April 20, 2024

California Forever, the tech billionaire-backed effort to create a new city on hundreds of acres in the Bay Area, has faced a number of challenges, including a legal dispute between the project’s backers and a number of families who are longtime residents of the area where developers want to build.

Last May, California Forever’s parent company, Flannery Associates, sued some of those families, accusing them of engaging in a “price fixing” conspiracy and demanding half a billion dollars in damages. The farmers accused California Forever of deploying “strong-arm tactics” to pry loose their land.

Now, it appears that a California judge sided with the tech billionaires. Judge Troy Nunley, of Sacramento, denied an effort by the landowners to get California Forever’s litigation thrown out of court, The Mercury News reported Monday. Nunley claimed that messages exchanged between property owners two years ago provided “direct evidence” of a price-fixing effort.

Those messages have been shared in court, including text messages from one land owner to another saying that they shouldn’t allow California Forever developers to engage in “bullying the last of the property owners.” The same land owner asserted that the “remaining property owners should be in agreement on what we would want to sell our properties” so that California would be unable to “play owners against owners.”

Nunely also cited other examples. One email exchange involving one land owner stated that the “hyper-aggressive behavior [by California Forever] seems to indicate that we are in a very good position and it is best not to engage with them at this point.” That same owner also said: “No one is suggesting that we don’t sell, the question is when and at what price. Several of the other major land owners in the area are basically taking their time as well and not engaging.”

Nunely’s refusal to throw out the case doesn’t necessarily mean that California Forever will win its legal case. The allegations that California Forever tried to bully longtime residents out of their land led to a series of contentious town hall meetings in which locals openly yelled at Jan Sramek, the project’s CEO. Residents accused the project developers of being untrustworthy and of trying to profit off the local community.

Gizmodo reached out to California Forever for comment on the litigation update and will update this story if it responds.

If the recent court ruling is good news for the project’s developers legal case, it’s unclear if it will actually help them accomplish their longterm goal of creating a new city out of nothing but hundreds of acres of Bay Area farmland. The CF project is currently attempting to persuade Solano County residents to support the creation of a ballot initiative that would allow locals to vote on in November. The project was accused of tricking locals into signing petitions in support of the initiative, but developers have denied the allegations.

A version of this article originally appeared on Gizmodo.

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