California Forever reveals plan B if ballot measure fails

People find seats as they get more information on the new California Forever proposed development off Highway 12 near Rio Vista during a town hall meeting on Thursday. | Chris Riley / Times-Herald.

Company spars with Solano Together leader at Benicia meeting

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Daniel Egitto, December 15, 2023

Amid skepticism at a town hall meeting in Benicia, California Forever clarified some key aspects of its plan to build a city-sized community in Solano County.

Fresh information arrived in CEO Jan Sramek’s response to a question about what the company will do if, in November, it fails to pass a ballot initiative to make this project possible. He said in an interview earlier this month that “there are other ways to proceed with the project” if the plan falls through and declined to elaborate.

Sramek clarified Thursday that California Forever owns about 800 acres of land within Rio Vista city limits. If Solano County won’t play ball, he’ll attempt to get that land zoned as residential and build on it.

This would be a less ambitious project and, in Sramek’s view, less beneficial for the area.

“We think that would be a bad idea for Solano County because if we’re doing it piecewise, that wouldn’t help us to bring in employers,” he said.

Answering other concerns about where the company would find enough water for the new development, Sramek said the current plan is to buy water that is currently irrigating almond groves. Sramek said many of these almonds are getting shipped to China, which he sees as a waste of a precious resource.

“We don’t have a shortage of water in California. We have a misuse of water,” he said.

Speakers also raised a variety of other questions about the project. Vallejo resident Michelle Pellegrin argued that while California Forever claims the development would benefit Solano County, its investors’ main goal is “to make a whole hell of a lot of money.”

“This is making money. This is not being nice to people. There’s a huge difference,” Pellegrin said.

Benicia resident Gregg Horton also took aim at a remark by Sramek that he spent a year trying to fix housing crises within existing Bay Area cities, but “became convinced that that wouldn’t be enough to make homes affordable.”

“I find that kind of awful because we have people in this room who have been working for decades on this kind of thing,” Horton said.

Sramek responded that it would be impossible to raise as much capital as California Forever has by attempting to infill existing cities. He also denied the implication that only nonprofit ventures can help people.

“I don’t shy from the fact that this is a for-profit investment. But I think that it’s a false distinction to say that that’s somehow bad,” he said.

Later in the evening, Sramek and Aiden Mayhood, founder of the anti-California Forever coalition Solano Together, went head to head in an argument about a Solano County Water Agency meeting last month.

At that meeting, the agency’s board of directors considered a California Forever proposal to potentially fund a study into improving a key Solano County waterline. The company had claimed that their funding would come with “no strings attached,” but a crowd of over 100 people packed the meeting and overwhelmingly spoke out in opposition.

The agency’s board of directors voted against the proposal, citing community concerns.

Discussing this pipeline, Sramek named Mayhood and originally attempted to blame him for the water agency’s decision – but attendees shouted him down.

Mayhood rejected Sramek’s statement that the agency’s vote took place “because people showed up and yelled at the electeds long enough that they agreed not to do it.”

“It was a question of trust. Can we trust these people?” the organizer said. “And personally, I don’t find them trustworthy.”

California Forever’s final town hall this year will take place at 6 p.m. Monday at 231 North First St. in Dixon.

More about California Forever on the Benicia Independent: