B-ark...

        More precisely, all those jobs which don't pay enough to be able to buy a house in this new "utopian" city.

        Still, if everything's only 15 minutes away, they won't have too far to walk after sleeping in their cars...

    2. jake Silver badge

      Those are the people who will be coming over from Vallejo.

      One wonders what long-established Marin County will do when their daily help gets stolen by the new community?

      That's mostly sarcasm ... Plenty of folks in Vacaville and Fairfield who could use the work.

  3. Scott 26
    Gimp

    "channelling their inner RHCP"

    poor choice of words, giving the former's reputation for SA'ing fans live on stage

    (or maybe an excellent choice of words - I don't know the reputation of these billionaires)

  4. jake Silver badge

    Biggest problem.

    Water. They have none. In drought-stricken California it'll never fly on this alone. And no, they are not allowed to simply pump it out of the Delta. Every drop (and then some) is already earmarked. There is a reason that they put Travis where they did... and a reason that Rio Vista hasn't appreciably expanded.

    The other issue is traffic. Ever drive Highway 12 or Highway 113 during commute hours? I have. Never again ... YES, they could increase the size of those roads, but once you add the traffic from the new community it'll instantly become gridlock again. Lovely.

    Someone is making a pile of loot from ignorant marks investors.

    1. PhilipN Silver badge

      Re: Biggest problem.

      Yup. "Cadillac Desert"

    2. andrewj

      Re: Biggest problem.

      Voters are still thick enough to give them what they ask for.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Biggest problem.

        "Voters are still thick enough to give them what they ask for."

        Yep.

        From the article "He added that he hoped voters would decide "based on facts, not slogans, misdirection and massive campaign spending."

        Yeah, he's living in a world where the sky is a different colour! Has he looked at US politics in the last few decades? How did he run his last campaign? On facts?

    3. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: Biggest problem.

      The area they want to build the city is currently farmland, which will be getting water from somewhere. So if they can use that water the farmland taken out of production was using, they aren't increasing total demand vs if that land remains agricultural. They might even use LESS water, since irrigation uses a LOT of water out there, and a city that's built to be "walkable" like they say would have very small yards and they could use zoning to prevent people from having lawns that require watering, rainwater collection and the like.

      Pretty sure billionaires who spent the better part of a decade planning something like this have considered those issues in that planning.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Biggest problem.

        But they do NOT have the water.

        I owned an 80 acre parcel out that way. It included the last twelve years of a 99 year water lease. For seven years I grew pumpkins and other squash on it. It was very profitable. I spent most of those 7 years trying to figure out how to extend the water lease, but the State of California was adamant: NO! Most of the locals were in the same boat. Basically, it's scrub land that is good for not much more than grazing a few cattle on. You don't need as much water for cattle as you might think ... consider that most of the BLM land in California's southern deserts is cattle grazing land.

        So I sold the place to a friend who had been helping me in the squash business. He knew that he'd be out of water in 5 years, but figured he'd be able to pocket enough loot to purchase land on one of the islands in the Delta to keep the farm going. He was successful, and sold the original property to a developer[0] who didn't care about the lack of water. It has been sitting empty ever since (25+ years now).

        To see what the place looks like, try this map:

        https://www.google.com/maps/@38.2135488,-121.8026745,11278m

        It's the bit in the middle, north of Hwy 12. Not the extreme lack of much of anything. No row crops, no signs of major grazing, no signs of harvesting, etc. That's what no water gets you.

        [0] No, not these yahoos. Although that guy may have unloaded the parcel on them. I can't be arsed to find out.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Biggest problem.

        "Pretty sure billionaires who spent the better part of a decade planning something like this have considered those issues in that planning."

        In my experience, those billionaires can't plan much past the end of this calendar quarter.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Biggest problem.

          And they may well have some notion that they can just throw money at the problem. Buy senior water rights from current holders, say, or pipe it in from elsewhere. Reclamation wanted to pipe water into California from British Columbia, after all; there's no shortage of daft schemes. When it comes to water and the West, there's always someone who will decide it's just a matter of money and can be solved later.

          But, of course, later eventually becomes now.

      3. Grinning Bandicoot

        Re: Biggest problem.

        Grazing mostly now with some dry farming so consumption likely will be greater per acre. If, however, a tightly designed cogeneration and water rehabilitation were built the increase water demand might be meet by importing Vacaville's waste water. However then health codes need be modified. However the unions will start a turf war.....

        The 'however' is why this ideal will remain just a figment of over usage of Boonesfarm and Annie Green Springs.

        NOTE: to those not of the area nor of the time Boonesfarm and Annie Spring were the name of cheap tipple nominally called wine.

