Category Archives: Rio Vista CA

Solano residents confront Flannery land grab at Rio Vista town hall

[Note from BenIndy: Plan now to attend Flannery’s Benicia town hall meeting, next Thursday, December 14, 6 – 8pm at the Benicia Historical Museum, 2060 Camel Road, Benicia.]

Margaret Anderson, left, puts her arm around her daughter Maryn Johnson, as they ask California Forever to drop the lawsuit against the 43 individuals from 12 families who wouldn’t sell their property to the company in their pursuit of a residential development in Solano County, as they speak at a town hall on Tuesday at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Rio Vista. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Sued farmers speak up at California Forever town hall

Crowd of more than 100 attend relatively orderly Rio Vista event

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Daniel Egitto and Nick McConnell, December 6, 2023

The audience gathered for California Forever’s town hall in Rio Vista fell silent for a moment, as Jan Sramek considered an answer during the question-and-answer portion of the event. Then, a single voice rose.

“Good neighbors don’t sue their neighbors,” they said, eliciting a cheer from audience members.

The accusation that California Forever has been less than neighborly to the community of just over 10,000 people – which is now partly surrounded by the company’s land purchases – was a recurring theme Tuesday evening.

Rio Vista residents seized the chance to let CEO Jan Sramek know how they feel about California Forever’s attempts to build a new city in southeastern Solano County – including its decision to pursue legal action against area farmers.

The event struck a less combative tone than a similar town hall in Vallejo last week. But questions and skepticism abounded in the packed audience of well over 100 people.

Neighbors vs. neighbors

California Forever sued a group of local farmers earlier this year alleging that they illegally colluded to increase the price of their land.

Maryn Johnson, whose family is among those named in the lawsuit, asked Sramek in the middle of the meeting to drop the litigation as a gesture of goodwill toward farmers who have been in the area for generations. He declined, after alleging that Johnson asked to settle the lawsuit previously.

California Forever CEO Jan Sramek talks about how Rio Vista and the surrounding area can benefit from having a new community in Solano County during a town hall meeting on Tuesday in the Veterans Memorial Hall in Rio Vista. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Johnson denies this and said she only invited Sramek over for Easter dinner with her family.

“I expected Jan not to commit to dropping the lawsuit,” she said in an interview. “But I think you need to ask these questions and put powerful entities in the position of stating before the public whether they will or will not act with common decency.”

Johnson said it is “patently false” that farmers colluded to fix the price of their properties, but rather that friendly conversation occurred.

“Of course we talk to each other,” she said. “Of course we have interacted with each other. The people that are named in this lawsuit are family even though we share different last names.”

Johnson, who is a teacher, said her brother continues the family tradition of farming and their family has no intention of selling the property – which is why they and others set prices so high.

“I think when you look at it from their business perspective, they did what they needed to do to acquire the land,” she said. “It wasn’t done in a trustworthy manner but I can see from their perspective why they chose to acquire land in the way that they did.”

Sramek said the lawsuit involves a small fraction of the people California Forever has done business with, and he claimed it’s evident that they broke the law.

“I think it’s quite clear,” Sramek said. “There are hundreds of people here who didn’t sell and they are not getting sued, and there are 600 people who we bought from and we are not suing them. So, it’s a small group; we’ve settled with half of them. You heard me say today ‘Hey, if you want to discuss a settlement, we can talk.’”

Skeptical residents

As in Vallejo, Sramek focused much of his presentation Tuesday on ways a new city could benefit Rio Vista’s economy, potentially bringing more jobs, restaurants and tourism to the town. He also noted California Forever’s interest in community benefits including down-payment assistance for home buyers and investments in Solano County’s existing downtowns.

The businessman highlighted his own “blue-collar” background as the son of a mechanic and a schoolteacher in a small Czech Republic town. Having left Goldman Sachs for an education company before moving on to this current project, Sramek said he doesn’t get into business ventures purely for profit.

”If I wanted to do it just to make money, I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said.

Attendees, however, had many questions about Sramek’s approach and what a new city would mean for Rio Vista.

Rio Vista resident Kenny Paul said he has a “laundry list” of concerns about the proposed development. He accused California Forever and its investors of sewing divisiveness, characterizing its opponents as “a fringe element” and “ignorant hicks.”

