Tag Archives: Sierra Club

California Forever CEO clarifies that its new city will be affordable – to millionaires

[Note from BenIndy: You can click the image to be redirected to read the interview Aiden Mayhood is referencing, but the pertinent piece is below in full, so the whole pitch for the new city proposed by California Forever is in context. Homeownership in the Bay Area continues to be something middle-income families can only dream of​, so it makes sense that the promise of affordable homes is one of California Forever’s major talking points in their bid to build a new city in Eastern Solano. Someone on California Forever’s PR team should have let CEO Jan Sramek know that the average middle-income family is not going to be able to afford a million-dollar home and his comment was, at best, an example of a billionaire deeply out of touch with the reality the middle class lives every day. If California Forever’s city will be continuing the trend of development for the super-wealthy, that is something every petition signatory should know. By the way, Aiden Mayhood is one of the more vocal activists who oppose the new city and worth following if you are on Facebook.]

Katherine [interviewer]: So it’s a housing question, but when you’re trying to get people to move to a new city, you also have to think about the other part of the equation, which is jobs, as you mentioned. What is your pitch to employers to tell them to come to Solano County?

Jan [Sramek, CEO of California Forever]: So, we have a lot of employers in the room, I think, in the Bay Area and in New York and DC. How many people feel like they need to pay their employees increasingly more and more and more because their employees can’t afford to live in the cities that they want to live in? Probably a lot of you.

How many of you are struggling because you can’t get your employees to come to the office every day? Because your employees have a commute that’s 45 minutes or, in some cases, one-and-a-half hours, and they just don’t want to spend that amount of time in traffic every day. So, even though when you tell them that they should come to the office, they fight and they don’t want to because they want to see their kids and they want to have breakfast with their kids, they want to have dinner with their kids.

And so, our pitch is, imagine that you had a place like West Village in New York or Georgetown in DC, or Noe Valley or the Marina in San Francisco. Medium density, row houses, backyards, traditional American urbanism, local shopping streets where you can walk to.

Then, imagine that we improved the transportation system by creating super blocks where cars inside those super blocks can only go about 10 miles an hour. We created biking and public transport infrastructure to use with that, meaning your kids can actually play in the streets, meaning your kids can actually walk to school alone and you don’t have to be chauffeur your whole life like a crazy person.

And then imagine that we build that in a place that is 25 minutes to Napa Valley, and that is an hour and a half away from Tahoe. And so, it’s a lot closer to those places that everyone in the Bay Area loves than Palo Alto or Cupertino or San Francisco or Oakland. And then imagine that the place is still an hour and a half away from your headquarters or office in San Francisco or Palo Alto or Menlo Park or whatever.

And so, if your team members between the two offices want to go and see each other, you don’t have to do Uber, TSA, airport, plane, delayed plane, airport, Uber, get to the office in Austin or Denver or wherever it is, but you can actually get in a car and in an hour and a half or in an hour, you can be there.

And then imagine that it was a city for up to 400,000 people that was entitled and approved at once. And so, you knew that for the next 30 years, if this office is going to work and you’ll be able to hire talent there, there’ll be enough space for you to grow in for the next 30 years. There’ll be enough office and there’ll be enough homes for your employees, whether they want to rent them or whether they want to buy them.

And then imagine that instead of paying 4 or 5 million dollars for a mediocre home in Palo Alto or San Francisco, your employees would be able to buy a nice house for a million dollars.

Katherine: Yeah, I think that’s where everyone says, “Sign me up.”


After Corrections, California Forever Collecting Signatures for Ballot Initiative; Solano Together Clarifies ‘Guarantees’ Are Not Binding

[Note from BenIndy: The images and emphasis in this post are not original to the Solano Together press release. If you are interested in learning more about Solano Together, check out their website, see how to get involved (with options ranging from simply being on their mailing list to volunteering), and don’t forget to donate. While there is no way Solano Together can match the millions to billions of dollars that California Forever is throwing at this thing, grassroots movements can do a lot with even a little. $5, $10, or more if you can may go a long way.]

Land where California Forever plans on building its new city (foreground) in Solano County, Feb. 16, 2024. The contentious development would be located between Travis Air Force Base and Rio Vista. | Loren Elliott / CalMatters.

Solano Together Press Release, March 1, 2024

SUISUN CITY – After intense public criticism and multiple resubmissions, California Forever’s ballot initiative asking voters for permission to rezone agricultural land to build a massive sprawl development was officially accepted by Solano County officials on Thursday. This means that California Forever will be able to start collecting signatures from voters to make the initiative eligible for the ballot this coming November.

For Solano Together, the multiple amendments to their ballot initiative speak volumes to their rushed and secretive process and the true intent of their development proposal.

