CALIFORNIA CITY: EPISODE 2Turning Desert Dust Into Gold
In 2017 Ben Perez goes to a Mojave Desert resort for a free vacation and ends up signing away his life savings. Turns out Ben is one of tens of thousands to believe a version of this dream over the past 60 years.
Chava Sanchez/KPCCCalifornia City’s Unbuilt NeighborhoodsCalifornia City is carved out of the Mojave Desert. It was designed in the late 1950s for hundreds of thousands of people, but today, there are only about 14,000 residents. Many neighborhoods remain unbuilt. Dirt roads lead to nowhere. Some have street signs, but many are unnamed. One former resident remembered standing at the corner of “blank and blank.”
Ben Perez’s landbanking documentsBen said he didn’t remember initialing the "commercial transaction" clause that meant he could not get his money back.
Chava Sanchez/KPCCLand for saleCalifornia City is filled with signs advertising vacant land for sale.
San Diego County Superior CourtSilver Saddle Ranch and Club brochureMarketing brochures, like this one, from the California Department of Business Oversight’s lawsuit, make Silver Saddle look like an oasis. But many people, including Ben, say they were disappointed.
The Path to ProsperityIn a brochure, also part of the state’s lawsuit, Silver Saddle claims that famous tech entrepreneurs, like Paul Allen of Microsoft, Richard Branson of Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk of Tesla, are “doing business” or “expanding their interests” in the area — vague claims that are nearly impossible to disprove.
“Three reasons why I/We invested today”Ben signed and initialed several documents at Silver Saddle. One asked him to explain why he was investing. Ben wrote only one sentence: “To make money in the future.”
Emily GuerinTake HeedEvery time reporter Emily Guerin visited California City, this billboard on the outskirts of town displayed a different Bible verse.