“In light of all this behavior, how do you expect anyone in this room or the county to believe what you’re saying?” he asked Sramek.

The CEO responded that California Forever will be placing its project in the hands of Solano County voters as a ballot initiative next November.

“Other than doing what anyone doing a project like this would do, which is buy the property, then announce it – we haven’t done anything else,” Sramek said.

Kathy Wright, superintendent of the New River Delta Unified School District, asked what this development would mean for the school district, given the district’s finite resources. Sramek said the ballot initiative would require California Forever to pay for all new students in the area, but he acknowledged that the area is currently in that school district.

One attendee noted that, although Sramek pledged there would be no development to the Sacramento River waterfront, there are renderings in California Forever promotional material that depict waterfront development. Sramek denied this, saying the company is interested in possibly building a man-made lake.

Sramek promised to return to Rio Vista for another town hall after his company announces its ballot initiative in January.

“I’ll be standing here, having people yell at me, calling me names,” he said, “but I’ll still be here talking about it.”

‘The nicest people’

Despite residents’ concerns, responses to Sramek’s presentation were more moderate than those at an explosive town hall hosted in Vallejo just days before.

Scattered claps came from the Rio Vista audience as Sramek introduced himself. Joe Scholtes of Vacaville, who moderated the event, drew chuckles as he noted local residents’ reputation for being “the nicest people.”

In Vallejo, Sramek gave attendees no formal opportunity to ask questions in a public setting, instead encouraging them to speak to company representatives at the end of the night.

Audience members in that city disregarded this request. They interrupted the meeting midway through, pelting the CEO with outbursts and accusations and arguing with his responses.

In Rio Vista, by contrast, California Forever set aside 45 minutes of the two-hour town hall for public discussion. Scholtes called on people to speak and an employee in blue jeans and a Yin Ranch baseball cap brought them a microphone.

Boos and cries of dismay erupted as Scholtes repeatedly attempted to end questions at the end of the allotted period. He closed out audience comments amid heated discussions about California Forever’s pending lawsuits.

A small handful of attendees lingered to speak one-on-one with company representatives for the last hour of the evening.

Sramek said he felt the town hall served its purpose well. He said time in these meetings has to be balanced between question-and-answer time and breakout sessions.

Town halls so far have not been livestreamed. Sramek said the company wants to maintain a more intimate feel.

“We wanted them to feel more like a neighborly event where people can ask questions,” he said.

Despite the city’s relative size, more people attended the Rio Vista town hall than the Vallejo one. California Forever required people in Vallejo to sign up for that meeting in advance. The company lifted that requirement for Rio Vista and all future town halls.

After hosting a Vacaville town hall Wednesday evening, California Forever is scheduled to hold another meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. in Willow Hall at The Fairfield Community Center.

This month’s final town halls will take place Dec. 14 at the Charles P. Stone Hall and Spenger Memorial Garden at the Benicia Historical Museum, as well as Dec. 18 in Dixon Town Hall at Dixon Olde Vets Hall. Both events will start at 6 p.m.

Latest on Flannery’s plan for new Solano City (California Forever)

[BenIndy note: We don’t often expect much good reporting from Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, but the following story is thorough, fair and timely – highly recommended. Below that are links to three recent local reports from our Vallejo paper, and a few links to Bay Area tv reports. Check ’em out and stay informed. Oh, and… you might be interested in the petition: Oppose Flannery Associates and No to California Forever.]

$1B Silicon Valley-backed utopian city ‘California Forever’ facing national security probe: pols

Solano County
Flannery Associates has bought up nearly $1 billion in land located in Solano County. AFP via Getty Images

New York Post, by Thomas Barrabi, Published Nov. 12, 2023

A planned utopian city in California continues to face a high-stakes probe by a US national security panel – and state politicians still aren’t satisfied that the secretive project isn’t linked to China.

Since 2017, a little-known firm called Flannery Associates has stealthily bought up nearly $1 billion in land next to Travis Air Force Base, sparking alarms on Capitol Hill that a foreign entity could be backing the project for nefarious purposes.

Similar concerns arose last year after a Chinese firm bought 300 acres of land near an Air Force drone base in North Dakota.

In August, Flannery tried to calm nerves by revealing its backers included US tech tycoons such as LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen.

