Solano County tech, land investors unveil website teaser of utopian citySeptember 05 2023
THE NORTH BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
September 2, 2023, 11:36AM
Under fire from politicians and farmers for its long silence, a tech-based investor group gobbling up more than 50,000 acres of Solano County farmland to build a utopian city released a website late Thursday.
California Forever, the parent company of Flannery Associates LLC, opens with a welcome mat of sorts for interested parties to join the conversation about developing a new community filled with “good paying local jobs, solar farms and open space,” the website reads.On the site, California Forever pledges to “build walkable neighborhoods” and explore “new paths” to home ownership that may involve “down-payment assistance programs.”
It has also committed to “protect Solano’s open space and prime agricultural lands,” the latter comprising nearly two-thirds of the land use in the county. Geo-centric details were limited.
The website also continued with declaring to “support Travis Air Force Base,” which would abut the proposed city in the eastern part of the county. Travis Air Force Base employs 13,400 people and contributes $1.6 billion to the local economy each year, according to Solano County.
“It’s so apparent as the spotlight shines on the ‘vision’ of this recent news, that’s it’s so important the community and the citizens of the United States understand and become aware of the impact that can affect our military installations,” said Sandy Person, executive director of the Travis Community Consortium, the base’s community advocacy group.
“Our concern is this nuanced vision will have an impact. We have more questions than opinions. Definitely, encroachment has a vast spectrum of impacts,” she added.
Person, who has worked for the Solano County Economic Development Corporation as president and CEO for 20 years, followed the concern as Rep. Mike Thompson, said Aug. 30 he worries about national security. The St. Helena Democrat stepped in to meet with Sramek and reprimand Flannery’s mysterious process as mismanaged and lacking in transparency. Farmers and business groups agreed.
It appeared Flannery Associates may have recognized these stumbles with regard to community relations.
“To date, our company has been quiet about our activities. This has understandably, created interest, concern and speculation. Now that we’re no longer limited by confidentiality, we are eager to begin a conversation about the future of Solano County — a conversation with all of you,” the site reveals.
It's unclear why the group was restrained by “confidentiality.” Multiple calls to Flannery Associates’ attorneys, on retainer for a federal legal case against more than 30 farmers and property owners they’re accusing of “price fixing” land acquisitions, have not been returned. The wealthy tech collective spent nearly $1 billion over five years for 140 properties in the area.
The area of focus is situated between Fairfield and Rio Vista along the Jepson Prairie and Montezuma Hills amid wind turbines, grain fields and sheep grazing.
“Those sheep are vital to fire mitigation,” said Chris Rico, current president of the Solano County EDC, a nonprofit organization tasked with economic growth and vitalization of the county.
Rico urged the wealthy investors to “slow down” and involve groups and citizens in the planning.
Investors include: Sramek; Marc Andreesen and his firm Andreesen Horowitz; Patrick and John Collison; Chris Dixon; John Doerr; Nat Friedman; Daniel Gross; Reid Hoffman; Michael Moritz and Laurene Powell Jobs.
“If they really, in earnest, are invested in Solano County, we’d be interested in talking to them,” he said, while further questioning the data used on the website.
For example, a California Forever survey indicated that “81% of Solano parents we surveyed (from the about 2,000 residents) said that their kids won’t be able to find a future in their own neighborhood when they grow up.”
Still, Rico wondered if those polled knew what the survey was intended for.
Flannery Associates LLC has a long way to go to build a city, which involves the long arm of the Local Agency Formation Commission. The design must also follow the guidelines of the Solano County’s Orderly Growth Measure, among other regulatory hoops.
But “California was built on its pioneering spirit,” the site contends.
With that, California Forever has enlisted some high-level urban planning and civil engineering assistance from 10 regional companies, think tanks and consultants. One of which is Fehr & Peers, an engineering firm based in Petaluma. Phone calls to the company as well as those to Carlson Barbee & Gibson and EKI Environmental and Water were not returned.
Meanwhile, the neighboring city of Vacaville indicated it’s “curious” about what results from the California Forever investment.
“While we will not speculate as to the vision of the 52,000 acres, we do intend to keep a close eye (on the project) as the future of this mega site unfolds,” City Manager Aaron Busch said.
The city remains hopeful “that what makes (Solano County) so special today will continue to be our legacy tomorrow.”
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture, banking and finance. She can be reached at 530-545-8662 or firstname.lastname@example.org