Category Archives: Rep. Mike Thompson

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…

Read more about California Forever on BenIndy!

Solano Together Sends Strong Message Against California Forever At Community Rally

[Note from BenIndy: Now that  Solano Together has officially launched, sign up to support or learn more about the organization and is mission HERE. Some images shown below are not original to the Solano Together news release and were added by BenIndy.]

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. | Solano Together.

Solano Together, February 5, 2024

SUISUN CITY – A diverse group of organizations, residents, and local leaders came together to celebrate the launch of the Solano Together coalition, rally for a community-driven vision for the future of Solano County,  and speak against Flannery Associates’ planned sprawl development California Forever, on Sunday, February 4.

Not even the storm deterred over 200 people from packing the room at the Nelson Center in Suisun City, greeting old friends and meeting new ones. And those who could not join in person were able to participate via the livestream. Watch the full recording for complete speeches.

A powerful line-up of speakers—representing diverse voices throughout the County—and local residents denounced the vague and deceptive language of California Forever’s ballot initiative, the drain that the development will cause on much needed public resources for existing cities, the crushing threat to the livelihood of farmers, and the importance of an alternative community-driven and inclusive vision for the County’s future.

They shared a clear message: Solano stands together for these values—open spaces, agricultural lands, and investing in existing cities. With the anticipated ballot initiative proposed by California Forever for the upcoming November elections, the Solano Together coalition will continue to inform the public about potential impacts of the project.

Highlights from the speakers:

Suisun City Mayor Pro-Tem Robinson at a November 2023 event. |  Robinson Kuntz / Daily Republic.

“Picture, if you will, Solano County stripped of its open spaces, devoid of its precious agricultural lands. What would remain of our beloved County without its marshlands and delicate delta ecosystems? Our very identity is intertwined with these natural landscapes, and their preservation is non-negotiable.” — Princess Washington, Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City & Chair of the Sierra Club of Solano County.

“Farmland is not just a commodity. It is a finite resource that sustains our local economy, provides jobs, and ensures food security. There is something fundamentally wrong with our society if our farmers have to fight for the land they steward.”— William Brazelton, Solano Farm Bureau.

“You build communities where the people are. You build cities where the economy is. California Forever has neither. I’ll say this to the developers and investors who are paying attention. Build in Solano County cities. Build in Suisun City. Build in Rio Vista. Build in Fairfield and build in Vallejo.” — Charles Palmares, Vallejo Councilmember.

Aiden Mayhood at a November 2023 town hall. | Chris Riley / The Reporter

“It’s telling when one of the most vocal opponents of California Forever is a young person, a member of a generation set to reap the supposed benefits of the project. (…) Young people like me will watch as the cost of living skyrockets if California Forever is approved. Ultimately, young people like me will bear the true costs and burdens of the project.” — Aiden Mayhood, Rio Vista resident.

“Why did they choose Solano County? Is it because they saw a low income community of Black and Brown residents? Because they think we’re the path of least resistance? That’s a colonialist mentality.” — Maria Cisneros, Fairfield resident.

 “This initiative is shockingly light on real details. Should the initiative qualify for a November Ballot, our community will be asked to provide an up or a down on the project. We’d be asked to make this choice without the basic facts needed to make an informed decision. That should make everyone concerned.” — Mitch Mashburn, Chair of the Solano County Supervisors.

Representative John Garamendi (file photo).  | Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press.

“The citizens of Solano County will not stand for what is proposed. Flannery Associates have set about putting a dagger in the heart of Travis Air Force Base. We cannot let that happen. This plan is a disaster for this entire region.” — John Garamendi, Congressman (D-CA 8th District)

“No one who got on this stage has anything to gain from this. But we all believe in the planning process and the need for orderly and safe growth. And all of us have been misled by (Flannery Associates) who want to take over our County. Trust is something you can’t buy, with money or false promises.”— Mike Thompson, Congressman (D-CA 4th District)

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

Local Leaders React to Tech Billionaires’ Bid to Build ‘Utopic City of the Future’ in Solano

Local stakeholders react to Flannery Associates 52,000 acre purchases

Public records show ‘Flannery Associates’ has invested $1B on land surrounding the Travis Air Force Base. | Graphic from FYI.

The secrecy and scale of the project have local leaders skeptical

The Reporter, by Nick McConnell, August 30, 2023

Investors Bought Nearly $1 Billion in Land Near a California Air Force Base. Officials Want to Know Who Exactly They Are.

[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: Apparently, Solano officials have long wondered about the identities of those behind Flannery Associates, the group that invested $1 billion in 5 years to become Solano County’s largest landowner. The group has successfully outbid anyone else interested in this land, raising serious concerns and prompting everyone from environmentalists to national security buffs to sit up and take note. If you have more information on this matter that you can share with BenIndy, please email with your tip. This article leaves us with more questions than answers.]

Flannery Associates’ purchases near Travis Air Force Base have alarmed local and federal officials

Flannery Associates, an investment group, has purchased at least 20 parcels of land near Travis Air Force Base in California. | Heide Couch/US Air Force.

Wall Street Journal, By Kristina Peterson, Jack Gillum and Kate O’Keeffe, July 7, 2023

WASHINGTON—Government officials are investigating large land acquisitions near a major air force base northeast of San Francisco, concerned that foreign interests could be behind the investment group that purchased the land.

At the center of the probes is Flannery Associates, which has spent nearly $1 billion in the last five years to become the largest landowner in California’s Solano County, according to county officials and public records.

An attorney representing Flannery said it is controlled by U.S. citizens and that 97% of its invested capital comes from U.S. investors, with the remaining 3% from British and Irish investors. Flannery previously told Solano County the entity “is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States.”