The group has said the land’s proximity to Travis was unintentional and outlined plans to develop a picturesque city featuring sustainable energy, a pedestrian-friendly layout and good-paying jobs.

John Garamendi
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) is among those who have raised concerns about Flannery’s origins. CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Nevertheless, the US Treasury Department’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) – an interagency panel responsible for vetting business transactions for potential national security risks – is still actively reviewing the project as of this month, a pair of California lawmakers told The Post.

Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif), who previously blasted Flannery for using “strong-arm mobster techniques” to acquire land from local farmers, told The Post that the firm’s explanation to date is “only half of the story” – and claimed the project bears the hallmarks of a “patient” foreign investment scheme.

“To say it’s ‘American money’ is not a complete explanation of who is the investor,” Garamendi said. “I’ve been around long enough to understand the way foreign money – legitimate and illegitimate – is invested in the United States. Usually in an LLC, in a real estate transaction.”

Flannery Associates was originally registered as an LLC in Delaware, which does not require an ownership disclosure. The project’s organizers describe California Forever as Flannery’s parent company.

Flannery has rankled Solano County residents with vaguely-defined plans to build the city on patches of dry, unincorporated farmland that is pockmarked with wind turbines and abandoned gas wells and is known to lack enough infrastructure to support a large population.

California Forever
The first renderings of the “California Forever” project emerged earlier this fall. California Forever

Catherine Moy, the mayor of Fairfield, Calif., said the feds are “still investigating” the situation and were “not 100% that China is not behind funding on this.”

“CFIUS, they’re still going forward with their investigation. You can trust but verify, especially with things like this,” Moy said. “A couple of the investors already are very connected with China, business-wise.”

The CFIUS probe was first reported by CNN in August – weeks after it emerged that Garamendi and fellow US Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) had asked the panel and the FBI to investigate the matter.

The duo noted that Travis is a critical military transport hub known as the “Gateway to the Pacific” that serves as a key conduit for shipments to Ukraine, among other key functions.

“My concerns with the land acquisition in Solano County have always been on national security and food security,” Thompson said in a statement. “Their rapid acquisition of land around Travis Air Force Base caused concern about who was making the purchases and their ultimate goal.”

A spokesperson for Travis Air Force base confirmed that “senior officials are actively supporting all involved federal and Solano County agencies regarding the land purchases.” The spokesperson referred further questions to the Treasury Department.

The Treasury Department did not return multiple requests for comment.

When reached for comment, a Flannery Associates spokesperson said the project has “no other foreign investors” beyond those it has disclosed.

The firm has said its investors are passive and have no role in day-to-day operations.

“While most area electeds have taken an open-minded approach to the opportunity our project presents for local jobs, investments, homes for middle class families, and clean power, a couple of local politicians are unfortunately and irresponsibly spreading rumors and misinformation to insinuate that California Forever is a not an American company,” the spokesperson said.

“We have complied with all government inquiries and provided documents (including all investment agreements and subscription agreements) that unquestionably prove that over 97% of our invested capital comes from U.S. investors, and that the remaining less than 3% comes from UK and Irish investors (Patrick and John Collison, with smaller stakes held by Charles Songhurst and Thomas Mather),” the spokesperson added.

Fairfield, California mayor Catherine Moy
Fairfield, California mayor Catherine Moy is an outspoken critic of the city project.

So far, the list of publicly-disclosed Flannery investors includes Hoffman, Andreesen, his investment firm Andreesen Horowitz, former Sequoia Capital partner Michael Moritz, Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison, Chris Dixon, John Dooer, Nat Friedman, Daniel Gross and Laurene Powell Jobs, the prominent philanthropist and widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

Moritz spent nearly four decades at Sequoia Capital and helped spearhead the venture firm’s expansion into China before exiting last June. Sequoia Capital itself has not been linked to Flannery Associates or the “California Forever” project, though the House Select Committee on China recently revealed it was probing the firm’s investments and business interests in China.

Moritz did not immediately return requests for comment.

A Sequoia Capital spokesperson confirmed that the firm had received the select committee’s letter about the probe, was “reviewing it and will respond.”

Jan Sramek.
Flannery Associates CEO Jan Srakek has denied that his firm wants to build a “utopian” city.  KGO-TV

Flannery CEO Jan Sramek has scrambled to downplay the project’s ties to the tech industry, describing it as a “city of yesterday.”

