California Forever: Tech-Funded Developers Want to Build a New City on California Farmland

In recent years, certain popular TV series have portrayed conflicts between multi-generational agriculture operations and a variety of nefarious “big money” enterprises seeking to acquire and develop farms and ranches into airports, casinos, resorts, and subdivisions.

In Solano County, California, a situation is unfolding that puts even the most realistic Hollywood storytelling to shame, one that should serve as a dire warning to farmers and ranchers in particular, and citizens in general.

Solano County is between Sacramento and San Francisco. Despite its proximity to major urban areas, much of the county is home to robust, diversified, rural, agricultural production. The gross value of Solano County agricultural production averaged $381,948,000 from 2019 to 2022. In 2022, the county’s top 10 agricultural products included: almonds; tomatoes; nursery grown Christmas trees, cut flowers, and greenhouse plants; cattle and calves; alfalfa hay; grapes; walnuts; sheep and lambs; and prunes. Many additional agricultural products are produced in the county as well.

Part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is in Solano County. It is the largest estuary on the West Coast, home to approximately 750 species of wildlife. The Delta supplies fresh water to two-thirds of the state’s population and irrigation water for millions of acres of farmland throughout much of the state, which generates almost half of all produce grown in the United States.

Over 60,000 Acres of Farmland Bought by Mysterious Group

Beginning in 2016, a mysterious group going by the name Flannery Associates started aggressively buying up farmland in Solano County. They have acquired more than 140 properties totaling over 60,000 acres at a price of nearly $1 billion. The group’s funding and purpose went undisclosed to the public for nearly seven years. The mysterious nature of Flannery Associates prompted a formal investigation by the FBI and U.S. Department of Treasury due to Flannery land acquisitions in close proximity to Travis Air Force Base. There was concern that foreign ownership could pose a threat to national security.

As a result of the investigation, Flannery was forced to reveal its goal and the names of some of its members and financial backers. Flannery publicly rebranded as California Forever and, in August 2023, began to widely publicize its intent to build an all-new, C40-type city on 17,500 acres of the land, aiming to eventually house up to 400,000 people.

The effort is led by former Goldman Sachs trader Jan Sramek. Other participants include mostly Silicon Valley technology billionaires. Among them are: Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs), LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen. In charge of planning at California Forever is Gabriel Metcalf, who formerly served as President and CEO of the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association, known as SPUR. SPUR was responsible for implementing the animal and environmental extremist-driven, yet altruistic and noble sounding, Good Food Purchasing Program in the region.

An attorney representing California Forever disclosed to The Wall Street Journal the company is controlled by U.S. citizens, with 97 percent of its capital coming from American investors and the remaining three percent coming from British and Irish citizens.

Tech Moguls Seek to Build “Utopian City”

In an interview, Sramek stated: “California Forever is an attempt to make sure that the Bay Area remains the center of innovation and prosperity that it’s been for the last 50 years…We’re proposing to build a dynamic walkable community on a portion of the property, and then surrounded with open space and renewable energy, both wind and solar.”

One investor stated: “This effort should relieve some of the Silicon Valley pressures we all feel—rising home prices, homelessness, congestion, etc.”

A group named Solano Together was formed in opposition to California Forever and has pointed out troublesome realities facing the potential development. The group brings together some interesting allies, including agricultural groups such as the Solano County Farm Bureau and the Sierra Club.

Besides being entirely disconnected from the wants and needs of existing area residents, many of them multigenerational, what California Forever has billed as a “utopian community” is “far from basic infrastructure such as public transportation and roadways,” according to Solano Together.

“The development of a remote, isolated community achieved by paving over ranchlands and prime habitat comes with a suite of ecological, social, and economic concerns. From environmental justice considerations to endangered species and water security, Solano County residents are raising alarms about this massive development proposal,” Solano Together states on their website.

