Category Archives: Solano Together

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 CalMatters.org…


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 solanotogether.org

Join the Solano Together Coalition Launch This Sun., Feb. 4, 12pm in Suisun City

[Note from BenIndy: Registration appears to be required for this event, and it looks like tickets are going quickly. Sign up now if you’d like to join. After you sign up to join the exciting launch of Solano Together, check out its first response to California Forever’s 83-page initiative HERE (the initiative text itself is HERE). Sign up to support or learn more about Solano Together HERE. Some images shown below are not original to the Solano Together news release and were added by BenIndy.]

Clicking the image will redirect you to the page for this event where you can register. Another link to the registration page is below.

Bringing Solano Together – Coalition Launch

Join us in celebrating the official launch of the Solano Together Coalition, on February 4, at 12:00 pm. The event will be held at the Joseph A. Nelson Community Center located on Village Drive in Suisun City.

Come meet the coalition, break bread with neighbors, and hear from local leaders about why NOW is the time to bring Solano Together to fight for our collective future. We welcome all people from all backgrounds—whether you’re already part of the coalition, or still trying to figure out what’s going on, this is a perfect opportunity to find out more, connect with our member organizations, and at the very least, have a fun-filled afternoon!

Coalition supporters such as the Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City, Princess Washington, Congressman John Garamendi, Solano Farm Bureau President Will Brazelton, and more will address the audience and share their concerns about California Forever’s sprawl development plans and their vision for Solano County.

This event event is FREE and open to the public but capacity is limited. Registration is required.

REGISTER HERE
Solano Together members waved signs at the California Forever Benicia Town Hall on December 18, 2023. | Image by BenIndy, free and fine to reuse.

Solano Together responds to California Forever’s Released Map and Ballot Initiative

[Note from BenIndy: Please bear with us for posting more than usual but Solano Together has responded to the initiative and map released by California Forever and it’s worth your time to see what they have to say. Once again, you can check out California Forever’s full, 83-page initiative text HERE. Sign up to learn more about Solano Together HERE. Images shown below are not original to the Solano Together news release and were added by BenIndy.]

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

Solano Together, released January 17, 2024

SUISUN CITY – The Solano Together coalition strongly opposes California Forever’s plans for a sprawling new development in rural Solano County announced this Wednesday. After years of secrecy, months of public controversy, and four months of rushed community engagement, Flannery Associates shared initial glimpses of their new proposed community in Southeastern Solano County.

For Solano Together, the details revealed today did not come as a surprise: California Forever continues to be a senseless sprawl development in a remote, undeveloped part of Solano County. These types of projects divert much needed public and private resources away from cities and residents, leaving existing infrastructure to degrade and residents to suffer.

Flannery Associates are going for the “christmas tree” approach for the proposal, trying to sprinkle financial benefits to specific interest groups around the County in a way that distracts from the negative impact of the proposal on water, county resources, traffic, and taxpayers in existing cities.

Jobs: We’ve seen countless development proposals adopted by cities around the region with promises for jobs, only later to go back to ask for modifications in the proposal based on a change in market conditions. And we also know from experience that nearby cities are often in direct competition for companies and services that do want to locate in an area. Vallejo, Fairfield and Vacaville have all invested significant resources in attracting new jobs to their community. Flannery’s incentives to lure those jobs away from the population centers of the county to this new development will only harm our communities and reduce opportunities for existing residents. Based on this track record, the idea of 15,000 new jobs in this area is an empty promise.

Taxpayer Money: The plan purports to be a new approach to development, but its physical location—far away from jobs, services, and infrastructure—points to more of the same, investing scarce public funds in expanding infrastructure rather than investing in improvements for long-time residents. Flannery Associates’ proposal spins their small investment in infrastructure upgrades, such as roads and water pipes, as a huge benefit to the community, when the project relies on millions of dollars of public investment for new roads, sewer and water, and schools, funds that will need to be diverted from other priorities.

Solano Together members waved signs at the California Forever Benicia Town Hall on December 18, 2023. | BenIndy.

What Solano Together Coalition supporters are saying:

“Buying up farmland at low prices and rezoning for housing development has been a quick way to make a buck for decades in California. The plans we’ve seen fly in the face of decades of thoughtful planning and action that was first set into motion to protect Solano’s cherished agricultural industries. Developing highly productive ranch lands into urban uses cannot be undone. We cannot continue to allow developers to put food security, long-term sustainability, and livelihoods on the line in exchange for short-term profits.”—Solano Farm Bureau.

“California Forever has no real plans for public transportation or transit. This development is going to clog our streets, highways, and bridges. It will make our climate worse by paving over farmlands—all while making Solano residents pay the cost”—Duane Kromm, member of the Orderly Growth Committee and former Solano County Board Supervisor.

“California Forever’s proposed plans are a detriment to wildlife, native plant life, and water resources that our ecology and communities depend on. We need to protect Solano County’s open space now and for the future. You don’t need to be an environmentalist to ask: ‘What sort of world are we going to leave our future generations?’”—Princess Washington, Mayor Pro-Tem of Suisun City & Chair of the Sierra Club of Solano County.

“Sprawling developments such as California Forever don’t just permanently destroy nature, habitat for wildlife, and farm and ranchland. These developments also divert much needed public and private resources away from cities and residents. Instead of abandoning our existing cities for something shiny and new, we believe the truly visionary approach would be to make transformative investments in them, improving the lives for both current and future residents.”—Sadie Wilson, Director of Planning and Research at Greenbelt Alliance.

“Flannery Associates’ plans to take surface water from the Sacramento River and/or pump groundwater from the Solano subbasin to support a whole new city would further stress critical water resources in Solano County and the Delta, and threaten to undo recent progress made to manage water resources sustainably and responsibly for future generations.”—Osha Meserve, Lawyer specializing in water and environmental impacts.

“I see nothing in the plans that protects Travis Air Force Base. California Forever’s promises mean nothing if Travis is forced to close due to housing encroachment, glare from 10,000 acres of solar farms, and noise complaints from new residents where sheep now graze. In fact, they aren’t building a city, they’re sprawling housing over 18,000 acres without legally creating a city. That could very well endanger Travis’ mission.”—Catherine Moy, Mayor of Fairfield

Solano Together’s top priorities are to drive growth, development, and economic investment into the county’s existing cities and protect the invaluable agricultural and environmental resources that are central to our community and industries. California Forever fails to do that by doubling down on a pattern of sprawl development that endangers the livelihoods of the agricultural community and taxes Solano’s crucial natural resources such as water, land, habitats, and ecosystems.

BenIndy.

Learn more about Solano Together here. For more information, contact: Daniela Ades, dades@greenbelt.org, 1-415-792-9226