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Poll Shows Solano County Voters Overwhelmingly Reject California Forever; Solano Together Calls For Ballot Initiative Withdrawal

Solano Together Press Release, April 4, 2024

SUISUN CITY – A poll conducted by the nationally recognized group FM3 found that Solano County voters are overwhelmingly opposed to California Forever’s proposal to build a new city of 400,000 residents in a remote part of Eastern Solano County. When it comes to the proposed “East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative” for the November election, 70% of poll participants say they would vote no if elections were held today.

There is an unusually high level of voter awareness about this project as compared to the majority of ballot initiatives at this point in the campaign. Polling data reveals that Solano County residents are well aware of the proposed California Forever project—three-quarters (76%) have heard about it—and also shows that the more they know, the less likely they are to support it. Of those who indicated that they have heard “a lot” about the proposal, 79% are opposed. Opposition cuts across every major demographic and geographic subgroup of the Solano County electorate.

Additionally, poll results highlight the profound public mistrust of the backers of California Forever. Flannery Associates’ approach has sowed distrust by deploying secretive tactics, keeping their identity elusive, suing farmers, and misleading the public, government officials, and landowners about their intentions. Trust is a major concern for Solano County voters, and these secretive and duplicitous tactics have contributed to strong opposition to this project. Voters view Flannery Associates unfavorably by an 8% to 34% margin and view California Forever unfavorably by a 16% to 42% margin.

Solano County voters care deeply about preserving their community’s agricultural heritage and the ecological and habitat resources surrounding their cities. They are enthusiastic about a future with more investment in homes, jobs, and infrastructure within their existing cities to benefit current and future residents. They are not interested in allowing a group of outside interests who have been secretly planning a project to benefit their own investors at the expense of local farmers to shape the future of the County. They see through the empty promises of the project proponents and understand the adverse effects this project will have on the County’s future. 

These results send a powerful message—this is not what the Solano County people want.

Screenshot from FM3 report. Click the image to view the full report.

Voters want to see more housing and better-paying jobs in the region while also protecting their agricultural lands and natural resources and strengthening existing cities. We call on the California Forever team to rethink the harmful, divisive approach of a ballot measure reversing decades of thoughtful planning and agricultural protection in Solano County. There is still time to reverse course and come to the table for a genuinely community-driven process to strengthen farming, ecological, and climate resilience protections and refocus investments within our existing diverse and growing Solano County cities.

FM3 Research conducted the poll with 428 likely November 2024 voters in Solano County between March 4 and 10, 2024, interviewed by phone and online. The margin of sampling error is ±4.9%, with a 95% confidence interval. See more details here.

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, volunteer, or join the coalition by visiting solanotogether.org

Stephen Golub: California For Suckers?

Benicia resident and author Stephen Golub

By Stephen Golub, originally published in the Benicia Herald on March 24, 2024

California Forever, also known as the East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative, is an effort, sponsored largely by uber-rich Silicon Valley types, to build a supposedly model city or cities (of up to 400,000 people) on the large swaths of East Solano County land they secretly purchased at great expense in recent years. It currently is utilizing apparently professional signature gatherers outside retail establishments (such as Raley’s). The goal is to gather enough signatures to place on the November ballot a referendum approving zoning and other changes.

According to its website, “This voter initiative is proposing to build a new community that brings 15,000 local jobs paying over $88,000/year, $500 million in community benefits for downpayment assistance, scholarships, and small business grants for Solano residents, and a $200 million commitment to invest in revitalizing downtowns in existing Solano cities.’

But beware of Silicon Valley billionaires bearing would-be gifts.

To start with, California Forever promotes ten “guarantees” that will improve life in Solano County in myriad ways.

But when is a guarantee like this not really a guarantee? When it’s promised as part of this ballot initiative. As explained at the website of Solano Together, a group of concerned County residents, officials and organizations challenging the project:

“While the measure identifies ‘ten voter guarantees’ that the project proponents have promised to provide once residential and commercial development begins, county counsel clarifies that ‘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’ (4).

A map of where California Forever plans on putting its new city in Solano County, right between Travis Air Force Base and Rio Vista. | California Forever / Handout via SFGate.

“Without any mechanism to hold California Forever accountable, these ‘guarantees’ are largely empty promises until a Development Agreement is in place. Under California law, a ballot measure cannot legally obligate the County to agree to specific provisions in a Development Agreement, which must be negotiated independently between the developer and the local governing body (5). 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 (6). If California Forever chose to incorporate as a city, all of those benefits could disappear (7).”

In other words, the guarantees are not guaranteed.

For these and many other reasons explained at the excellent Solano Together site, numerous officials are voicing opposition to the project. They include State Senator Bill Dodd, as well as  Congressmen John Garamendi and Mike Thompson, Fairfield Mayor Catherine Moy and Suisun City Mayor Pro Tem Princess Washington.

What’s more, consider the coalition of groups that are coming together in support of Solano Together and against California Forever. They range from the Sierra Club to the Solano County Republicans. When’s the last time such organizations gathered under a common banner?

My own reasons for doubting California Forever and its backers spring partly from the nature of the opposition and the arguments against the initiative.

But to be frank, there’s a far more fundamental factor at play: I just don’t trust them.

Beyond reading about the initiative, I’ve attended two public forums at which its leaders and supporters spoke. The first, organized by California Forever itself in Benicia in December, featured a series of statements that struck me as arrogant, ignorant or both. The capper was a claim by the initiative’s top organizer: something along the lines that high water usage problems generated by the project would be alleviated by ending almond exports to China.

Then, earlier this month, I joined about 100 other concerned citizens in a Zoom meeting organized by the Progressive Democrats of Benicia, to hear presentations from California Forever’s Head of Planning, another person supportive of the initiative and two persons affiliated with Solano Together. Again, there were California Forever claims that couldn’t be substantiated. They included promises of tremendous job generation, assumptions of “abundance” and, to my mind,  what sounded like a Field of Dreams “Build it and they will come” assertion.

The excellent Solano Together representatives, especially Benicia’s own Bob Berman (who also chairs the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee), politely poured cold water on some of the claims. For instance, what might seem like affordable housing in Silicon Valley – say, starting at $1 million – is beyond the reach of most Solano County residents. It was also noted that similar efforts to start new cities from scratch elsewhere have not fared very well.

By the way, the preferable economic and environmental alternative to the “Build it and they will come” mindset is to work with the County’s current cities, as the Orderly Growth Committee and the County’s General Plan favor, to improve what we have.

There are questions about the initiative’s signature-gathering practices. Passing by local supermarkets recently, I heard gatherers claiming that the initiative was to increase low-income and affordable housing, without reference to the overall project itself. And as reported by various outlets, California Forever representatives are being accused of misleading voters with these petitions. The  Solano County Registrar of Voters reports that it “has received multiple reports of voters being misinformed by circulators collecting signatures either with incorrect information or for a [nonexistent] petition to stop the East Solano Homes, Jobs and Clean Energy Initiative.”

The biggest question, though, involves what the California Forever backers are really after. Is it actually all about a perhaps naïve long-term dream to build a model city  or establish a new Silicon Valley in Solano? Or might it be about something much more mercenary and short-term: Get the ballot measure passed; this will change zoning to permit residential development on the California Forever land; then turn around and sell that far more valuable land (by virtue of the zoning change) to developers who’d have no interest in sticking to California Forever’s supposed guarantees?

If that’s the case, we might as well call it California For Suckers.

Clashes Erupt Over ‘California Forever’ Billionaires’ Shady Petition Tactics

Residents of Solano County are blasting misleading tactics to get plans for a utopian city on the ballot.

The Daily Beast, by Michael Daly, Mar. 21, 2024

Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty

A young man was standing by a folding table with a pen and a stack of paper when Claudia Wilde emerged from the Target store in Fairfield, California, last week.

“He says, ‘I have a petition… I need you to sign for better roads,’” she told The Daily Beast. “And I said, ‘That’s the name of the petition?’ He goes, ‘Yeah.’”

Although the county’s roads do need work, Wilde had not heard any clamoring for improvement. She was aware, however, that a group of Silicon Valley billionaires who bought up more than $800 million of farmland in surrounding Solano County to build a new city were seeking to get a zoning initiative on the ballot in November.

The billionaires, who call their venture California Forever, hope to get 17,500 acres rezoned from “Agriculture” to “New Community Special Purpose Area” so they can develop 40,000 to 160,000 residential units for 100,000 to 400,000 residents.

