‘California Forever’ CEO insists billionaire backers ‘not at all’ worried about backlash over secretive development

The leader of a Silicon Valley-backed proposal to create a new city on a massive plot of barren California farmland insisted the project’s billionaire backers are “not at all” worried about the public outrage the secretive project has provoked.

A group of elite tech investors including Marc Andreesen, Reid Hoffman and Laurene Powell Jobs, have bankrolled nearly $1 billion in stealthy land purchases — some of which abut the critical Travis Air Force base.

The project, dubbed “California Forever,” is being pitched as a new model to counter the state’s soaring housing costs, punishing work commutes and environmental crises. But some lawmakers and locals claim it’s a ruthless land grab by tech titans — and have vowed to defeat a November 2024 ballot measure that will decide its fate.

One angry resident likened California Forever CEO Jan Sramek to a “snake oil salesman” during a recent heated town hall. Another reportedly warned Sramek that he was “going to run into a buzz saw” and questioned how he could “expect anyone” to believe him.

Still, Sramek insisted in an interview with The Post that his recent “listening tour” through Solano County has gone “really well.” And despite vast sums of cash on the line, Sramek claimed his billionaire backers hadn’t raised a stink about the negative press.

“I think you really have a situation where you’ve got a small but very vocal group of people who don’t like the project,” Sramek told The Post. “If you talk to the average person in the county, they are really excited about it.”

Jan Sramek (pictured) is a former Goldman Sachs trader. KXTV

Sramek, a 36-year-old, ex-Goldman Sachs trader born in the Czech Republic, envisions a walkable city with short commutes, thousands of high-paying new jobs, sustainable energy, huge orchards and affordable homes. California Forever’s plans are still vague at best, though the firm said it will release formal details about the project sometime in January.

Critics were annoyed by the group’s October release of cartoonish, computer-generated renderings of an idyllic tree-lined cityscape with rolling green hills and nonexistent bodies of water. US Rep. John Garamendi and Fairfield, Calif. Mayor Catherine Moy say the project’s lofty vision bears little resemblance to the windswept, inhospitable rural Solano County land.

Moy, who is on the frontlines of the local effort to block the project, said she believes California Forever’s investors will come to regret their involvement.

Solano County residents will vote on the ballot measure in November 2024. California Forever

“I think they’ve invested in something that they’re going to be sorry about,” Moy said.

As The Post reported in November, California Forever faces another hurdle through a lingering national security probe US by Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) over potential foreign involvement in the land deals.

On Dec. 28, the Wall Street Journal reported that lawmakers including Garamendi had renewed calls for a thorough CFIUS review after the outlet uncovered new details about the involvement of Thomas Mather, a dual South African and Irish national whose name is tied to many of the project’s land deals and was once listed as the manager of California Forever’s land-buying arm, Flannery Associates.

California Forever will release its formal plans in January. California Forever

In his interview with The Post — days before the Journal’s story was published — Sramek said his firm had “provided all of the information to CFIUS a long time ago” and said it was “frankly absurd” to suggest that the Silicon Valley heavyweights behind his project would conceal foreign influence.

He also threw cold water on the notion that the Silicon Valley bigwigs were actively steering the city plans. The backers give occasional input on strategy but are otherwise passive investors without daily involvement, he said.

Sramek said he speaks with California Forever’s investors “on the order of once a month, once every six weeks and on the same cadence that you would see on a startup company that they invested in, where you have an investor update and you have a board meeting.”

Critics say California Forever’s city renderings bear no resemblance to the actual land. Getty Images

The full list of investors includes Hoffman, Powell Jobs, Andreesen, his investment firm Andreesen Horowitz, former Sequoia Capital partner Michael Moritz, Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison, Chris Dixon, John Doerr, Nat Friedman and Daniel Gross.

The firm’s links to the tech industry have spawned comparisons to other so-called “utopian city” projects, such as Peter Thiel’s dream of a tax-fee floating city in international waters or Marc Lore’s futuristic “Telosa” metropolis.

Sramek rejected that label, asserting that California Forever “need[s] to be clear about the fact that we are not doing it.”

Some local residents have accused California Forever of using strong-arm tactics. KXTV

“[When] people see the plans that we’ll put forward in January, it will be very clear that it’s none of that and it’s very traditional, good American urbanism,” Sramek said, adding: “If that’s a utopia, then California is in real trouble, because that shouldn’t be a utopia.”

The California Forever boss has also faced allegations of “strong-arm tactics” in reference to his firm’s $510 million lawsuit against a group of local landowners whom allegedly engaged in a collusive price-fixing scheme to get more money in property sales. Sramek and his firm have denied wrongdoing.

In a strange twist, Flannery Associates is suing the farmers for allegedly violating the Sherman Antitrust Act through their actions.

California Forever has faced a public backlash for years. KXTV

It remains unclear what would happen to the billionaires’ investment – and the huge tracts of land that California Forever owns – if the ballot measure is voted down in November or the project is otherwise blocked from moving forward.

Sramek said he was “pretty confident” that the ballot measure will pass in November, though he noted “there would be other ways to build the project.”

One would be to fold some of the land into the neighboring city of Rio Vista and have it zoned for residential development – though Sramek said that path would produce a fraction of the promised jobs and benefits.

Jan Sramek has pitched California Forever as a walkable city with high-paying new jobs. California Forever

Eventually, he argues, the land’s proximity to Silicon Valley and San Francisco could entice tech companies to build offices in the city rather than ship them out to other states, and support positions in manufacturing, defense and aerospace at nearby Travis Air Force Base.

He rejected the idea that a loss on the ballot would mark California Forever as a failed investment for his billionaire backers, asserting that he would “still be able to deliver returns.”

Moy said the area already has plenty of cities, including Fairfield, that could serve the same purpose. She also questioned the viability of the promised construction jobs, pointing out that not everyone is able to perform punishing physical labor.

Sramek has hosted a series of town halls over the last several weeks. KXTV

“He obviously has Silicon Valley billionaires as investors. I welcome them to come and invest right here in Fairfield, Suisan City and Solano County,” Moy said. “Not only are we close to Travis, Travis is actually part of our city. If people want to build plane parts or whatever, we have plenty of room.”

Moy noted home prices and the cost of construction are prohibitively steep throughout the country – but especially in Silicon Valley.

“That’s not usually how economics work with housing, but maybe they have some magic,” Moy said. “I keep thinking, it is that time when Santa Claus comes. Maybe he’s got something going on with the big guy upstairs.”

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