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Jan Sramek on Building a 400,000-Person City From Scratch

Episode Four of the Thesis Driven Leader Series

It’s hard to find a more ambitious, thorny, crazy, fascinating, optimistic example of innovation in real estate than what Jan Sramek is doing in California. He’s the founder and CEO of California Forever, the company building the increasingly famous—and at times infamous—new city northeast of San Francisco in Solano County.

When I first heard of Sramek’s project, I was skeptical. We wrote extensively on California Forever back in September, where I endorsed the general concept but not necessarily the way this team had gone about it.

On that second point, I was wrong. After leaving this interview, I believe what Sramek and his team are doing is incredibly thoughtful, necessary, and compelling. And I think—after listening—you’ll agree.

In this episode, Jan shares why he decided to start a new city and how he has shepherded it through raising $900 million from some of the biggest names in Silicon Valley, purchasing 62,000 acres in Solano County, and planning a thriving, walkable urban center. And we discuss some of the challenges on the horizon, including garnering community buy-in, overcoming regulatory hurdles, and facing a November ballot referendum which will decide the ultimate fate of his city. 

This is an exciting listen from start to finish. Here are some additional topics we cover:

  • Why building a new city can be a practical solution to the housing challenges facing California.

  • California Forever’s approach to transportation within as well as to and from the city.

  • How Jan pitched and won over the who’s who of Silicon Valley on a project that doesn’t walk or talk like any other VC-backed company.

  • Plans for building after the ballot initiative and how the team is solving the nuts-and-bolts of the an extraordinarily ambitious real estate project.

  • How Jan and his investors are viewing the project from a real estate finance and returns standpoint.

  • Design strategies for encouraging unique, organic architecture while discouraging cookie cutter neighborhoods and sprawl.

  • The reasons Jan and his team are proactively pursuing environmental reviews even where they’re not necessarily required.

  • How California Forever has managed relationships with the local community - including the largest west coast Air Force base - and factored in their interests to design the new city. 

As always, you can watch here on Substack or on any of the following platforms:


—Brad Hargreaves

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Thesis Driven
Thesis Driven Leader Series
At Thesis Driven, we research and write about trends in the built world. Join Thesis Driven founder Brad Hargreaves as he interviews the leading voices at the intersection of real estate, cities, innovation and technology. Guests include innovators like Zillow founder Spencer Rascoff, the renowned East Coast developer MaryAnne Gilmartin, AOL founder and real estate visionary Steve Case and many more top change makers in real estate.