California Forever Shells out $2M in Campaign to Build City from Scratch

[Note from BenIndy: Not long after the Vallejo Times-Herald revealed that Vacaville’s vice mayor might personally benefit from California Forever’s new development, KQED is reporting that California Forever made significant payments to political consultants closely linked to Governor Gavin Newsom and Solano officials. The named consultants are Angie Wei, Matt Rodriguez, Brian Brokaw, Dan Newman, and Sue Vaccaro, who is married to Fairfield Councilmember Rick Vaccaro. These relationships naturally raise concerns about the influence certain of these named individuals, who have received significant compensation from California Forever, could have on the initiative’s approval process.]

A billboard for California Forever sits on top of an apartment building along I-80 in Vallejo on May 2, 2024. | Beth LaBerge / KQED.

KQED, by Adhiti Bandlamudi, May 3, 2024

California Forever spent some $2 million in the first three months of the year on its campaign to convince voters it should be allowed to build a city from scratch in Eastern Solano County, newly released campaign finance records show.

That money includes funds it has budgeted but has yet to pay out to contractors and around $1 million of in-kind contributions. The company has thus far been the sole contributor to its campaign, according to the records.

When he introduced the initiative in January, California Forever CEO Jan Sramek promised to spend “as much [money] as we need to win.”

The filings show California Forever has so far spent the largest portion of its money — more than $330,000 — on firms hired to collect the more than 20,400 signatures it submitted to the Solano County Registrar’s Office earlier this week. More than $200,000 went toward campaign workers’ salaries, and nearly $210,000 was spent on campaign websites and emails.

However, the payments also show more than $238,000 paid to consultant firms headed by highly connected political campaigners, including several former strategists and aides to Gov. Gavin Newsom and the wife of a current Fairfield councilmember.

Click the image to be redirected to the NPR post.

For a countywide ballot initiative, the spending is “robust,” said political and election lawyer Bradley Hertz, but “not terribly over the top.”

“If it were LA County, for example, with 5 million voters, [the budget] would be at least five or 10 times this amount to gather signatures and get the necessary publicity going,” Hertz said. “The big money needs to be spent at this stage for signature gathering.”

A representative from California Forever did not comment on its spending, but said the team is “feeling good” and that the company will have more updates on its plan in the coming week.

The company is relying on several high-profile political strategists to get initiative to the November election, including Angie Wei, a former legislative aide to Newsom; Matt Rodriguez, who worked with the governor in 2022 to oppose Proposition 30; and Brian Brokaw and Dan Newman, two longtime campaign advisers to Newsom. Brokaw also served as Vice President Kamala Harris’s former campaign manager when she ran for Attorney General in 2010.

California Forever also paid Sue Vaccaro, wife of Fairfield Councilmember Rick Vaccaro, $4,000 for campaign consulting. Councilmember Vacarro has not responded to KQED’s request for comment.

Click the image to be redirected to the NPR post.

The Registrar’s Office is now verifying California Forever’s submitted signatures. If they all check out, the Registrar will pass the initiative along to the Solano County Board of Supervisors, which must decide whether to approve it outright or put it to voters.

Supervisor Mitch Mashburn, a critic of the plan, said Wednesday that if the initiative qualifies for the election, he would call for a special report assessing the proposed city’s impacts, both positive and negative. But Hertz suspected California Forever has accounted for the added delay this report would require. The supervisors have until Aug. 9 to vote to place the initiative on the November ballot.

The next set of campaign finance reports is due by the end of July. Paul Mitchell, owner of polling firm Redistricting Partners, said California Forever’s spending on getting the ballot measure to voters is likely a drop in the bucket compared to what it will take to build the proposed city.

“Just because it gets passed by voters isn’t going to build a house,” Mitchell said. “[The amount spent so far] is not an enormous sum for what they’re looking to do, and it’s probably not going to break records.”