Statement In Support of the East Solano Plan

June 18, 2024

For the first time in history, California is losing population. Locked out of homeownership, many have left the state. Those who remain often spend half their income on rent or live in overcrowded conditions. Nearly 200,000 Californians lack a home altogether. By one estimate, the Bay Area must build 441,176 new homes between 2023 and 2031 to end the shortage. We aren’t even close to hitting that target. 

The Golden State is in a rough way. But we believe that our best days lie ahead. When faced with housing shortages in the past, our leaders took bold actions to increase the supply of new housing. For this reason, California YIMBY is proud to support the East Solano Plan, a project that will—at full build-out—provide homes for as many as 400,000 Californians and provide a template for sustainable growth.  

We sympathize with the reflexive skepticism of the project among members of our coalition, including friends in the environmental movement. When it comes to solving our housing crisis, our focus remains on making it easier to build housing in existing cities—near quality jobs and public services. Toward this end, we have worked to liberalize zoning, streamline permitting, and reduce costs. We believe we can (and must) solve the housing and climate crises simultaneously. That means building communities with denser housing and alternatives to automobile dependence. 

Most greenfield development in California over the past century has left much to be desired. But the East Solano Plan aims to try something better. The proposal calls for housing densities that would rival the most walkable neighborhoods in California. By locating housing near jobs and amenities like parks, daycares, and shops, the project would minimize short car trips, which are the primary source of car pollution in our state.

To the extent that the East Solano Plan is a welcome break from this status quo approach to building, we think it deserves a chance. As proposed, this project addresses many of the mistakes made by previous large scale greenfield developments.

  • The East Solano Plan would be midway between the Bay Area and Sacramento, with the ability to connect to existing highway and rail networks. 
  • It’s a proposal for a fully mixed-use community—not just housing. The East Solano Plan will condition full build-out on the development attracting over 15,000 well-paid jobs in the first phase. 
  • The East Solano Plan is far more walkable than the greenfield developments California has seen before, with a minimum density of 20 dwelling units per acre, a mixture of uses, and multimodal streets.

This project has been designed by some of the brightest minds in California planning, and it shows. If successful, this project could set the tone for a much more sustainable pattern of urban growth over the next century. 

No project is without challenges. First, this new city will eventually need to be integrated into regional transit networks. Internally, it will be served by frequent bus rapid transit lines. In the near term, commuter buses can meet the need for external connections. But as the city grows, it may need rail. The site is served by a decommissioned rail spur that could connect the new city to Amtrak and BART, and the developer has committed to doing everything in their power to see that through. 

Second, this development will—by its very nature—replace working lands. Since 2017, California YIMBY has helped to write strong environmental protections into state law, exempting prime farmlands, wetlands, fire risk zones, earthquake faults, floodways, and protected habitats from nearly every bill we have sponsored. However, the East Solano Plan doesn’t encroach on any such lands.

The future of this project is up to the residents of Solano County. They are right to expect strong guarantees and generous community benefits. We applaud the team’s commitment to provide $500 million in community benefits—including $400 million in down payment assistance and $70 million in scholarships and small business grants to current Solano County residents—and invest $200 million in Solano County’s seven existing downtowns. 

Those numbers reflect just the first phase, from 0 to 50,000 residents. At the full build-out, the commitment is eight times that: $4 billion in community benefits and $800 million for Solano County downtowns. For our part, we encourage them to keep housing affordability top of mind at every step of the way.

Many more spirited debates will be necessary to achieve the best version of this project. But we believe that a better world starts with “yes.”