“Any speculation that Flannery’s purchases are motivated by the proximity to Travis Air Force Base” is unfounded, the attorney said.

The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review Office has been investigating Flannery’s purchases of roughly 52,000 acres, including around Travis Air Force Base, according to people familiar with the matter. But the office, which has been looking into the matter for about eight months, has yet to be able to determine who is backing the group, one of the people said.

Note: county data is as of June 6 from the Solano County assessor. Sources: Solano County property records; federal court filings. Brian McGill and Jack Gillum / The Wall Street Journal.

“We don’t know who Flannery is, and their extensive purchases do not make sense to anybody in the area,” said Rep. John Garamendi, (D., Calif.) the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee’s readiness panel. “The fact that they’re buying land purposefully right up to the fence at Travis raises significant questions.”

Garamendi and Rep. Mike Thompson (D., Calif.), whose districts include the area where land has been bought, have asked for an investigation by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a multiagency panel that can advise the president to block or unwind foreign acquisitions for security concerns.

The U.S. Agriculture Department also has inquired about Flannery’s ownership, according to correspondence reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Nearly all of the land is in unincorporated parts of Solano County, and most of it is zoned for agricultural use, records show. Several of the parcels include wind turbines.

The Journal found that at least 20 parcels surround Travis, known as the “Gateway to the Pacific” and home to the largest wing of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, which provides planes to refuel other aircraft and those to transport military personnel and supplies, including munitions used in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

The Flannery attorney declined to provide more details about Flannery’s investors. Local and federal officials also say they have been unable to learn the identities of those in the Flannery group.

Rep. John Garamendi (D., Calif.) has asked the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to investigate Flannery Associates. Mariam Zuhaib / AP.

Flannery’s statement that it is U.S.-owned can’t be confirmed or denied by federal agencies at this time, a congressional aide said. Cfius, which is led by the Treasury Department and includes the Departments of Defense, Justice, State and others, declined to comment.

If Cfius takes up the case, the Treasury Department could subpoena Flannery to get more information about its backers, but people familiar with the panel, whose operations are confidential, have said they couldn’t think of a time when the department had used that authority.

Acquisitions around Travis Air Force Base have raised security concerns among Solano County officials, who have been trying to determine the investors in Flannery and their plans for the land for years, said Bill Emlen, the county administrator.

County supervisor Mitch Mashburn said if Flannery intends to develop the land, it would make sense for the group to engage with local officials—but it hasn’t.

“The majority of the land they’re purchasing is dry farmland,” he said. “I don’t see where that land can turn a profit to make it worth almost a billion dollars in investment.”

A spokesperson for Travis said that its officials and other Air Force offices “are aware of the multiple land purchases near the base and are actively working internally and externally with other agencies.”

In a recent federal court filing, Flannery Associates said it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Flannery Holdings, a limited liability company registered in Delaware. LLCs registered in Delaware don’t have to publicly disclose the identity of their owners.

Use of LLCs to purchase land is a common practice. Nearly one in five homes were purchased by investors in early 2023, including LLCs and other corporate entities, according to data compiled by real-estate firm Redfin of more than 40 of the largest U.S. metro areas.

“While I can see Cfius being interested in who owns real estate near a military base, the fact that a property’s ownership is opaque does not mean anything nefarious is going on,” said Rick Sofield, an attorney at Vinson & Elkins who used to run the Justice Department’s Cfius team.

In May, Flannery filed a price-fixing lawsuit in federal court in California, alleging that landowners had colluded against it to drive up prices, in some instances overcharging Flannery and in others refusing to sell their properties.

Attorneys for the defendants didn’t respond to requests for comment or declined to comment. Flannery settled with one group of defendants in late June and filed notice of a contingent settlement with another group of defendants Thursday.

The 52,000 acres Flannery now owns in Solano County is spread out over more than 300 parcels, a Journal analysis of property records shows. The company said in court filings that it has invested more than $800 million in its acquisitions and acknowledged paying prices of “multiples of fair market value.”

A plan by a Chinese-owned company to develop land near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota was halted after the Air Force said it posed a national security risk. Lewis Ableidinger / WSJ.

Flannery has offered various explanations for its purchases over time. In 2019, Flannery attorney Richard Melnyk said in an email to a Solano County official that Flannery planned to work with local farmers and might explore “new types of crops or orchards,” he said, ruling out any cannabis operations.

In its May price-fixing lawsuit, Flannery said it planned to use the land for renewable energy and related projects. The entity has allowed many sellers to continue farming or remain on the land and collect income from wind turbine leases for the remainder of the lease, according to court filings.

In a June 5 email to Emlen reviewed by the Journal, Melnyk said Flannery was considering leasing “a substantial portion” of its land to olive growers, including some near Travis Air Force Base.

“Nobody can figure out who they are,” said Ronald Kott, mayor of Rio Vista, Calif., which is now largely surrounded by Flannery-owned land. “Whatever they’re doing—this looks like a very long-term play.”

Flannery’s holdings near Travis raised concerns similar to those sparked by a Chinese-owned company’s plan to develop land 12 miles from the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. The plan was halted after the Air Force said it posed a national security risk, and lawmakers have continued to introduce bipartisan legislation restricting foreign ownership of U.S. farmland or increasing transparency around these acquisitions.

The Chinese company’s U.S. arm said at the time the planned facility wouldn’t be used to spy on the U.S.

Flannery told USDA in June that it didn’t need to register its holdings in Solano County because no foreign person “holds any significant interest or substantial control” of Flannery, according to a letter provided by the group’s attorneys.