But to get on the ballot, they need to collect 13,062 verified signatures by registered county voters such as Wilde. She, like many Solano residents, had been put off by the billionaires’ initial tactic of remaining anonymous while purchasing huge tracts of land and pressuring farmers who were reluctant to sell even at above market prices.

“I said, ‘This isn’t a California Forever thing?”’ the 70-year-old retired school teacher asked the man with the petition. “And he goes, ‘No, no, it’s for better roads.’ I said, ‘Let me see.’”

She took a look.

“I said, ‘This is California Forever,’” she recalled. “And he goes, ‘Well, you don’t have to sign it.’ I said, ‘This is a scam! You should be ashamed of yourself!’ And he says, ‘Well, I still love you.’”

Her outrage was compounded by what she took to be a condescending tone.

“I’m pissed,” she recalled.

She remained incensed when she arrived home and posted about the encounter on the Solano County Community Awareness Facebook page.

“I was furious that he lied about the real initiative,” she wrote.

Her post in the early afternoon of March 13 quickly received more than 140 comments. A half dozen people reported a similar experience at other locations, involving different pitches.

“Yes! They lied to me, too!” a resident named Lisa Talivaa wrote in her comment.

By Talivaa’s account, a person at a table outside the same Target had said he was soliciting signatures for a petition against “defunding benefits.” She presumed he meant Medicare, which she definitely does not want cut.

“I walked up to the table and he started pushing paperwork in front of me and said, ‘Sign here,’ and I was like wtf? I don’t sign anything unless I read it first,” she wrote.

She later told The Daily Beast that when she did read it, she saw nothing about defunding benefits, but something at the bottom of the petition caught her eye.

“It says, ‘Paid for by California Forever,’” she recalled.

The man had a number of other petitions on the table, but the one he was pressing her to sign was in support of the ballot initiative.

“And I said, ‘I can’t believe that you’re telling me that I’m signing something about defunding Medicare and you’re pushing that on me,’” she remembered. “I’m like, ‘Do you realize what this is?’ He goes, ‘Yes, I know exactly what it is.’ I said, ‘Well, then why? Why would you push that on me after I came here under the understanding that I was signing a petition for defunding Medicare? Not this shit.’”

The man said she should sign the California Forever petition so she would have the ability to vote on the rezoning.

“I said, ‘Do you hear what you’re saying to me? You’re telling me to put something on a ballot that I don’t want to begin with?’’ she said. “And so he’s just like, ‘That’s not the point… Everybody’s got a right to vote.‘ I said, ‘Well, everybody’s got a right to say no to something.’”

One of the parcels of land purchased by the California Forever backers. | Justin Sullivan/Getty

Others who responded to Wilde’s post included Gina Vasquez, who said she encountered a table with several petitions outside the Walmart in Suisun City. She said a man handed her one and told her it was to say no to the California Forever proposal.

“And I was like, ‘Really?… Are you telling me the truth? Because I’ve been seeing that you guys are lying,’” she told The Daily Beast. “He kind of just looked at me and looked away and started asking other people for their signatures. I said, ‘Well, I’m gonna read this.’”

She said the verbiage was “like word puzzles” and it was hard to decipher what the goal of the petition was. But she had no difficulty understanding the words at the end saying who had paid for it.

“It said, ‘ California Forever,” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘You’re kidding me.’”

She told the man she was not signing.

“If they pay for it, it’s not to say no against it,” she reasoned.

In another response to Wilde’s post, Anita Montalbano of Vacaville said that she was leaving a Walmart there when a man asked if she was a California voter and presented her with a petition for legal measures against smash-and-grab robberies.

“I quickly scanned the information and was able to read that it was regarding smash and grab and changing the laws,” she wrote. “So I signed it and just as I finished signing and was handing him the pen, he quickly slipped another clipboard in front of that and asked me, can you sign here, please? I asked him what is this for? He said we need signatures to help with housing.”

She examined this second petition.

“I could clearly see that it said California forever,” she recalled. ”I told him I don’t know and have enough information about California forever so I’m not going to sign it. In a very forceful and stern voice he looked at me and said, you don’t have to worry about asking any questions, just sign and leave the asking to us.”

