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Quay Valley: Is Kings County Ready For A High-Tech Town?

Ezra David Romero
The proposed site for Quay Valley is right on the edge of Kern and Kings Counties near Interstat 5.

Kings County is known for farmed products like cotton and milk, as well as prisons and the Naval Air Station in Lemoore. The rural county is home to four cities and dozens of small places like Kettleman City on Interstate 5.  Now a Southern California group wants to build a brand new high tech town in this agricultural county.

Credit Ezra David Romero
Ezra David Romero
Thousands of people stop at Bravo Farms in Kettleman City each week.

Many people who visit Kings County don’t even realize they’re there.

That’s because they’re zooming by along Interstate 5 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. About half way an oasis materializes along the edge of the coastal mountain range.

It’s here that drivers like Rob Parker from Vancouver stop to stretch their legs.

“Our two-year-old boy was bouncing off the walls inside of our motor home and I looked out the window and I saw a sign for Kettleman City,” says Parker. “It said a cool place. So we said okay, that’s for us.”

The Parkers ended up at a western themed rest stop called Bravo Farms

Credit Ezra David Romero
Ezra David Romero
Michelle Magallan says she's looking forward to Quay Valley opening. She says she may even live there.

Michelle Magallan, the manager there, is scooping ice cream for a couple visiting from Fresno.“You get people from out of town, out of state, out of the country, people just passing by,” Magallan says. “You’re in the middle of nowhere.”

Magallan says she’s heard rumors of a state-of-the-art city in the works about eight miles south of here called Quay Valley. I pulled over off of I-5 to take a look at the site.

At the moment this proposed town is nothing but 7,500 acres of sagebrush and tumbleweeds. But Quay Hays, the guy behind the project, wants to transform it.

“You’ll go under an underpass and what you’ll see to the right we would have a very large entertainment destination,” Hays says. “On the left we would have some very unique themed resort hotels and then you go into the community itself.”

"You'll go under an underpass and what you'll see to the right we would have a very large entertainment destination. On the left we would have some very unique themed resort hotels and then you go into the community itself." - Quay Hays

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
At the moment Quay Valley is nothing but empty fields, but developers hope that by 2019 the first phase of shops and homes will open up.

The proposed town calls for multiple village centers with stores and restaurants, a mall and a college with a focus on sustainability and green practices.

Hays says the target demo for people that’ll live there will be for “people who want a healthier lifestyle, but also people who want to have the latest technology at their fingers tips. All the homes will be smart homes and all the buildings will be smart buildings.”

Credit GROW Holdings

Hay’s tried to get the project up and running in 2007, but a slump in the economy and a lawsuit over water halted the plan. Now the project is back on the table. He’s envisioning a city of 75,000 people with solar powered homes, a greywater system and a pod system run by magnets for transportation called a Hyperloop.

“After the initial testing of moving humans it could be an intermodal transportation system within Quay Valley, it could connect Quay Valley to different population clusters throughout the state,” Hays says.

Hays says he would like to see more ideas like the Hyperloop call Quay Valley home. It’s all part of his plan develop a town dedicated to sustainable practices. But for this city to become a reality his plans will have to get past the Kings County Planning Division lead by Greg Gatzka.

“I’m very excited about this process, but to build an entire new community when there’s nothing that exists there is very comprehensive in terms of the services, the facilities, the financing, everything that would be necessary to actually support that,” Gatka says.

"Water is going to be a very critical issue and resource. Where is the water going to come from and how are they going to provide it in a sustainable manner." - Greg Gatzka

Gatzka’s staff is working with Hays on the early stages of planning before it gets a green light. He says Hays will have to prove Quay Valley will actually benefit Kings County. Gatzka says there are a number of looming questions yet to be answered, like who is going to fund this project and where will Quay Valley get its water.

“Water is going to be a very critical issue and resource,” says Gatzka. “Where is the water going to come from and how are they going to provide it in a sustainable manner to protect those potential future residents that’ll live out there or have businesses out there.”

Some of that water will come from water rights Hays’ company purchased for the initial phase, but he isn’t sure where the rest will come from. 

Credit Ezra David Romero / Valley Public Radio
Valley Public Radio
At the moment Kettleman City is one of the largest rest stops on Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The other issue that people are having over this project is whether building a brand new city is even a sustainable practice.

“I am pretty skeptical,” says UC Davis Environmental Design Professor Stephen Wheeler. “If we were really thinking about investing $5 billion dollars or whatever it’s going to be it would be way more sustainable to invest it in Fresno or some existing city.”

Credit GROW Holdings
GROW Holdings

He would rather see empty lots and abandoned buildings in existing cities get upgrades and hook into already built city grids. Fresno State Urban Planning Professor Hongwei Dong agrees.

“It’s supposed to be self-sustained, but on the other hand I assume they are going to rely on people from off-site to go shopping there to go there for entertainment,” Dong says.

He says all those people traveling to Quay Valley could actually increase pollution to an area of the state already plagued with air quality issues.

Back in Kettleman City, people like Michelle Magallan who live and work in the area think a high-tech town like Quay Valley could boost the economy in Kings County.  

MAGALLAN :“It may bring more jobs to the Kettleman City area and other closer locations.” ROMERO: “Would you want to live in a place like that?” MAGALLAN: “I probably would, it’d probably keep me healthier and living longer. Why not?”

But it’ll be at least a couple years before Magallan could buy a house in Quay Valley. Developers would like the first set of homes and attractions ready to live and shop in by 2019.

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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