Category Archives: Solano County Registrar of Voters

Check out “California Forever’s biggest PR problem may be its CEO”

[From BenIndy: Follow the link to see journalist Gil Duran’s take on the motivations and methods of a certain Jan Sramek, CEO of California Forever. Sramek’s dismissiveness (bordering on contempt) toward local opposition to California Forever’s East Solano Plan has included labeling them (us?) as a homogeneous group of “70-year-old Sierra Club types,” but his contempt for Solano voters apparently doesn’t stop there, according to Duran. We’ve included a few opening paragraphs of Duran’s piece to entice you to dive into his full post (there is no paywall), and we also encourage you to consider subscribing to Duran’s blog. This exploration of how Sramek’s comments and actions are deepening the wedge between his epic vision and the Solano County’s lived experience and unique reality is only one of many areas of focus for his blog, The Nerd Reich (formerly Parallel Mirror). The BenIndy is not affiliated with Duran.]

California Forever’s biggest PR problem may be its CEO

The Nerd Reich, by Gil Duran, June 12, 2024

The point: California Forever CEO Jan Sramek has a talent for saying disastrous things. It’s a gift to the residents of Solano County, who are resisting his effort to build a billionaire-funded tech city in their midst.

The Backstory: You know it’s bad when a CEO lands a glossy profile in a major publication and then pretends it never happened. Such was the fate of a Business Insider piece focused on California CEO Jan Sramek.

The May 5 story was headlined “Big Tech’s Urban Hero: Here’s why Silicon Valley is betting on a Goldman prodigy to build a glorious city of the future.”

At a glance, it seemed like a win. The headline glowingly depicted Sramek as a visionary on a mission to shape the future. The story did feature criticism from California Forever’s opponents, but that’s normal. Overall, it framed Sramek in flattering terms.

A big victory, right? Not exactly.

Neither California Forever nor Sramek acknowledged the story after it published. No triumphant tweets, no boastful LinkedIn or Facebook posts. As far as California Forever is concerned, the Business Insider story never happened.

Insulting Solano County voters

The reason why is clear: Sramek totally blew it. He allowed his contempt for his opponents to get the best of him. When asked by a reporter to describe California Forever’s opposition, Sramek lashed out at Solano voters:

“The people who have been opposed to it —” Sramek pauses, trying to choose his words carefully. “When you look at them,” he says, “they all look the same.”

So who’s that? Your basic white boomer NIMBY?

“Yeah, I mean, you said it,” Sramek says. “I’ll just say it’s not a particularly diverse coalition in any measure. It’s generally a 70-year-old Sierra Club type. The only thing they care about is the open space behind their house.”

And just like that, Sramek committed several grave political errors in the span of four sentences.


(Clicking the link will redirect you to The Nerd Reich’s blog post. There is no paywall but if you like what you see you could consider supporting excellence in journalism with a paid subscription.)

MORE . . .

>> Get involved… Solano Together is another local organization opposing California Forever. Between now and November, you can get a yard sign from Solano Together and send Solano Together a much needed donation.

>> Read more… BenIndy coverage of the billionaire land grab, California Forever / East Solano Plan.

California Forever’s Bid to Build a New City Qualifies for November Ballot

[BenIndy: Here we go!]

A California Forever billboard stands along I-80 in Vacaville on April 2, 2024. | Beth LaBerge / KQED.

NPR, by Adhiti Bandlamudi, June 11, 2024

The campaign to build a city from scratch in Solano County submitted enough valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot, election officials said Tuesday.

The Solano County Registrar of Voters spent a month reviewing over 20,000 signatures turned in by California Forever, the billionaire-backed company behind the ballot initiative. The measure needed 14,369 signatures from registered Solano County voters to qualify. On Tuesday, the Registrar of Voters certified the signatures.

The measure now heads to the Solano County Board of Supervisors, which will vote at the end of June on whether to immediately adopt the initiative, place it on the November ballot or first request a report assessing the impacts the project would have on the county.

Supervisor Mitch Mashburn has already announced his intention to request the report and said the board “will do everything we can to provide the facts needed to make an informed decision.” That report will be published 30 days after it is requested — likely appearing before the board in late July.

“We’re feeling great. We’ve had an incredibly exciting six weeks now that we submitted the signatures; we’ve had the opportunity to start delivering on all of [our] initiatives,” California Forever CEO Jan Sramek told KQED. “This is just the beginning. There’s more coming this summer.”

California Forever has made myriad promises tied to its ambitious plan in eastern Solano County, including adding 15,000 new jobs to the county, delivering community benefits packages and offering down payment assistance programs for first-time homebuyers. In recent months, the company has begun to announce how it plans to make good on those promises.

