Sen. Bill Dodd: California Forever is a forever mistake for the North Bay

This image provided by California Forever shows context of a map of a proposed new community in Solano County, Calif. A company backed by Silicon Valley billionaires that stealthily snapped up more than $800 million dollars worth of rural land for what it has said will be a new utopian green city between San Francisco and Sacramento is now taking the pitch to voters. | SITELAB urban studio / CMG/ California Forever, via AP.
California Senator Bill Dodd, District 3.

Imagine a clandestine group of well-heeled investors descended on your community and quietly began buying up all available open space with secret plans to build a megacity of 400,000 people. You’d be concerned, right?

That’s exactly what’s happening in one North Bay county, where Silicon Valley tech billionaires have amassed more than 50,000 acres of former farmland and are attempting to steamroll a gargantuan housing and commercial project onto locals, bypassing the local vetting process.

There’s no question we need more housing. Our chronic shortage has triggered a supply and demand imbalance, drastically limiting housing options for buyers and renters, and driving up prices for all.

But it must be done right. And the massive development proposed for Solano County near Travis Air Force Base is dead wrong. It serves as a reminder to the rest of the North Bay that we need thoughtful infill development — not more profit-driven sprawl.

We first got wind of the so-called California Forever proposal last year. Journalists revealed that a group of wealthy investors had been behind a stealth campaign to buy up farmland, suing some families to get their way. They hyped a utopian city to be built with little input from locals and without regard for normal planning practices. Total build-out could be close to a half-million people — dwarfing neighboring towns.

Aside from the developers’ lack of transparency, the project has many unresolved problems. For one, it takes away much-needed ag land that helps put food on the table while fueling our economy. The land is still zoned for farming so the developers are trying to bypass planning norms with a ballot measure that asks voters to change the zoning to residential.

Another major issue is the additional traffic caused by a city of 400,000. Currently, the developers have offered no ideas for how to mitigate thousands more car trips each day along the Highway 12 corridor — one of the most dangerous and congested roads in the region. This represents the worst kind of car-oriented development, promising to add to carbon emissions and climate change. Taxpayers across the region could end up footing the bill to clean up the resulting mess, diverting money from other transportation priorities.

But perhaps the most concerning is that the footprint for the megacity would interfere with Travis Air Force Base, which plays key national security role. Military officials say having a new city in the flight path of the base’s strategic airlift and air refueling operations is a nonstarter.

There are many other problems, including the availability of water and effects on the nearby Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, an environmental and economic gem that must be protected.

With local opposition growing louder, developers have offered varying takes on the original but none provide substantial answers.

I have been skeptical since day one, but reserved my judgment as I gathered more facts. It is now crystal clear to me that this project is bad for the region.

Each day, more and more people are seeing this as the deeply flawed project that it is. Already, Congressmen Mike Thompson and John Garamendi, along with farmers, environmentalists and a host of other elected officials, oppose California Forever.

The bottom line is, we need more housing. But we don’t need it at the expense of what makes the North Bay the best place to live. And we definitely don’t need it forced on us by this secret cabal headed by a former Wall Street trader, who moved to the area recently to try to show he cares. Give me a break. He thinks we’re all a bunch of country bumpkins who don’t know what we have and can’t tell when someone is peddling hot air. [Emph. added by BenIndy.]

Let’s prove him wrong. Let’s send a clear message that we recognize the value of our open spaces and thoughtful planning and stand up against this irresponsible and greed-inspired vision that is nothing but a fool’s paradise.

Bill Dodd, D-Napa, represents the 3rd state Senate District.