Category Archives: Solano County Water Agency

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


Duane Kromm: “Please think long and hard about how you respond to Flannery’s pitches”

[Note from the BenIndy: Former Solano County Board Supervisor Duane Kromm has been incredibly active in the fight to rip the glossy veil off Flannery Associates aka California Forever’s slick renders and lofty claims.  He’s been featured in several articles about the project and recently introduced an incredibly informative panel at the College of Exploration featuring California Forever CEO Jan Sramek and State Senator Bill Dodd – an early and as of yet rare chance for the public to participate in this huge discussion (which we hope to cover in more detail soon). Below, please find an opinion he shared with the Northern Solano Democratic Club (NSDC) in their November 2023 newsletter. Read more about NSDC below Mr. Kromm’s op-ed.]

Duane Kromm. | Jason Henry / WSJ.

By Duane Kromm, November 2023

My guess is everybody has heard about Flannery Associates, LLC (aka California Forever) by now. This is a secretive organization funded by a handful of rich Silicon Valley tech and venture capital tycoons. They have purchased over 50,000 acres of Southeastern Solano County, which is about 10% of Solano’s land mass.

They started buying in 2018, farm by farm by farm. Nobody knew who these guys were until the New York Times blew their cover with an August 2023 story about the billionaires hiding behind their Delaware registered LLC, where ownership can be masked. The NYT’s story made it clear that these are investors looking for a high rate of return. “If the plans materialize anywhere close to what is being contemplated, this should be a spectacular investment,” per Michael Moritz billionaire venture capitalist, lead investor in Flannery.

Please look at the Solano County Orderly Growth Committee’s website for a good map of the land owned by Flannery:

Not only has Flannery consumed most of the Montezuma Hills and Jepson Prairies areas of Solano County, they have also sued farmers who have dared to refuse to sell to them. Having spent over $800,000,000 (yes that is 800 million dollars) buying land, they now look to recover $560,000,000 by suing multi-generational farm families.

Flannery’s stated goal is to build a new city, or cities, somewhere in the Montezuma Hills area. There are reports that these cities could eventually have a population of 400,000. Flannery has not shared any specifics about their goals. Nobody in the community has any clue about roads, water, infrastructure, schools, public safety, and the impacts on our agricultural economy.

Solano County has been a leader in California regarding development and protection of farmland and open space. Starting with an initiative in 1984, our voters have consistently supported the concept of city centered growth. The motto is “What is Urban Shall be Municipal” For more information on what our voters have supported, look at the 2008 ballot measure.

Solano County, in our seven cities, has added housing at a faster rate than the rest of the Bay Area, or the State. We have also protected our farmlands and open spaces to help our, mostly thriving, agricultural economy. I say mostly because agriculture is an always changing marketplace with foreign competition, climate change, and investment needs, all of which present relentless challenges.

Please think long and hard about how you respond to Flannery’s pitches. As Senator Bill Dodd noted; this feels like Professor Harold Hill in the Music Man trying to sell 76 trombones.

This opinion from Mr. Kromm was reposted with permission from the Northern Solano Democratic Club, a fantastic Dem club based in  Northern Solano. If you’d like to read NSDC’s full newsletter, click here. It’s chock-full of exciting news and ideas from this amazing group, which has been operating in Solano for more than 70 years! To learn more about NSDC more generally, click here to be redirected to the NSDC website.

Other articles featuring Duane Kromm on Flannery/California Forever:

Flannery Inc. (California Forever) Proposing Land Swap

Swap with City of Fairfield, Solano County and Solano County Water Agency would complete 15,000 acre prairie reserve near Travis AFB

A herd of horses walks in a pasture south of Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield. A group of investors, California Forever, which describes itself as the parent company of Flannery Associates, has been purchasing plots of farmland around the Air Force base from Suisun City to Rio Vista along Highway 12 in hopes of building a new tech city. (Chris Riley/The Reporter)

Vallejo Times-Herald, by Nick McConnell, November 7, 2023

California Forever sent a letter on Monday to Solano County, the City of Fairfield and the Solano County Water Agency proposing a land exchange of thousands of acres near Travis Air Force Base.

The company has offered to swap 1,573 acres of high habitat value land on Jepson Prairie near Travis Air Force Base, for 1,403 acres of pasture with medium agricultural value six to 10 miles away from the base, mostly east of Rio Dixon Road.

The letter, signed by California Forever CEO Jan Sramek, was addressed to Fairfield City Manager David Gassaway, County Administrator William Emlen and General Manager of Solano County Water Agency Chris Lee.

The letter says that California Forever is offering the exchange because it learned the parcels it purchased on the Jepson Prairie are included under the Department of Defense’s Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration program, and that its ownership of them could also pose a threat to the goals of the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan.

“We believe this exchange proposal is a win-win transaction that makes good sense for all sides involved,” the letter reads.

A map included in the California Forever Letter shows the land involved in its exchange offer. Parcels shaded in yellow currently belong to the company, and parcels shaded in other colors currently belong to Solano County, Fairfield, or SCWA. (Courtesy image California Forever).