Most recently, the company said it would offer a $140,000 grant program to fund technical courses in IT support and data analytics to prepare residents for the jobs it promises will come once the initiative is approved. It also announced it would build a “Solano Sports Complex” with spaces for baseball, softball, football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, tennis, gymnastics, swimming and other sports.

“The sports complex fills a need that we have in Solano County that every child deserves to play at a state-of-the-art facility,” Michael Fortney, California Forever’s director of partnerships, told KQED. “People will be traveling from all over the state and nationally to come to Solano County to compete here, they’ll be staying in our hotels, they’ll be shopping in our shops, they’ll be eating in our restaurants, and that will create a real economic boom for Solano County.”

The sports complex will be built only if the ballot initiative passes, but the money for the technical training grant program — along with $500,000 that the company has already doled out to local nonprofits — would be handed out before the initiative comes before voters.

Still, many are not convinced about the project and its lofty promises.

Last week, the Solano Land Trust, a conservation agency, officially came out against the project and urged voters to “vote no on a November ballot measure that would allow the development of the East Solano Plan.”

“After careful consideration, we reached the informed conclusion that a development of this magnitude will have a detrimental impact on Solano County’s water resources, air quality, traffic, farmland and natural environment,” Nicole Braddock, executive director of the organization, said in a statement. “The plan runs counter to Solano Land Trust’s mission of preserving land and water for current and future generations in Solano County.”

Solano Together, a grassroots organization opposed to the East Solano Plan, has started printing and handing out yard signs saying “No to California Forever” to those opposed to the plan. Other organizations, including Sustainable Solano, have also publicly opposed the project, citing concerns about a strain on water resources and traffic the new development might bring.

“I think it’s really easy to say no,” Sramek said on Tuesday, blaming the opposition on “special interest groups.” “What we are hearing from voters is this is the most credible plan that they’ve ever seen to make life better for working families in Solano County.”

MORE . . .

>> Get involved… Solano Together is another local organization opposing California Forever. Between now and November, you can get a yard sign from Solano Together and send Solano Together a much needed donation.

>> Read more… BenIndy coverage of the billionaire land grab, California Forever / East Solano Plan.

California Forever dangles “sports complex” deal-sweetener over voters’ heads

OK to reuse image.

By BenIndy, June 5, 2024

A text from BenIndy’s editor emeritus today read:

“Big news today. Cal Fever plans to build a facility to please every conceivable sports enthusiast. Next, an apple pie factory and the world’s biggest American flag. And something honoring every Solano mom…”

Later, also from BenIndy’s trustworthy editor emeritus:

“Also in the news: Cal Forever execs plan to give a car to every teenager and a guaranteed anti-aging syrup to every senior. Oh, and I heard they are planning to travel the county giving kisses to every baby. I believe ’em, don’t you?”

Yes, the billionaires behind “California Forever” are at it again, announcing yesterday the creation of yet another vague and legally tenuous “incentive” to boost the company’s increasingly desperate efforts to drive supporters to the polls in November.

This time, the company is dangling a juicy new sports center over our heads, hoping we’ll jump for our treat.

Solano could certainly use new sports facilities for youth and adults, although it’s presently unclear how building a single, massive superstructure could reasonably serve the county without adding massive infrastructural and logistical nightmares to what is already a rough situation for families. (Sidenote: Maybe this is a stupid question, but wouldn’t it make more sense to have several smaller facilities spread across several underserved areas, to reduce congestion and serve those communities more equitably through improved access, instead of having one massive megaplex with certainly choked ingress and egress points? Couldn’t those smaller facilities serve as a sort of gravitational pull for those undeserved communities, to prompt deeper neighborhood ties and increased community investments, across generations?)

To its many opponents, this most recent in a series of similar announcements confirmed that California Forever’s communications and marketing teams are locked in a repeating pattern of three steps:

  1. Identify (or invent) a community need or problem;
  2. When confronted with community distrust or opposition, invent a committee and stack it with sympathetic locals who may (or may not) have some relevant experience and interest in addressing that problem, to task them to devise the “solution,” all while paying third-party firms and consultants to do the actual work (sometimes out of state);
  3. Declare that California Forever has – through its largesse, beneficence, and access to such firms and consultants – co-developed a community-driven solution, but will fund this solution only once the ballot initiative has passed.

And repeat, and repeat, and repeat…until all that wild shooting in the dark finally takes the target(s) down.

Be wary

Before the full text of the ballot initiative was available in early 2024, California Forever execs begged Solano residents to wait for that full text with an open mind. But those of us who did so remain confused or frustrated.

Now, California Forever is begging Solano residents to simply trust it, and to wait for the ballot measure to pass, whereupon our trust will be rewarded with the full, unconditional delivery of all of our promised incentives, like candy falls freely from a busted piñata.

