Tech Billionaires’ Project to Build a New City Accused of Tricking People Into Signing Petition

Tech Billionaires' Project to Build a New City Accused of Tricking People Into Signing Petition

California Forever, a tech billionaire-backed project to develop a new city on hundreds of acres of Bay Area farmland, is entering a critical phase. After buying nearly a billion dollars worth of land in Solano County, the project’s developers now need to convince at least 13,000 county residents to support a ballot initiative that would authorize the development of that land. If voted for in November, the project would finally be able to move ahead.

To get the necessary signatures, the project has recently ramped up outreach and canvassing efforts throughout the county. Those efforts may be having the opposite intended effect, however. A new report from The Daily Beast quotes numerous angry residents who claim that California Forever canvassers tried to trick them into signing their petitions in favor of the ballot initiative.

Lately, those disgruntled residents have been airing their grievances on a local Facebook page, Solano County Community Awareness. The Beast details some of their complaints, showing that at least half a dozen community members have claimed that canvassers at different locations told them misleading things in an effort to get them to sign. Some of the alleged misleading statements include that they were actually signing petitions to build “better roads” or to protect federal benefits, like Medicare.

One woman, who identified herself as Claudia Wilde—a 70-year-old retired teacher from the local city of Fairfield—claims that a canvasser standing outside a local Target told her that if she signed she’d be supporting infrastructure improvements throughout the community:

“I said, ‘This isn’t a California Forever thing?”’ the 70-year-old retired school teacher asked the man with the petition. “And he goes, ‘No, no, it’s for better roads.’ I said, ‘Let me see.’”

She took a look.

“I said, ‘This is California Forever,’” she recalled. “And he goes, ‘Well, you don’t have to sign it.’ I said, ‘This is a scam! You should be ashamed of yourself!’ And he says, ‘Well, I still love you.’”

Another woman claimed that a canvasser at the same location similarly made misleading statements in an effort to get her to sign a petition related to the project. This canvasser told her that by signing she would be fighting attempts to defund federal benefits, she said. When she read more carefully, she found that it was a petition for the development project:

“And I said, ‘I can’t believe that you’re telling me that I’m signing something about defunding Medicare and you’re pushing that on me,’” she remembered. “I’m like, ‘Do you realize what this is?’ He goes, ‘Yes, I know exactly what it is.’ I said, ‘Well, then why? Why would you push that on me after I came here under the understanding that I was signing a petition for defunding Medicare? Not this shit.’”

Yet another woman claimed she encountered a canvasser outside a local Walmart who told her that his petition involved an effort to support “affordable housing.” However, when the woman skimmed through the petition’s pages, she says she saw the California Forever logo:

“I read the first paragraph & it’s clearly the CA forever!” she wrote. “I told them it’s NOT an affordable housing petition & explained it to them while about a dozen other people were listening. Sadly many voters are signing this petition without knowing what it really is!”

Gizmodo reached out to California Forever to inquire about the allegations. The organization did not immediately respond. We will update this story if it does.

This project has struggled from the get-go. California Forever—which is backed by the likes of Marc Andreessen, Reid Hoffman, and Lauren Powell Jobs—has arguably shot itself in the foot numerous times.

Last year, the project made the questionable decision to sue a number of local farmers, arguably making them look like a bunch of brash, wealthy bullies. Later, the project held a number of town halls with local residents. Those meetings were, for lack of a better term, a disaster. Angry locals repeatedly got up and shouted at the project’s CEO, former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek, accusing him and his cohort of trying to pull a fast one on the local community.

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