The letter also indicates that California Forever would provide $1 million to fund the completion of the Solano County Habitat Conservation plan. The land being offered by California Forever is the last land on the Jepson Prairie which is not currently publicly owned, according to the letter. creating the opportunity to unite one uninterrupted habitat.

“This exchange would therefore become the capstone achievement that substantially completes the preservation of the Jepson Prairie ecosystem, and creates a fully contiguous open space reserve of approximately 15,000 acres” the letter says.

The Solano County Water Agency has a meeting scheduled for Thursday at 6:30, which will be available both in person at 810 Vaca Valley Parkway and on Zoom. Its agenda, released before the letter was dated, includes an item titled “Water Supply Portfolio and Discussions with California Forever.”

The entire proposal is conditional on the approval of California Forever’s development plans in the area by the voters next November and by relevant regulatory agencies. The company said it is currently undergoing a listening tour, taking feedback from the community on how to make its plans work for Solano County residents. A more comprehensive plan, which will go in front of voters next November, will be released in January.

“Put plainly, if the voters or any regulatory agencies whose approvals would be required later do not approve our plans, the exchange agreement would terminate, we would cover all legal and other costs of the public agencies incurred in negotiating the exchange, and everything would remain the same as it is today,” the letter reads.

The offer is only on the table until Dec. 31, the letter explains, so that all of the changes can be reflected in the January plan.

“The reason to agree on this transaction now is to ensure that we can propose a more orderly plan to the voters, so that if the voters and regulators approve the proposal in the future, then the exchange automatically and immediately closes,” the letter reads.

Sramek said the REPI report and habitat plan were the main drivers of this proposal, as California Forever had no knowledge of both of those factors before the purchase of this land. Four weeks ago, when it learned of the REPI, he said, it started to think of how it might be able to get that land under Travis AFB’s control.

“I think what we want people to understand is that we are serious about the fact that we want to protect and strengthen Travis,” he said.

Sramek also said the company feels similarly about protecting open space and contributing to ecological projects in the area.

“We’ve been saying that for two months,” he said of commitments to the base and the environment, “and this is a step where we are going to change it into actions.”

The proposal would allow public shareholders to take over land of higher ecological value, and to consolidate their holdings into one place, California Forever said.

“We hope this transaction is the first of many ways that California Forever and local stakeholders can work together in a productive and collaborative fashion that benefits everyone involved,” the letter said. “We look forward to working with all stakeholders on this multi-benefit transaction, and attending public meetings where this matter is discussed to answer any questions.”

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

Where Solano’s Habitat Conservation Plan & Flannery’s New City Collide

  • [Note from BenIndy: Respected environmental consulting firm LSA has generated a fascinating but lengthy memorandum regarding California Forever’s proposed new city’s impact on conservation and mitigation in the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). While the whole memorandum offers a clear case for concern as well as an excellent blueprint of the various federal and state hurdles California Forever will have to overcome, those who don’t have time to dive into a 23-page document will certainly benefit from former Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson’s excellent summary of the document, available below.]
Former Benicia mayor Elizabeth Patterson.

By Elizabeth Patterson, November 8, 2023

 The Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) is a federal program that allows projects that impact ecosystems (generally species-specific) to mitigate the impacts by acquiring habitat and conserving it in perpetuity. In this case the Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) is a contractor with the federal government for the operation and management of the Monticello dam and Putah South Canal (that is the canal that conveys Benicia’s water) and other components to the dam system. As part of the contract renewal twenty-odd years ago, SCWA has been required to mitigate the impacts associated with this project. The water agency has worked with Solano County and cities to identify habitat conservation areas that meet the requirements. The cities would benefit by being able to have the developer buy into the conservation areas. In other words, cities designated as the places to grow urban development would be able to have the developer pay their fair share for habitat conservation. Generally, such arrangements are hard to do one project at a time, and thus the overall plan of the HCP makes these mitigation plans more efficient and effective.

This HCP also allows contiguous conservation areas targeting specific species and ecosystems. When the large grassland areas are broken up, the result is a kind of a ‘museum’ of separate habitat areas lacking connectivity, and thus they do not represent not a sustainable habitat. After all, we can’t and don’t know all there is about habitats and how they work. The best we can do is to preserve these areas with corridors for migrating species and diversity of plants and other considerations. The viability of HCPs are based on these factors.
According to LSA’s memorandum, what the Flannery group’s proposed new city will do is impact, extirpate and lead to extinction of flora and fauna due to the land-use conversion from grasslands and riparian habitats. Because the price paid for the land is 200% greater than what the market had been, the Solano County Water Agency can’t easily buy land for habitat conservation plan, which is part of their responsibility as a federal water project operator. The HCP is also needed for projects already entitled or within the planning future for the cities. They were relying on the HCP to mitigate their projects.
The maps in the document clearly demonstrate the massive impact of a new city (or any creeping into habitat by existing cities). The SCWA and future urban developers in existing cities will be stuck with a very high and costly mitigation for meeting the HCP.
And the grasslands habitat will be wrecked.