‘Solano Gap’: California Forever scrambles to create a need

[Note from BenIndy: This excellent analysis of Flannery Associates’ ongoing efforts to shift the voting public’s attention away from California Forever’s/East Solano Plan’s very shaky “voter guarantees” (not to mention the public gaffes of its embattled CEO) comes from the fascinating Parallel Mirror by Gil Duran. Given the high quality of this editorial and the author’s intent to cover “what’s happening as tech billionaires and propagandists attempt a takeover of local politics,” this is a blog you should consider subscribing to. See how to subscribe below.]

“Mind the ‘Solano Gap.’ | Dall-E Image from Parallel Mirror.

Facing a dire gap in voter enthusiasm for its billionaire-funded tech city, California Forever tries to reframe the issue.

Parallel Mirror, by Gil Duran, May 15, 2024

The Point: Facing a dire gap in voter enthusiasm for its billionaire-funded tech city, California Forever tries to reframe the issue. But will Solano County voters be so easily fooled?

The Backstory: With a poll showing 70% of Solano County voters opposed to California Forever, the tech mega city a group of Silicon Valley billionaires wants to build between Fairfield, Vacaville and Rio Vista, the project appears dead on arrival. But don’t expect the tech billionaires, who have unlimited money to spend, to give up without a fight.

And so now comes a major effort to rebrand the project as something other than a creepy tech dystopia pushed by secretive out-of-town billionaire bullies. To this end, California Forever has created an all-new propaganda concept: the “Solano Gap.”

The new talking point, the creation of a study commissioned by California Forever, asserts that Solano County lags behind the rest of the Bay Area in terms of economic strength, wages, unemployment, etc. According to this logic, Solano County has been left behind, and is therefore in need of – wait for it, wait for it! – California Forever.

At the same time, California Forever is pivoting away from the brand name California Forever and toward “East Solano Plan,” reflecting the name of the ballot initiative, “The East Solano Homes, Jobs and Clean Energy Initiative.”

But can anything help this cursed project at this point?

The Analysis: As someone with extensive experience in political communication, allow me to pierce through the smoke and mirrors here to say what’s really going on here.

The real ‘Solano Gap’

The Solano Gap is real, but it’s not the manufactured PR concept California Forever is pushing. The Solano Gap that California Forever is really worried about is that massive, yawning gap in the polls which shows Solano voters poised to kick the project to the curb.

Unless voters have a sudden change of heart, California Forever will go down as one of the biggest billionaire boondoggles in California history. A lot of very important and wealthy people will have egg dripping from their faces. So you can expect them to try every trick imaginable to rebrand/reframe/reimagine the project as something more popular.

Here’s the problem: Solano County voters already know what the project is, and they have developed a deep distrust of it. They expect California Forever to be deceptive and sneaky because that’s how California Forever has acted since the project’s inception.

So, the project’s attempt to simply shape-shift into something else seems unlikely to fool many people. The large majority of voters who oppose California Forever are not going to change their minds because it has a new name, though the trick might peel off some less-informed voters.

CF’s ‘Solano Gap’ frame

Digging deeper: California Forever’s creation of the “Solano Gap” frame is an effort to provide a moral and economic mandate for the project. The project’s developers want voters and elected leaders to see the new city as something that must be built for the good of Solano County.

In this narrative, the billionaires aren’t trying to impose a massive new city on Solano in order to make lots of money or build a creepy Network State city. Heavens no! You see, they are doing this out of the goodness of their own hearts to help the people of desperate, impoverished Solano thrive in the 21st century. This is not invasive colonialist profit-making – it’s philanthropy.

Good luck selling that in Dixon, Fairfield, Vacaville and Rio Vista.

But California might have better luck with that narrative in Sacramento. The effort to depict Solano as an impoverished zone in dire need of a billionaire-funded city seems designed to justify a possible end-run around voters at some point. Has anyone asked California Forever CEO Jan Sramek whether he will consider the will of the voters to be the final word on his dream city?

CF’s ‘East Solano’ frame

The framing of the project as “East Solano” seems like an effort to do two things.

First, it defines the project as affecting only a portion of the county, eastern Solano. The implied message is that the new megacity is a hyperlocal project that won’t really affect everyone. Of course, anyone who has ever driven Interstate 80 between Fairfield and Vacaville knows better. And then there are the water issues, the environmental issues, etc. The impacts of the project will not be limited to one part of the county.

Second, the “East Solano” frame could be an effort to tap into the idea that the east sides of cities, towns or counties have historically lacked investment and opportunity. Think East Palo Alto, East Los Angeles, East St. Louis, or the East End of London. (Here’s any interesting article from the Guardian that examines theories about why the “Eastside” tends to be associated with poverty.)

Perhaps the “East” framing is just a coincidence. But I doubt that the significance of the frame, which evokes traditionally red-lined or sidelined communities, is totally lost on California Forever’s campaign team.

Mic Drop for The Day: California Forever is trying to shed its skin and be born again in the minds of Solano County voters. This means the polls are bad – very, very bad. But don’t underestimate them.

There are many months to go before November, and California Forever has an unlimited budget for information warfare and a clear willingness to do whatever it takes to force their massive tech city on the people of Solano County – whether they like it or not.

Coming Soon: I’m working on a full review of California Forever CEO Jan Sramek’s disastrous media appearances.