California’s Tech Billionaires Want to Build A New City To Solve Housing Crisis, Will It Work? | Charles Marohn

Urban planner and civil engineer Charles Marohn weighed in recently on proposals to build a new city from scratch in Northern California, called ’California Forever‘. While the vision of a walkable, transit-oriented tech hub draws from successful new urbanist principles, Marohn argues the scale of 400,000 residents risks overwhelming regional infrastructure.
Marohn acknowledges the appeal of starting from a blank slate to create an ideal city form. However, he cautions that the complex challenges of phasing infrastructure and commercial development over time are often underestimated. Getting the scale and timing right of utilities like water systems is difficult, and deviations can lower returns on investment.
More concerning is the lack of consideration for regional impacts. Adding nearly half a million new residents to the already congested Bay Area would strain transportation networks without coordinated expansion. Early residents in particular would rely heavily on connections to jobs and amenities elsewhere.
Rather than an internally self-contained city from the outset, Marohn believes a more gradual, distributed approach could better integrate new housing within the existing fabric. While opponents argue for “infill” development everywhere, he questions if the region is realistically prepared to absorb a population the size of Oakland overnight.
For Marohn, proposals reflect understandable frustration with California’s dysfunctional patterns of sprawl and restrictive housing policies. However, starting from scratch risks repeating past mistakes rather than reforming the rules themselves. A new city on this scale may achieve utopian design, but only by potentially overloading the very region it aims to benefit. Regional cooperation must be a priority from the earliest phases for such a venture to succeed sustainably.
*Views expressed in this video/article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of California Insider.
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