She continued, “I said, again I don’t have enough information or knowledge about California forever and the planning so I’m not gonna sign and he got closer to me and then a real forceful voice said to me ‘and I said you don’t have to worry about asking questions we will ask all the questions.’”

She told the man that he was not going to pressure her into signing .

“He looked at me like I had done something to really upset him, he quickly took the clipboards out of my hands and gave me the dirtiest look.”

Gail Zick posted that she had encountered “petition gatherers” outside a Lucky’s supermarket in Vacaville for what they called “an affordable housing initiative.”

A barn stands on a parcel of land that was recently purchased near Travis Air Force Base on Aug. 29, 2023 near Rio Vista, California | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

“I read the first paragraph & it’s clearly the CA forever!” she wrote. “I told them it’s NOT an affordable housing petition & explained it to them while about a dozen other people were listening. Sadly many voters are signing this petition without knowing what it really is!”

The affordable housing pretext is particularly outrageous when you consider something that California Forever chief executive Jan Sramek said at an “American Dynamism Summit” put on by Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm.

According to a transcript of a conversation with one of the firm’s general partners, Sramek talked about the residences that will be available in California Forever’s new city.

“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,” he said.

When The Daily Beast told her of Sramek’s estimation, Zick replied, “Hilarious if accurate.”

The Daily Beast was not able to contact Montalbano or several other Solano residents who reported shady encounters with people collecting signatures for the California Forever petitions. California Forever did not respond to a request for comment or to a query regarding how it fields petitions.

John Gardner, the Solano County assistant registrar of voters, whose office oversees ballot initiatives there, told The Daily Beast he was unaware of problems with the California Forever petitions, but would refer any complaints to the California secretary of state for investigation.

A spokesman for the secretary of state told The Daily Beast that it had not received complaints regarding the California Forever petition. The spokesman noted, “It is a crime to misrepresent the contents or impact of an initiative measure,” adding, “Any person may file a complaint with local law enforcement authorities or our office.”

Solano Together, a coalition formed to oppose California Forever, posted online how to rescind a petition signature. Gardner confirmed that it can be done though the Voting Registrar’s office by post or email.

“It’s pretty straightforward,” Gardner said.

Voters who believe they signed a petition in error can withdraw their signature by filling out this form, then submitting it to the Solano County Registrar of Voters. Citizens can also contact the Registrar of Voters by calling (888) 993-8683. The phone line is staffed weekdays between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.

>> More stories on California Forever here on the BenIndy


Registrar of Voters advises caution when reading, signing California Forever’s petition

[Note from BenIndy: According to Matthew Keys of Solano NewsNet, election officials received several reports of “voters being misinformed by circulators collecting signatures,” Allegedly, some signature gatherers misled voters by telling them the petition they were signing was to oppose the California Forever project – when it is in fact in support of it. Solano NewsNet said it was unclear if the signature collectors were linked to California Forever and provided a guide for contacting the Registrar of Voters to check on signatures submitted in error; check below the post from the Vallejo Times-Herald for that information.]

Image by BenIndy, OK to reuse.

Registrar of Voters warns voters of misinformation

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Nick McConnell, March 21, 2024

The Solano County Registrar of Voters is warning voters about the presence a fraudulent petition making the rounds for voters to sign.

The office has received multiple reports of circulators collecting signatures either with incorrect information or for a petition to stop the East Solano Homes, Jobs and Clean Energy Initiative. No such petition has been cleared for circulation.

“Only one local initiative has been approved for circulation, and that petition is to authorize rezoning of 17,500 acres of Solano County agricultural land for a new community,” said Tim Flanagan, Chief Information Officer and Registrar of Voters. “Anyone who signed a petition and wishes to withdraw their signature may do so by contacting our office.”

The group encourages voters to carefully read petitions before signing them.

Voters wishing to remove their signature should visit the Solano County Registrar of Voters Office website at solanocounty.com.

The East Solano Homes, Jobs and Clean Energy Initiative would rezone the area around the intersection of Highway 12 and Highway 113, but also contains 10 voter guarantees about what the new community would provide for the county.

Voters who believe they signed a petition in error can withdraw their signature by filling out this form, then submitting it to the Solano County Registrar of Voters. Citizens can also contact the Registrar of Voters by calling (888) 993-8683. The phone line is staffed weekdays between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.