    4. Grinning Bandicoot

      Re: Biggest problem.

      They can bring back the Sacramento Northern. It right of way into Woodland still exists and a portion toward Fairfield exists but it is smoke. There has never been a successful Utopian city; people being people.

  5. Youngone Silver badge

    Two Things

    Two thoughts came to me.

    The first was that this new city will be "socioeconomically integrated" because the servants need to live somewhere and the second was that State Senator Bill Dodd seems to not understand how America works if he thinks this whole project will be decided "based on facts, not slogans, misdirection and massive campaign spending."

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Two Things

      There is a ready supply of servants in Solano County. Their unemployment rate is the highest in the Bay Area.

      Bill's fully aware of how politics works here in the USofA, being involved in it for about a third of a century.

      He also knows that he's out of his current seat (due to term limits) in 2024, so if he wants to move along in his political career he has to "message the populace". Frankly, I'm surprised he hasn't thrown his hat into the ring for Feinstein's empty seat in Washington. Maybe he'll be sensible and retire.

      1. Grinning Bandicoot

        Re: Two Things

        Jake you are a man after my true heart - a CYNIC.

    2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Two Things

      The first was that this new city will be "socioeconomically integrated" because the servants need to live somewhere

      I suspect it's more sociopathically integrated. I don't know how detailed the plans are, but one way to test them is looking at the jobs it'll supposedly create. Break those down into pay bands, then compare with the amount of housing units that the servants could actually afford. If they can't, then it's going to be a transport and infrastructure challenge to get the servants to their masters.

      Personally, I'd let them build it and stock up on popcorn to watch what happens. China has plenty of ghost towns and cities that had much the same idea.

    3. Dostoevsky

      Re: Two Things

      Yah, I don't think the high-school drop-out on the park clean-up crew will be able to afford the fancy new green housing in New Moneyville.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > As we see time and time again, billionaires tend to think they can do whatever they want, riding roughshod over communities and the environment, then build bunkers to hide in for when the consequences of their actions catch up with them.

    Got it in a nutshell.

    We know damn well that many, if not most, of those hyper-rich, self-proclaimed "libertarians" don't give a toss about the "liberty" of the great unwashed, or anyone other than themselves and their hyper-rich chums. (*1)

    They just want the right to carry on doing what the f*** *they* want without anyone getting in the way. It's been said countless times before, but people like that don't really want or support "freedom" or "freedom of speech" (*2), and never did. They want freedom from consequences, and only for themselves.

    Let's remember that Peter Thiel- one of the most openly creepy "libertarians" whose views make clear he'd be more accurately described as a "neo-feudalist" or "neo-fascist"- said the quiet part out loud (*3) with his statement that "no longer believe[s] that freedom and democracy are compatible".

    They're anti-government and anti-authority except when they need someone to suppress the plebs they'd happily screw over from rising up with their pitchforks and torches and mounting their heads on spikes at the entrance to the city.

    They don't have a problem with any of this because they're at the top, and always will be if it plays out like that.

    Ask yourself if the likes of Elon Musk- someone born into a highly-privileged, already-rich background, who leveraged that to become even richer, who has never known and will never know what it is to be poor- would be so keen to indulge his tech bro fantasy that we sacrifice social spending and making the lives of the vast majority of ordinary people in favour of the space exploration he thinks we need to save the human race (*4) if *he* was one of the plebs that actually had to live in squalor to fulfil that manchild fantasy.

    (*1) Or those that like to imagine themselves among them when Ayn Rand rises from the grave and the libertarian revolution begins.

    (*2) Think the "Free speech absolutist" manchild who bans those who say something that upsets him from his platform at the drop of a hat.

    (*3) This says as much about him as the statement itself- the fact that he doesn't even feel the need to pretend otherwise. And indeed, he gloatingly named his big-data surveillance/panopticon business "Palantir" after a Lord of the Rings reference to a magical surveillance technology subverted for evil.

    (*4) "A bunch of guys who's only social education is the funky sci-fi books they read whilst growing up, trying to deal with the "big questions" - Andy 73

    1. ecofeco Silver badge

      Because they can.

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/06/offshoring-wealth-capitalism-pandora-papers

      Trashing the planet and hiding the money isn’t a perversion of capitalism. It is capitalism.

    2. Christoph

      "It's been said countless times before, but people like that don't really want or support "freedom" or "freedom of speech" (*2), and never did. They want freedom from consequences, and only for themselves."

      Conservatism: the idea that the law should serve but not bind the wealthy, and should bind but not serve the poor.