Its website specifically rejects the notion that it is building a “tech utopia” and said Flannery is “not proposing a pie-in-the-sky ‘utopian’ fantasy.”

Critics, including Garamendi and Moy, argue that Sramek and his team are merely trying to reframe the project due to local backlash.

“The story has changed,” Moy said. “Any credibility he was trying to earn after being secretive for five years is being lost because he’s changing the story now. That’s what happens with people who you can’t trust.”

Cars on Highway 12 between Suisun City and Rio Vista. (Chris Riley/The Reporter)

California Forever form community advisory committee | Company makes statement ahead of SCWA meeting
Vallejo Times-Herald, Nov 9, 2023
>> California Forever announced a community advisory committee, full of current and formal public officials and community leaders from across Solano County. The committee, according to a press release from the company… (continued)

California Forever CEO Jan Sramek during a packed Solano County Water Agency meeting in Vacaville. (Chris Riley/The Reporter)

Turning off the tap | SCWA directs staff not to discuss Water Plus with California Forever
Vallejo Times-Herald, Nov 10, 2023
>> The Solano County Water Agency Board of Directors told its staff not to continue discussions with California Forever regarding their proposed development project in eastern Solano County.   At a regular meeting of the board Thursday evening, over 90 attendees and public commenters filled the meeting room… (continued)

Sheep graze in a plot of land east of CA 113.  (Chris Riley/The Reporter)

What would a new Solano County city mean for Vallejo? | California Forever promises high-paying jobs; officials question company’s approach
Vallejo Times-Herald, Nov 11, 2023
>> With stances ranging from skepticism to outright hostility, Vallejo officials are pushing back against what they say is a shamelessly ambitious plan to construct a new city of between 100,000 and 400,000 people in eastern Solano County…. (continued)


NBC BAY AREA NEWS: ‘California Forever’ CEO shows tour of proposed site amid uphill battle with Solano County residents, leaders, by Jodi Hernandez, Nov 10, 2023

KTVU Fox News: California Forever: 1st tour of Solano County land bought for $800M under mysterious circumstances, by KTVU staff, Nov 10, 2023

KXTV ABC10 Sacramento: California Forever proposes land swap, $1M toward habitat conservation, by Devin Trubey, Krys Shahin, Nov 11, 2023

CLICK HERE TO READ MORE about the proposed Flannery Inc. land grab here on the BenIndy


Vallejo (and all Solano County) residents are welcome in Benicia’s library where masks are required

By Roger Straw, September 14, 2021

[UPDATE: County reverses itself – click here…]

Worried about Solano County Library system not requiring masks?  Visit us in Benicia!

Benicia Public Library is locally run and follows Benicia’s indoors mask mandate.

And here’s good news from the Benicia Library websiteVallejo residents are welcome in Benicia’s library.   Solano County, St. Helena, and Dixon cards are valid in Benicia.

Even if you don’t check out a book, it’s a great place to just sit and read a magazine or get on the internet!

Here’s from the Benicia library website about pandemic hours and masks: “The Benicia Public Library has restored regular service hours, and we are excited to welcome you back inside our building. Whether you want to use a computer or plug into our free Wi-Fi, visit an exhibit, borrow materials or just browse our bookcases, we are here for you. Please bring your mask and library card. If you do not have one, they are free.”

The mask requirement applies whether you are vaccinated or not.

Don’t go to Vallejo libraries! Bela’s rules favor COVID transmission there

…and maybe you should think about staying away from all of Solano “up-county” – Fairfield and Vacaville, Suisun City, Dixon and Rio Vista!  – R.S.

[UPDATE: County reverses itself – click here…]

Vallejo libraries immune from mask mandates

Face coverings not required for the vaccinated

Staff and visitors aren't required to 'mask up' at Springstowne Library at 1003 Oakwood Ave., since the facility is county-operated. (Rich Freedman/Times-Herald)
Staff and visitors aren’t required to ‘mask up’ at Springstowne Library at 1003 Oakwood Ave., since the facility is county-operated. (Rich Freedman/Times-Herald)

Vallejo Times Herald, by Richard Freedman, September 13, 2021

Seems vaccinated staff and visitors are granted asylum from masking at the John F. Kennedy and Springstowne libraries in Vallejo.