The new title and summary, called “Rezoning of 17,500 acres of land in east Solano County to allow the development of a new community”, was prepared by Solano County counsel on Feb 29, 2024, updating information regarding the acreage for the proposed “new community,” changes to their land use plans, and clarifying language on the need for a Development Agreement to “vest” any promises made in the initiative.

As noted by County counsel, what is on the ballot is primarily a land use change that is not supported by any real plans for infrastructure development, resource allocation, or environmental impacts. The continued secrecy and purposeful deception of the public is unsurprising, given that project proponents have repeatedly withheld information on their intentions since they first started acquiring land in Solano County in 2017.

The initiative’s empty pledges—which they call “guarantees”—and lack of detail on everything from water sources to transportation plans give Solano residents and decision-makers very little information about how this proposed community would be developed and its associated impacts.

While the County Counsel’s summary states that the measure identifies “ten voter guarantees, including general financial and environmental commitments, that the project proponents would be obligated to provide once residential and commercial development begins,” it also clarifies that environmental impacts and financial feasibility would not be known until the measure is approved. “Rights to develop the New Community and obligations for voter guarantees would not vest until a Development Agreement is executed between the project applicant and the County.”

It’s been widely reported in local media that those “guarantees” are largely empty promises as there is no mechanism to enforce them until a Development Agreement is in place and a ballot measure cannot legally obligate the County to agree to specific provisions in a Development Agreement. The title and summary further detail that any community benefits negotiated through a Development Agreement would only be binding if the new city remained unincorporated. If California Forever chose to incorporate, all of those benefits could disappear.

Since the first public announcement of their ballot initiative on January 17, California Forever has submitted language three times as a response to criticism of their handling of Travis Airforce Base, corrections in acreage, and legal clarifications about the use of a Developments Agreement and compliance with CEQA.

Reactions from Solano Together Coalition supporters:

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.). |  Mariam Zuhaib / AP.

“Don’t build in this area. Period. The latest ballot initiative does not alleviate concerns about Travis Air Force Base encroachment. Building a city of 400,000 residents next to an active Air Force base will jeopardize the long-term viability of this vital national security installation and the 30,000 jobs that rely on the base. On top of that, the initiative provides little substance regarding governance. Flannery and Associates’ project would be an enormous strain on the County if it continues as an unincorporated community. As we’ve seen in the title and summary, all the benefits in the Development Agreement would go out the window if the community is incorporated into a city. If this project goes forward, Solano County taxpayers will foot a large part of the bill. This is a lose-lose scenario for Solano County, and we cannot allow it to move forward.” – John Garamendi, U.S. Congressman. 

“As a Solano County resident and a member of the National Union of Health Workers, this initiative is hugely concerning when it comes to the impacts a new city of 400,000 residents would have on existing mental health services. Resources are already stretched thin, and a new, unincorporated community would pull from scarce resources. If they wanted to solve homelessness, they would be acting in better faith with specialists to ensure that mental health services are being strengthened, not forgotten and potentially made even worse.” – Sarah Soroken, Solano County Resident and Mental Health Clinician at Solano County Behavioral Health.

Princess Washington, Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City & Chair of Sierra Club of Solano County. | Robinson Kuntz / Daily Republic.

“The changes to the initiative in response to the concerns of Travis Air Force Base should not be interpreted as goodwill on behalf of Flannery Associates. What I take from this process is a complete disregard by California Forever’s team for Travis’ needs—although they have all along said otherwise—until they realized they weren’t going to get very far unless they made some changes. If you are working as a partner, you make sure you’re on the same page from the start, and that is not what we’ve seen here.” – Princess Washington, Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City & Chair of the Sierra Club of Solano County.

“What is coming before Solano County voters in November is essentially a blank check for Flannery Associates to move forward with a development project that currently provides zero details on how this new city will build and fund infrastructure, manage the traffic impacts of 400,000 new residents on the roads, or uphold any of their so-called ‘guarantees.’ It’s especially concerning to know that any community benefits agreed upon in a Development Agreement would be thrown out the window if and when this new city was to incorporate.” – Marilyn Farley, former Fairfield City Council Member and former Executive Director of the Solano Land Trust

“In this third version of the initiative, there continue to be no answers for how this project will be delivered, just more questions. As an organization that sees housing as one of our best climate solutions, I think we have the opportunity to come together to overcome barriers to building in our seven cities rather than count on this project to bring the solutions we need when they have continuously failed to work with community members and public agencies, still have no plans to deliver income-restricted affordable housing, and have produced an initiative that has very little substance when it comes to project delivery.  We need climate-smart housing solutions now, and building a new city far from jobs and transit is not how we will get there.”– Sadie Wilson, Director of Planning and Research, Greenbelt Alliance.

