Swap with City of Fairfield, Solano County and Solano County Water Agency would complete 15,000 acre prairie reserve near Travis AFB
Vallejo Times-Herald, by Nick McConnell, November 7, 2023
California Forever sent a letter on Monday to Solano County, the City of Fairfield and the Solano County Water Agency proposing a land exchange of thousands of acres near Travis Air Force Base.
The company has offered to swap 1,573 acres of high habitat value land on Jepson Prairie near Travis Air Force Base, for 1,403 acres of pasture with medium agricultural value six to 10 miles away from the base, mostly east of Rio Dixon Road.
The letter, signed by California Forever CEO Jan Sramek, was addressed to Fairfield City Manager David Gassaway, County Administrator William Emlen and General Manager of Solano County Water Agency Chris Lee.
The letter says that California Forever is offering the exchange because it learned the parcels it purchased on the Jepson Prairie are included under the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program, and that its ownership of them could also pose a threat to the goals of the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan.
“We believe this exchange proposal is a win-win transaction that makes good sense for all sides involved,” the letter reads.
The letter also indicates that California Forever would provide $1 million to fund the completion of the Solano County Habitat Conservation plan. The land being offered by California Forever is the last land on the Jepson Prairie which is not currently publicly owned, according to the letter. creating the opportunity to unite one uninterrupted habitat.
“This exchange would therefore become the capstone achievement that substantially completes the preservation of the Jepson Prairie ecosystem, and creates a fully contiguous open space reserve of approximately 15,000 acres” the letter says.
The Solano County Water Agency has a meeting scheduled for Thursday at 6:30, which will be available both in person at 810 Vaca Valley Parkway and on Zoom. Its agenda, released before the letter was dated, includes an item titled “Water Supply Portfolio and Discussions with California Forever.”
The entire proposal is conditional on the approval of California Forever’s development plans in the area by the voters next November and by relevant regulatory agencies. The company said it is currently undergoing a listening tour, taking feedback from the community on how to make its plans work for Solano County residents. A more comprehensive plan, which will go in front of voters next November, will be released in January.
“Put plainly, if the voters or any regulatory agencies whose approvals would be required later do not approve our plans, the exchange agreement would terminate, we would cover all legal and other costs of the public agencies incurred in negotiating the exchange, and everything would remain the same as it is today,” the letter reads.
The offer is only on the table until Dec. 31, the letter explains, so that all of the changes can be reflected in the January plan.
“The reason to agree on this transaction now is to ensure that we can propose a more orderly plan to the voters, so that if the voters and regulators approve the proposal in the future, then the exchange automatically and immediately closes,” the letter reads.
Sramek said the REPI report and habitat plan were the main drivers of this proposal, as California Forever had no knowledge of both of those factors before the purchase of this land. Four weeks ago, when it learned of the REPI, he said, it started to think of how it might be able to get that land under Travis AFB’s control.
“I think what we want people to understand is that we are serious about the fact that we want to protect and strengthen Travis,” he said.
Sramek also said the company feels similarly about protecting open space and contributing to ecological projects in the area.
“We’ve been saying that for two months,” he said of commitments to the base and the environment, “and this is a step where we are going to change it into actions.”
The proposal would allow public shareholders to take over land of higher ecological value, and to consolidate their holdings into one place, California Forever said.
“We hope this transaction is the first of many ways that California Forever and local stakeholders can work together in a productive and collaborative fashion that benefits everyone involved,” the letter said. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders on this multi-benefit transaction, and attending public meetings where this matter is discussed to answer any questions.”