Except instead of candy, or sports centers, this is actually a discussion about peoples’ lives, and about the material and spiritual future of Solano County. And Solano voters should be very wary.

There is a real and urgent need for affordable housing for Californians yesterday. But this most recent in California Forever’s parade of vague incentives comes with its usual set of weak guardrails and shows us that the company continues to be much more invested in winning at the ballot than than addressing real issues like the business of creating and maintaining positive housing, health, and educational outcomes for present and future Solano residents.

A Billionaire-Backed City Promises to Be a Green Urban Paradise… But it may not be what it appears

Jepson Prairie Reserve, adjacent to Flannery Associates’ proposed development, hosts one of the few remaining vernal pool habitats and native bunchgrass prairies in California. | Claire Greenburger for Sierra Club.

Sierra Club post, by Claire Greenburger, June 4, 2024

A plan to develop a new city northeast of San Francisco has been seven years in the making, but until recently, the details were largely kept under wraps. Now that the plans are public—and the proposal has garnered enough signatures to make it onto the November ballot for voter consideration—residents and activists are squaring off to defeat what the developers promise will be a kind of green urban paradise.

Not so, say many of the plan’s opponents. “My fight has all of a sudden started to heat up,” said Joe Feller, chair emeritus of the Solano Group of the Sierra Club’s Redwood Chapter, on the day the proposal made it onto the ballot.

For years, a mysterious LLC known as “Flannery Associates” was quietly buying up vast swaths of Solano County farmland. No one knew who they were or what they were doing. These large real estate plays, it now turns out, were part of a project backed by a who’s who of Silicon Valley billionaires—among them Reid Hoffman, the cofounder of LinkedIn, and Laurene Powell Jobs, the founder of Emerson Collective and widow of Steve Jobs—to build a new city that would house up to 400,000 people. Renderings of the city depict an eco-oasis with dense middle-class housing, solar-powered homes, walkable neighborhoods, open green space, and access to public transportation. The project, the developers claim, will solve the Bay Area’s housing crisis.

But according to Feller and several environmental groups who have banded together to oppose the project, it is not what it seems. Despite its promises, the development would come at a major cost to Solano County’s natural environment. And there has been little community engagement about the proposed project or its potential impacts.

On a Sunday afternoon last February, as rainfall flooded roads across Northern California, hundreds of Solano County residents gathered at a community center in Suisun City to celebrate the launch of Solano Together—a coalition of concerned residents and organizations opposed to Flannery Associates’ plan. The crowd that day included a wide range of community members with varying political views. At the event, impassioned farmers, environmentalists, and local leaders expressed outrage at how Flannery Associates had left them in the dark about their plan, which, they say, was a ploy by the developers to ensure low prices and minimal community resistance. The crowd was fired up, erupting in cheers between each speaker. Unlike the land—of which Flannery now owns nearly 10 percent—“the spirit here is not for sale,” said Princess Washington, mayor pro tem of Suisun City and the chair of the Redwood Chapter’s Solano Group.

In April, months after the launch of Solano Together, Duane Kromm and Marilyn Farley, a retired couple who have been helping lead the coalition, drove a reporter north along Highway 113 to visit the site for the proposed city. Vast fields of hay and barley extended far into the distance. Clusters of sheep and cattle dotted the landscape. Trees were few and far between. “This would all be four, five, six stories tall,” said Kromm, who is a member of the Solano Orderly Growth Committee.

Before Flannery Associates can begin development, a host of barriers stand in its way—the foremost being Solano’s land-use restrictions. At the heart of the county’s development philosophy is “what is urban should be municipal,” Kromm explained. Concurrently, land zoned agricultural cannot be developed, which is what has kept large swaths of the region rural for so long. According to Solano County’s Orderly Growth Initiative, any zoning changes must be voted on, which is why Flannery is seeking voter approval this November.

Though Flannery claims on its website that the farmland poised for development is “non-prime,” only contributing approximately 1.6 percent of Solano County’s total agricultural revenue, Farley believes that Flannery’s plan threatens more than the local economy. This development, she said, would strike at the core of Solano’s identity. “They’ve disrupted a whole farming system. And they’ve disrupted families, many of whom have been on that land since the late 1800s,” Farley said. The loss of US farmland is rampant, she noted, with 2,000 acres of agricultural land being paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that jeopardize farming every day[source below]

Under the stewardship of its former owners, the farmland, now owned by Flannery, has been carefully managed. The farmers practice dryland farming, Farley explained, a practice of growing crops without irrigation, done to save water. Typically, farms will have a year growing grain, a year of fallow, and a year of grazing, she said. “It’s very sustainable.”