On February 4, a diverse group of organizations, residents, and local leaders came together to celebrate the launch of the Solano Together coalition. From left to right: Fairfield resident Mario Cisneros, Rio Vista resident Aiden Mayhood, Suisun City Mayor Pro-Tem and Sierra Club of Solano County Chair Princess Washington, Representative John Garamendi, Solano Farm Bureau President William Brazelton, Vallejo Councilmember Charles Palmares, Representative Mike Thompson, and Solano County Supervisor Mitch Mashburn. | SolanoTogether.org.

About Solano Together: A group of concerned residents, leaders, and organizations who came together to form a coalition that envisions a better future for Solano County, focuses development into existing cities and strengthens our agricultural industry. Our work is driven by an alternative vision for Solano in the face of Flannery Associates’ claims about California Forever’s benefits—our vision is guided by local voices and perspectives. Learn more at solanotogether.org

For more information, contact: Daniela Ades, dades@greenbelt.org, 1-415-792-9226

Urging opposition to California Forever’s megacity, Sen. Dodd has heard enough: “It is now crystal clear to me that this project is bad for Solano County”

[Note from BenIndy: Local governance has issued another rebuke to California Forever’s billionaire city plans.]

Sen. Dodd Opposes Solano County Megacity Plan

California Senator Bill Dodd, District 3. | File photo.


FAIRFIELD – Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, today voiced his strong opposition to a tech billionaire’s plans to erect a new megacity of up to 400,000 people on the outskirts of Fairfield in Solano County, calling the so-called California Forever proposal deeply flawed and irresponsible suburban sprawl with the potential to displace farmers, worsen traffic congestion and hamper national security operations at the adjacent Travis Air Force Base.

“I’ve been skeptical since day one, but reserved my judgment as I gathered more facts,” Sen. Dodd said. “It is now crystal clear to me that this project is bad for Solano County. This group of mega-rich developers from Silicon Valley are trying to steamroll the surrounding community, bypassing a proper, thorough vetting which they know they can’t pass. What they’re proposing will drastically and irreversibly alter the area. It’s not right, and it’s time for all those who value thoughtful policymaking and Solano County’s future to stand up against it.”

Sen. Dodd joins a chorus of community leaders including dozens of elected officials who are speaking out against California Forever. The list of opponents include Congressmen John Garamendi and Mike Thompson, Fairfield Mayor Catherine Moy and Suisun City Mayor Pro Tem Princess Washington.

Opponents cite a number of problems with California Forever including:

  • No plan for traffic impacts on one of the most dangerous and congested roads in the county.
  • Conversion of much needed agricultural land.
  • Housing would interfere with Travis AFB, which plays key national security role.
  • Developers seek to bypass public planning processes and environmental reviews.
  • Need for housing in the region, but this is not the location or way to do it.
  • With three iterations in already, it’s clear there are substantial problems with no answers in sight.

Senator Bill Dodd represents the 3rd Senate District, which includes all or portions of Napa, Yolo, Sonoma, Solano, Sacramento and Contra Costa counties. More information on Senator Bill Dodd can be found at www.senate.ca.gov/dodd.  

Read more about California Forever on BenIndy!

Tech-billionaire promises for a new city, from roads to water, are worth hundreds of millions of dollars — if they’re binding

[Note from BenIndy: This comprehensive post by CalMatters offers a detailed and exquisitely rendered analysis of the many promises and pledges California Forever has made in its campaign to build a new city in Solano County via a 100-page ballot initiative. Because CalMatters is a free publication (no paywall), and because some of the elements in this article are interactive, we highly recommend you start reading this post here but finish over at the CalMatters website. Links are available below. California Forever has made many, many promises about jobs, housing, transit and more to lure Solano County residents into signing the petition that could land this initiative on the ballot, but how much of what they are pledging is actually achievable, legally and practically speaking? This is a must-read.]

Land where California Forever plans on building its new city (foreground) in Solano County, Feb. 16, 2024. The contentious development would be located between Travis Air Force Base and Rio Vista. | Loren Elliott / CalMatters.

CalMatters, by Levi Sumagaysay and Ben Christopher, February 22, 2024

IN SUMMARY: California Forever CEO Jan Sramek says promises of new homes, jobs, investments are binding, but legal experts and elected officials are skeptical.

The city-from-scratch that tech billionaires want to build in Solano County is getting the hard sell, with the backers promising new housing, better jobs and more — promises that will cost in the hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars — plus a pledge that county taxpayers outside the new community won’t have to pay for any of it.

The backers call these pledges, contained in a proposed countywide ballot initiative, “guarantees.” They say they’ll be legally bound to honor them.

But skeptical legal experts and local officials dispute the idea that the project’s developers will be obligated by law to deliver on the so-called guarantees. Because the issues would put California in uncharted territory, odds are some potential disputes would have to be resolved in court.