  7. aerogems Silver badge

    First Step

    I'm with the others who are skeptical about this. So, first thing I'd want to see is actual binding commitments to pony up the promised cash, not just a bunch of promises that can go away at any time. Let's see the money go into an escrow account or something. Then I'll start to think maybe they're serious.

  8. The Central Scrutinizer

    Brilliant!

    Wipe out more farmland for suburbia. It's just what the planet needs!

    1. SundogUK Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant!

      Hadn't you heard? Farming is 'ecocide!'

      Anyway, it may be designated as farmland but there ain't a whole lot of farming going on.

      1. Michael Strorm Silver badge

        Re: Brilliant!

        Everyone there's too busy shakin' for there to be a whole lotta farmin' goin' on.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Brilliant!

        "Anyway, it may be designated as farmland but there ain't a whole lot of farming going on."

        I don't know if there was before this, but there certainly isn't now since the owners sold out at over the top prices! And who wouldn't when your offered double or more what the land is worth in a poorly watered area? The few hold-outs will be those whose principles outweigh the need for money or who have generational interest in the land.

  9. JWLong

    Gather All the Billionaires in One Spot!

    It just makes them all easier to find at the right time to die by their own hand.

    Or, with help if necessary!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Gather All the Billionaires in One Spot!

      Davos?

      1. Paul Herber Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Gather All the Billionaires in One Spot!

        Davos.

        What has the leader of the Daleks got to do with anything?

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    It won't even get started

    We all know they'll move farther East after getting in trouble with labor laws and saying how lazy their workers are.

    Plenty of rich people have few skills beyond screaming at people, without remorse, to work harder.

  11. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Happy

    A New Beginning

    I always approve any proposal that concentrates these sort of people in one place.

  12. fxkeh

    won't someone think of the cars

    "There will be affordable housing and it will be all safe and there will be parks and hospital.' That's great but let's talk about the infrastructure, the highways. "

  13. Bebu Silver badge
    Windows

    An unmentionability of billionaires and affordable housing...

    I am sceptic not a septic and definitely not that gullible. To believe any of that unmentionable crew would do anything for the common weal I would have to be in La-la land which I suppose if I were in California I would be.

    Not buying any of that shit - literally and figuratively.

  14. Ashmolean

    Orange County

    So…they’re building…Irvine, CA.

  15. Christoph

    They are carefully not mentioning that the local laws for this city will be set up to keep executive power in the hands of the rich sponsors with no rights at all for the hoi polloi.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      "hoi" means "the". It's just "for hoi polloi".

  16. Jim Whitaker

    An archology in the making?

    Oath of Fealty is a 1981 novel by American writers Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle and I'm surprised to be the first to draw the parallel.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: An archology in the making?

      Bacigalupi's The Water Knife (2015) also features arcologies1 in the American West, and is particularly pertinent to the water problem that jake raised in another thread. A new "walkable city" is pretty far from being an arcology, though. With an arcology you want a self-contained ecology, basically a bubble city.

      This proposal reminds me more of the billionaire-built Tabula Ra$a in Wong's Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. That's not a compliment (for the proposal; it's a good novel2).

      1I'm assuming that's what you meant. ("Archology" refers to various academic or intellectual disciplines — the study of government, of origins, of first principles, maybe other things.) I haven't read Oath of Fealty.

      2Futuristic Violence would probably appeal, at least thematically, to a lot of the Reg readership. It's disdainful of, and aware of the ills associated with, social media, for example. Software quality is important to the plot. Like the rest of Wong's work, it is cynical to an almost paranoid extent. Of course, tastes vary, and not everyone will appreciate Wong's style.

  17. MarkMLl

    Same old...

    California, not to mention the rest of the USA, seems totally unable to get any form of "improvement" right:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2022/10/09/us/california-high-speed-rail-politics.html

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mine town, take 2

    "get a city built from scratch."

    Obviously these people are trying to copy mining towns from 1800s where corporation owned *everything* and you could buy stuff only from corporation shops with corporation pseudo-money they used to pay salaries.

    Basically corporation collected back >90% of the salaries they paid as profit from other businessess and housing and miners were basically slaves with no actual money.

    As planned.

  19. icesenshi

    "As we see time and time again, billionaires tend to think they can do whatever they want, riding roughshod over communities and the environment, then build bunkers to hide in for when the consequences of their actions catch up with them. California Forever could be in for a rude awakening."

    I know the reg has never tried to be objective. It bites the hand that feeds it, so of course they're skeptics. But this sentence shows that this article belongs on someone's personal blog. Seriously, is every writer for the reg a hack now? I almost miss that troll Orlowski. Almost.

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