These grasslands are also “biodiverse ecosystems that are underrepresented in protected areas statewide,” said Nate Huntington, a resilience associate at Greenbelt Alliance, one of the environmental groups that opposes the project. “When they’re well managed, grazing areas can host important biological resources and mitigate climate change through carbon sequestration.” Though the carbon stores on this land have yet to be calculated, intuitively, Kromm said, if you pave it all over, “that’s not going to be good.” Data for the biological resources located on the land is still limited since the developers have yet to conduct an environmental impact statement, which likely won’t take place until after the November elections.

Adjacent to Flannery’s land lies Jepson Prairie, one of the few remaining vernal pool habitats and native bunchgrass prairies in California, owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust. Yellow California goldfields were at peak bloom, drawing yellow stripes around the pool. Farley, who was careful to stay on the narrow trail that winds the reserve to avoid disrupting the habitat, fears what the land would look like if it were to become the backyard of 400,000 new residents. “There’d be a lot of people here,” she said. “Who knows what they’ll do.” The reserve provides habitat for a host of threatened and endangered native wildlife, including burrowing owls, monarch butterflies, California tiger salamanders, and 15 rare and endangered plant species.

The preserve is only a small part of the Jepson Prairie ecosystem, said Carol Witham, a vernal pool specialist. Little by little, that protected area has been expanding. But now, that door has closed. “Flannery has come out and bought a whole bunch of parcels that make it impossible to continue to do that,” she said. In the area surrounding the prairie, Flannery Associates now owns 60 percent of the county’s unprotected freshwater marshes, 50 percent of the high-value vernal pool conservation land, and 34 percent of the region’s priority areas for conservation, which conservationists fear is at risk of destruction.

The San Francisco Bay Area has suffered from one of the worst housing crises in the nation and one that local leaders have largely failed to address. For decades, rising prices have been pushing middle- and low-income residents out of urban centers like San Francisco. Housing experts agree that low-income and middle-class housing must be scaled up to meet the community’s needs, which Flannery’s plan—in theory—would provide.

In response to questions from a reporter, Flannery Associates said that it seeks to negate the harmful impacts of urban sprawl by building a city that is much denser than a typical American suburb. “We have proposed a community where people can live, work, and take care of most of their needs within walkable neighborhoods,” a spokesman said in an email.

The developers claim that building a city from the ground up allows them to incorporate the newest, most efficient technologies. In addition to generating enough renewable energy from wind and solar to power 1.5 million homes—far surpassing the needs of the immediate community—they plan to deploy “ultra-efficient” water recycling and thermal energy systems. “Overall, we are confident that our project will provide one of the best models in the world for drastically reducing per capita greenhouse gas emissions,” the project claims. Developers also promise to create 15,000 local jobs.

“But there are some impacts that are going to be very, very difficult to mitigate. First and foremost is the need for transportation,” said Daniel Rodríguez, professor of city and regional planning and director of the Institute for Transportation at the University of California, Berkeley. He has studied similar “new urbanist” developments that, in their early stages, shared many of Flannery’s aspirations. “Over and over, we found that the transportation claims that the developers made rarely materialized. Residents of these communities traveled as much as residents of any traditional suburb.” Despite Flannery’s plans to create an “employment cluster” in Solano County, the reality is that “jobs don’t cluster because developers would like them to,” Rodríguez said. Flannery’s conception sounds like “magical thinking,” he said. Inevitably, residents will wind up commuting to already existing urban centers.

While the developers advocate for building a transit system to support a more energy-efficient alternative for commuters, existing public transportation in many California cities is nearing collapse and in need of major investment, said Rodríguez. It would be “fiscally irresponsible to even think about investing in a rail system for a city that hasn’t been built,” he said.

While alternative options may require “a little more tinkering,” as Rodríguez put it, better alternatives are possible—and some are already underway. In the East Bay, the Concord Reuse Project, which will be developed on the site of a former naval weapons station, is slated to deliver over 12,000 homes, a quarter of which will be affordable and located adjacent to an existing transit station. In contrast to the project in Solano County, the Reuse Project has been developed across a diverse coalition of labor, environmental, and faith-based organizations. “It’s a climate-friendly and equitable development that is connected to existing communities,” said Sam Tepperman-Gelfant, managing attorney at Public Advocates. 

Despite the well-funded campaigns behind Flannery’s plan, Kromm doesn’t feel threatened by their chances. A recent pollshowed that 70 percent of Solano residents oppose the project. But activists expect Flannery’s fight won’t stop there.

What ultimately happens in Solano County “will set a precedent for what’s going to happen in the future with people who have the means to privately purchase land and develop open space,” Washington said. “This is not an isolated incident. It will continue to happen, and we are on the front line of this decision.”

* Based on the daily average from 2001-2016. Source: