Tag Archives: California Forever Inc.

‘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.


Opinion: Flannery Associates has rebranded California Forever to get rid of old baggage. Don’t be fooled

BenIndy Editorial, May 13, 2024

Flannery Associates have rebranded California Forever to the East Solano Plan, apparently hoping Solano residents will line up for a taste of the same old wine, just in a new bottle.

Corporate rebranding has long been a tool for abstraction and obfuscation, giving companies suffering PR problems a new chance at life with a new corporate identity. BP stood for British Petroleum until the early 2000s, when the company adopted “Beyond Petroleum” as its tagline as proof of its commitment to safer systems and renewable energy (yet the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happened in 2010). Philip Morris Companies Inc. rechristened itself the Altria Group around the same time, eager to shed its association with the negative health impacts of smoking (yet it continued to spend millions to lobby and litigate for the tobacco industry).

Following this dubious tradition, Flannery Associates aka California Forever are now the East Solano Plan (“ESP”).

Critically, the ESP is (at least at present) nothing more than a marketing facelift. Over the last 6 months the company has had many opportunities to receive and consider feedback from the frustrated Solano communities that it says it wants to serve. While it has accepted some feedback, most notably by making provisions for the Travis Air Force Base, many Solano residents remain dissatisfied with the scheme to build a new city in Eastern Solano.

California Forever’s rebrand to ESP does nothing to address the underlying issues that have plagued it since its sudden thrust into the spotlight after years of secrecy and misdirection. At its core, the project is the same as it was before the change.

Whatever the name of the scheme was, is, or will be in the future is secondary to the glaring omissions and half-baked “voter guarantees” that may in fact be non-binding and/or unbindable, according to some analysts.

We at the Benicia Independent want to be clear about the following: We support the development of affordable housing. However, it is unclear how the ESP will benefit those in need of it given the projected million-dollar price tag for its homes. It is also unclear how the ESP can benefit anyone, from any income level, anytime soon – it is projected to take the new city 30 years or so to come to fruition.

So stay frosty, Solano residents. Don’t be fooled by rebrands and taglines. Don’t be suckered by “guarantees.”

Instead, call this what it is: old wine sold in a new bottle, for the same high price.

While the overuse of memes in this post is intended to draw some laughs, it is also there to expose a naked ploy, and a pretty cynical one at that, as quickly as possible and in a manner that welcomes casual reposting. Please feel free to reuse any of the images. 

Duane Kromm: The Flannery saga keeps getting stranger . . .

Canva image by BenIndy. OK to reuse.
Duane Kromm. | Jason Henry / WSJ.

By Duane Kromm, May 7, 2024

The Flannery saga keeps getting stranger. Solano Together was invited to participate with California Forever at an event in early May.  Both sides were given time to present, take part in a Q&A, and finally make a brief closing pitch.

We said, of course, we always want to explain why our Solano Together coalition is working to preserve farmland and open space, protect Travis Air Force Base from encroachment, avoid creating gridlock on our highways, and make sure we have enough water for our farms and cities.

We were quite surprised when the California Forever folks pulled out of the presentation at the last minute.  They only wanted to participate if they alone would be making a presentation.

Sadly, this is becoming their norm.  In the past two weeks we have taken two journalists on tours of the area; from Jepson Prairie preserve, through the proposed “New Community” land, and into Montezuma Hills.  Both sets of journalists reported to us that California Forever would not even talk to them, much less spend time showing them the land, watching Travis missions fly overhead, or trying to explain why the gridlock they would create on Highway 12 would not be harmful to Travis’ mission.

Why would somebody who wants to win an election be so afraid of talking to journalists and taking part in town hall style meetings?  I guess when you have billions of dollars you think you can control all of the messaging about their project.

Solano Together is eager to meet with any group who would like us to present our message or take part in a dialogue or debate with California Forever.  Please call or email me, dkkromm@gmail.com, 707-580-7321, or connect through our website, solanotogether.org if you would like us to meet with you.

A postscript.  Go out to Jepson Prairie now, it is spectacular.  Weekends are best with the naturalists from UC Davis. naturalreserves.ucdavis.edu/jepson-prairie.

Jepson Prairie Preserve. | SolanoLandTrust.org.

 


>> More stories on California Forever here on the BenIndy

 

Host Your Own Party To Support Solano Together

Solano Together is expanding its grassroots effort by asking people across the region to host small gatherings in their homes and communities to provide up-to-date information and expand its impact.

Hosting house parties is a great opportunity to get involved and contribute to Solano Together’s mission to fight this development proposal and help build an alternative vision for a sustainable and equitable future for the region.

If you’re interested in hosting a house party or just learning more, click the image above or visit the Solano Together website to get more information on next steps.

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.”