Both facilities are exempt from the Vallejo City Council’s Sept. 7 “mask mandate” for all public buildings, vaccinated or not, because they are “subject to the county and library policies, procedures, rules and regulations that govern all library branches,” according to Suzanne Olawski, director of Library Services in Fairfield.

In Solano County, only Vallejo and Benicia have mask mandates in place.

Vallejo Councilmember Katy Miessner and Solano County Supervisor Erin Hannigan said they received complaints from citizens visiting the local libraries after noticing some staff members going maskless.

An employee at the John F Kennedy library wears a mask as he reshelves books on Friday in Vallejo. Because the library is a county building, employees have the option to not wear a mask indoors if they have proof of vaccination on record. (Chris Riley/Times-Herald)

Hannigan said that she “received an email from a resident citing librarians were not wearing masks, some were. When asked why they weren’t masked a librarian stated that the county doesn’t have a mask mandate and since they were in a county facility they believe they are exempt from the Vallejo mask mandate.”

Hannigan said she forwarded the email to Olawski.

“The City (Vallejo) owns the buildings and contracts with the County for library services,” Olawski said late Friday. “Per the operating agreement, the libraries operate as branches of the Solano County Library.”

A sign posted at the JFK Library entry effective June 15 states that “by entering this facility without a face covering you are self-attesting that you are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.” For individuals who are unvaccinated, there is a list of reasons they could still be exempt from masking.

Information counter staffers at both Vallejo libraries sit behind framed Plexiglas shields. At JFK, most staffers still wore masks. Most of the staffers at Springstowne didn’t.

“If an employee is fully vaccinated, it is optional for them to wear a mask at work,” Olawski said. “However, any staff member not vaccinated is required to wear a mask at work. Face coverings are available to any employee that requests one, regardless of their vaccination status.”

Olawski added that “the county’s practice at this time is masks are not required for people over the age of 12 if they are vaccinated.”

Anyone over the age of 12 not wearing a mask in the library “is self-attesting to being vaccinated,” Olawski continued. “however, there are individuals who may be exempt from wearing a face covering because of medical or physical impairment issues.”

Not good enough, Miessner said, already “deeply disappointed that Solano County Public Health decided the County didn’t need an indoor mask mandate, given the delta variant causing increases to Vallejo’s infection rates and hospitalizations. So I was furious when I heard the county decided they can disregard Vallejo’s mask mandate in Vallejo libraries.”

The library, continued Miessner, “is a place where children tend to gather and children under 12 who cannot be vaccinated depend on adults who are, and who wear masks. Obviously, Vallejo children can’t depend on Solano County Public Health. But I was grateful that Vallejo had the authority to act on our own.”

If the policy was up to Hannigan, “all county employees working inside buildings in any city with a mask mandate should be masked,” adding that President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate for public agencies and vaccine recommendation for private employers “is the right direction.”

“Implementing vaccine mandates for employees and contractors is the only way we will get closer to ending this pandemic and reduce the opportunity for new variants,” Hannigan said.

Vallejo Councilmember Rozzana Verder-Aliga said she “agrees that public and private buildings, offices and businesses should follow the mask mandate passed by the Vallejo City Council last week. This mask mandate is for the health and safety of our residents and everyone.”

Verder-Aliga said masks are mandated where she works at the Solano County Behavior Health Clinics in Vallejo and Fairfield and also mandated at the county courthouse in Fairfield where she served on jury duty.

The Vallejo City Council said it will re-visit the mask mandate in mid-October.

Because Benicia’s public library is not part of the county library system, masks are required for everyone, Steve Young said Friday. Any changes, the mayor added, will be based on COVID case count.

The county currently “does not mandate masks for vaccinated people in indoor public spaces, except for those venues where the state specifically requires, such as public transportation. schools, and healthcare facilities,” Solano Public Health Director Bela Matyas said Friday.

Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown sent a letter dated Aug. 27 to Vallejo Mayor Robert McConnell and the Vallejo City Council encouraging the city re-instate a mask mandate — which it did — and noting that she doesn’t have enough votes on the board of supervisors to implement a (county-wide) mandate.

“I am in full support of a mask mandate in Solano County,” wrote Brown, emphasizing that “the science supports requiring face coverings” and that “the unvaccinated are filling our hospitals at alarming rates. Vaccinations are crucial to beating the virus, but so are mask mandates.”