The Silicon Valley tech billionaires aim to put a nearly 100-page ballot initiative before county voters in November. The group has formed a company called California Forever — whose subsidiary Flannery Associates has spent $900 million to buy 62,000 acres of farmland (about the size of Sacramento) in the area since 2017 — that proposes to build on 17,500 acres of that land (about the size of Vacaville).  They plan for the new community to attract an initial 50,000 residents, and eventually up to 400,000, which would double the population of the county.

The company is backed by  a group of  venture capitalists — including Michael Moritz, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen and Emerson Collective founder Laurene Powell Jobs — to create this new town. They promise, through California Forever and its chief executive, Jan Sramek, to spend a lot more money to build and develop the community. They say it will alleviate the state’s housing crisis, create well-paying jobs and build a walkable community on the outskirts of the Bay Area.

Although the project’s promoters insist Solano County residents outside the proposed community won’t get stuck with any new taxes or fiscal responsibilities, they acknowledge the state of California will. And those state taxpayers, of course, also include all of Solano County’s taxpayers.

“The goal is to be the master developer of this and be a real steward of the land,” Sramek said in an interview with CalMatters last week. He added that the investors in the project are in it for the next few decades at least.

Despite taking part in some contentious town-halls and other public meetings, and suing  county farmers they accuse of price-fixing, Sramek and California Forever are courting voters with wide-ranging “guarantees.”

Those promises — whose dollar amounts will gradually increase with the community’s population, reaching the pledged totals at 50,000 residents — include:

  • Up to $400 million in down-payment assistance to help Solano County residents buy homes in the new community and new affordable housing
  • Up to $200 million invested into the county’s existing downtowns
  • Up to $70 million for college, training and educational programs for Solano County residents
  • Thousands of new jobs that will pay 125% of the average annual income in the county
  • An unknown sum for infrastructure for the new community, such as schools, a transportation system and more

Skeptics abound.

“They can promise they can do a thing,” said Mary-Beth Moylan, a University of the Pacific law professor and expert on California initiatives, who said the promises are not legally binding. “But when you get into things like commitment of taxpayer money, that’s not something they can guarantee.”

Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan represents Vallejo, and while she’s not necessarily against the project, she agreed with Moylan.  “I think (the promises promoters call guarantees) will falsely entice people to think this is a good thing” when she said there is not enough information for voters to make an informed decision. “Who’s going to enforce it? You can’t put a directive on a municipality.”

Sramek pointed to initiative language that says the community would not be able to begin development without an environmental impact report, and without reaching a development agreement with the county that would incorporate enforcement of the so-called guarantees.

California law does not allow for statutory development agreements to be passed by initiative, per a 2018 appellate court ruling. This proposed initiative refers to a development agreement that is supposed to include many of California Forever’s promises, but the company will still have to iron out details with the county.

California Forever’s backers have up to 180 days to collect 13,062 signatures after they publish the final initiative title and summary in the legals section of print newspapers in the area, said John Gardner, assistant country registrar. The company can’t do that until it gets the initiative title and summary back from the registrar after submitting a revised version of the initiative Feb. 14; the registrar is waiting on county counsel to rewrite the initiative title and summary before passing that back to California Forever. For the initiative to qualify for the November ballot, all other subsequent steps, including validation of the signatures by the registrar and a final approval by the Board of Supervisors, must be completed by Aug. 8, Gardner said.

Ahead of signature-gathering for the East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative — which asks voters to rezone farmland and amend the county’s urban-growth-restricting General Plan — here’s a breakdown of the “guarantees” and a look at a key sticking point:  the effect of a new community on Travis Air Force Base.

Taxpayer and smart-growth promises

The initiative says California Forever won’t impose any new taxes or fiscal obligations on  Solano County residents outside the new community.

Any costs to the county, including current and future administrative costs, already are being reimbursed by the company, Sramek said.

Bill Emlen, Solano County Administrator, confirmed through a county spokesperson that the company has a reimbursement agreement with Solano County.

But Emlen added that because the project is being pursued through the initiative process, “we are evaluating what additional costs may be recoverable from the project proponents based on county staff time that will be required. Given the scope and scale of the proposal we believe the costs will be significant and there are already costs incurred that have not been reimbursed.”

Other potential future expenses include the cost of law enforcement. Because the new community would be unincorporated, the county sheriff’s office would be responsible — but Sramek said California Forever would pay for those costs.

“We would set up a community facilities district which could also provide services, controlled by the county,” Sramek said, adding that it would be similar to Rio Vista’s arrangement with the sheriffs. Rio Vista Mayor Ron Kott said his city pays the county for 12 full-time sheriff’s deputies.

But some of the planned infrastructure will involve or eventually involve costs to the state — and therefore Solano County residents.

Finish reading at CalMatters.org…

Read more about California Forever on BenIndy!