Dirty Tactics, Unchecked Greed & Entitlement

Despite already having accumulated land totaling nearly 94 square miles, Sramek wants more. U.S. Congressman John Garamendi, representing California’s 8th District, wrote in the spring 2024 issue of California Waterfowl:

“Knowing that their years-long secrecy produced tremendous distrust, Flannery Associates changed their name to “California Forever” and quickly assembled a slick public relations team to rebrand their efforts as socially and environmentally friendly. But hiding behind that veneer are the same old strong-arm, mobster tactics they have been using to force families from their land. Even now, Flannery Associates/California Forever is suing six farm families demanding $510,000,000 in damages, claiming the families are a “secret conspiracy” and using “anticompetitive” practices in violation of anti-trust laws. You do not have to be a lawyer to know that refusing to sell land that has been in your family for generations is not a violation of our country’s antitrust laws. The irony of a group of Silicon Valley billionaires using their unfathomable wealth to sue landowners for acting like a monopoly is despicable and reveals everything we need to know about the character and intentions of Flannery Associates/California Forever.”

Sramek filed the lawsuit in May 2023. Defendants maintain that Flannery used pressure tactics to gain land, in addition to employing other unethical tactics: pitting family members against each other, evicting and terminating leases with farmers who wouldn’t negotiate, and threatening the cost of litigation to force farmers to sell their land.

Project Requires Voter Approval

Fortunately, in 1984, protections were put in place in Solano County specifically to prevent the urbanization of agricultural lands. California Forever will need voter approval to move forward with its project. Specifically, they must ask voters for an exemption to the county’s Orderly Growth ordinance, which mandates all urban development in the county must take place within existing city limits.

According to Representative Garamendi, the removal of Orderly Growth restrictions would have another dangerous caveat: It would essentially allow the city to be built without any governance requirements, exempt from county oversight, although the county would be obligated to fund part of the transportation infrastructure.

Congressman Garamendi stated: “If this project goes forward, Solano County taxpayers will foot a large part of the bill. This is a lose-lose scenario for Solano County, and we cannot allow it to move forward.”

After several failed attempts to secure a ballot initiative necessary for advancing its project, California Forever is currently in the process of seeking more than 13,000 signatures from Solano County residents to get the request for exemption from Orderly Growth on the November 2024 ballot. The first two ballot initiatives failed to protect Travis Air Force Base.

Deceptive Signature Collection Tactics

Unsurprisingly, California Forever has also been deceptive with its signature-gathering efforts. With area residents understandably wary and distrustful of California Forever, the project is misleadingly titled the “East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative.”

California Forever’s funding of the ballot initiative is the last item listed on the campaign’s fact sheet, which is easily overlooked by voters solicited for signatures. Residents who were approached about signing the petition in support of the project reported odd behavior and dishonesty from the campaign’s signature solicitors. Reportedly, when specifically asked if the petition was for California Forever, signature solicitors boldly stated “no.”

Catherine Moy, mayor of Fairfield, California, said she received a dozen calls over three days from voters indicating they were deceived into signing the petition.

“It’s alarming,” said Moy in a local CBS News piece. “They didn’t mean for that to be what they were signing. They were misled. The way (California Forever) came here so secretively, the way they changed their stories over time and now this? This? They are being disingenuous or flat-out lying to voters,” she concluded.

Regardless of the unscrupulous tactics and lack of ethics demonstrated by California Forever throughout its existence, the last vestiges of American freedom and food security depend entirely upon the unwavering and resounding rejection of projects like California Forever by citizens.

No matter how much “progress” could be made, developers often overlook the reality that people in any community need to be fed, which is made all the more difficult when prime agricultural land is taken out of food production and other land alternatives are available.

At Protect The Harvest, we promote and defend A Free and Fed America. We understand the need for more affordable housing alternatives in locations across America where real estate prices are high, including the San Francisco Bay Area.

Nevertheless, dishonesty, deception, disinformation, and manipulation are not the way to go about achieving the best outcomes for all parties, which should be the goal. Instead, organizations such as California Forever choose to make the effort in Solano County a “we win, you lose” scenario. That’s not good business, good policy, good environmental stewardship, or good social progress. It’s also not good for California farmers and ranchers, or America’s food security and food independence. There are better options.


More about C40 cities HERE

More about “Good” Food Purchasing Program HERE

East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative fact sheet HERE

East Solano Homes, Jobs, and Clean Energy Initiative ballot initiative HERE

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