Sierra Club calls California Forever’s plans to build new city a ‘clandestine possession’

Windmills line hills behind McCormack Ranch near Rio Vista. The 3,700-acre ranch is fighting the California Forever plan to build a new city in Solano County. | Noah Berger / Special to the Chronicle.

SF Chronicle, by J. K. Dineen, November 28, 2023

In what amounted to a campaign kickoff for the coalition fighting California Forever’s plans for a new city in Solano County, leaders from the Sierra Club and other groups held a rally Tuesday morning announcing their opposition to the project.

At a press conference, Sierra Club Solano Group Chair Princess Washington characterized the project as a “clandestine possession.”

Washington said that the Bay Area had lost 270,000 acres of agricultural land in the last decade, and that the Solano project would jeopardize tens of thousands of acres of additional farmland.

“This is land we cannot get back once it’s developed,” she said.

The rally, which also featured Fairfield Mayor Cat Moy, comes as California Forever gears up for a 2024 ballot initiative that seeks voter approval to develop portions of the 55,000 acres the group has acquired in unincorporated Solano over the last five years. The acreage, nearly twice the size of San Francisco, lies between Fairfield and Rio Vista.

While California Forever has not revealed any concrete plans — the group of billionaires behind the initiative includes LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, and Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison — the group must seek approval because of Solano County’s “Orderly Growth Initiative,” which requires voter approval for any project built in unincorporated portions of the county. California Forever has started a series of community meetings to build support for the project.

Washington blasted California Forever for ignoring “years of Smart Use planning and the voter approved Orderly Growth Initiative.”

“By ignoring the current voter approved uses of land that Flannery has acquired in order to jack their investment’s economic return is nothing short of a hostile takeover,” Washington said.

A rendering of a scene in the proposed city planned in Solano County, by the group California Forever.

But California Forever CEO Jan Sramek countered that the project “embodies the very spirit” of  the orderly growth initiative, which has been in place for 40 years.

“By giving voters the final say, this project explicitly adheres to the Orderly Growth Initiative by asking Solano voters whether they want to turn an area with the least productive and least ecologically valuable soils in all of Solano County into a new economic engine for the county,” Sramek said. “We support the Orderly Growth Initiative, and that’s why we’re going directly to voters.”

He said the group is proposing to develop “pasture land rather than prime farmland,” and would preserve the open space Suisun Marsh and the Jepson Prairie. He also said the new city would offer a balance of jobs and housing, which would help Solano County residents find work closer to home.

Fairfield Mayor Cat Moy, an outspoken opponent of the project, called it “a threat to Travis Airforce Base,” which is the county’s biggest employer. She said building anywhere near Travis Air Force Base is “a big fat no.”

“They are not talking to my people in Fairfield and Solano County where I grew up,” she said. “We are a right to farm county. That means a lot.”

Moy also criticized the group for buying up the land in secrecy and for years refusing to answer questions about their intentions.

“You have hurt farmers already, you have divided families who have been here for more than a century,” she said. “Enough already.”