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How We Got Here

Since time immemorial, the Patwin and Miwok people stewarded the lands of what is now known as eastern Solano County. This area is now known for its vibrant agricultural industry, iconic grasslands, sustainable wind power, and unique delta habitats. 

 

Montezuma Hills and surrounding areas have been home to highly productive dryland farms and rare vernal pool habitats for generations. Farmers and ranchers have adapted to worsening drought and innovated with dryland farming and regenerative agriculture practices, even in the face of growing climate hazards.

 

From Rio Vista to Vallejo, Vacaville to Suisun City, Solano’s diverse urban centers are among the most affordable regions in a cost-burdened Bay Area. These cities provide prime opportunities to attract more investments, infrastructure, housing, and jobs for everyone in Solano County to thrive.

Photo: Paige Green

This special place is threatened by a proposed sprawl development in the region.

What is California Forever?

“California Forever” is a sprawl development project proposed for eastern Solano County by a group of billionaire Silicon Valley investors known as “Flannery Associates.” Since 2017, the group has acquired 62,000 acres of agricultural land between Fairfield, Rio Vista, and beyond—an area larger than both Fairfield and Vallejo combined—for over $900 million. Since the purchase of the land, concerned Solano County residents have accused Flannery of deploying secretive tactics by keeping their identity elusive and misleading the public, government officials, and landowners about their intentions. Later, Flannery launched a half a billion dollar litigation process against local farmers and ranchers who refused to sell to them, accusing them of antitrust behavior.

Flannery Associates’ initial statements claimed to build an “utopian community” made up of one or more cities and thousands of new homes, offering its residents dense urban living, walkable communities, access to public transit, open spaces, and clean energy. Sounds great, right?

However, this “community for the future” is planned to be built far from basic infrastructure such as public transportation and roadways. “California Forever” is inspired by failed models of the past and disconnected from the aspirations of Solano’s existing communities of farmers, ranchers, urban residents, and others.

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.

Over 200,000 acres of farmland in the Bay Area has been lost to sprawl over the last 30 years.

Why We're Concerned

Since Flannery Associates’ plan for the “California Forever” project was made public through a New York Times story in August 2023, a number of local leaders, residents, and organizations voiced concerns around impacts to:

  • Working lands and the County’s agricultural industry, 

  • Ongoing operations of Travis Air Force Base—the County’s largest employer, 

  • Costly implications of increased sprawl development and associated disinvestment in existing cities, 

  • Impacts to water resources and wildlife habitats,

  • Increased traffic and associated health impacts on children and those living by highways,

  • The significant climate and environmental effects of this proposed development.

Here are some of the primary concerns with the proposed development from our coalition Solano Together:

Extensive development in the Montezuma Hills presents major threats to habitats, water security, climate resilience, and Solano’s agricultural industry.

Flannery Associates has tried to depict their land holdings in southeastern Solano County as the “lowest valued agricultural land in the county” with “the lowest ecological value”.  But that is far from the truth. 

 

Generations of farmers and ranchers have stewarded this land through sustainable grazing and dryland farming techniques that are both highly productive and require only rainfall. These ranchers do far more than supply food and natural resources. They have invaluable knowledge of the land and how to manage it through drought conditions, wet winters, and rising temperatures—all of which are likely to increase into the future.  

 

The Montezuma Hills and surrounding areas are also home to protected habitats, carbon-rich delta soils, and is a hotspot for hawks and other bird species as part of the Pacific Flyway. The Jepson Prairie region houses vernal pools and playa lakes which support threatened and endangered native wildlife, such the Burrowing Owl, Monarch Butterfly, California tiger salamanders, and 15 rare and endangered plant species. 

 

Flannery Associates owns 60% of the County's unprotected freshwater marshes, 50% of the County's high value vernal pool conservation land, and 34% of the region's priority areas for conservation. These high-value conservation lands are not just nice to have—they are vital for a well-balanced ecosystem and are lands intended for conservation as part of the County’s Habitat Conservation Plan. Without this mitigation land, there would be huge legal barriers to growth in existing cities that planned to protect land that Flannery now owns. 

The “California Forever” proposal is in clear violation of the County’s Orderly Growth Initiative—which is why Flannery must go to the ballot in November to overturn it.

Born out of a countywide effort to protect Solano’s open spaces and agricultural industry, voters passed the first Orderly Growth Initiative in 1984, which focuses growth within existing cities and prohibits development of agriculturally-zoned lands without voter approval. It was reaffirmed by voters in 2008 (meaning it will be up for renewal in 2028). Since then, orderly growth principles are firmly embedded in the County’s General Plan (2008) and remain a core value of Solano residents.

Building a new city would be an irresponsible use of public resources with severe impacts to existing cities.

Buying up agricultural land to build a sprawling community that drains resources away from existing cities while paving over working lands is far from a new concept. Sprawl development has been associated with urban blight due to a lack of investment and property maintenance in the city center (Fesselmeyer and Seah, HUD, 2022).

 

Solano is home to three of the most diverse cities in California—Vallejo, Fairfield, and Suisun City—and “California Forever” would inevitably impact current residents in the County’s seven existing cities. These urban centers desperately need new infrastructure, investment, and economic opportunities. A new city would likely draw higher-income residents from Solano’s nearby cities, which would shift local property tax revenue away from the diverse communities who need it most. Property taxes are one of the largest sources of revenue for California cities and this revenue is vital to pay for necessary infrastructure and public services like recreation, public safety, schools.

As the largest employer in Solano County and a core national security asset, the long-term operational needs and security of Travis Air Force Base would be put at risk if development were allowed to surround the base. The Travis Reserve Area Resource Overlay Zone and its corresponding Compatibility Zones are part of the existing County General Plan and used to ensure that land uses are compatible with Travis’ operations. Flannery’s land holdings are nearly completely located in these zones. 

“California Forever” threatens not only local water resources, but water security across the state

Water is a particularly scarce resource in rural Solano County, an already climate-stressed area. The region is grappling with impacts of extreme heat, prolonged periods of drought, and greater variability in rainfall year-to-year.

 

Flannery Associates faces multiple challenges to secure a stable water source for their proposed community. 

 

The investor group claims that they have sufficient water rights without joining a potential North Bay Aqueduct expansion and would be looking to buy additional rights, but their proposed alternatives also present challenges. Records indicate that they hold water rights for 5,330 acre feet of water per year, which could potentially support roughly 40,000 residents (the average suburban household uses roughly 1 acre-foot of water per year). But first, Flannery would have to petition the State Water Resources Control Board for a change of use from agricultural irrigation to urban uses.

 

The proposed development presents significant additional challenges to groundwater supplies. Eastern Solano County is a key source for groundwater replenishment that would be severely impacted by urban development with additions of impermeable surfaces and infrastructure that would reduce groundwater recharge capabilities and increase runoff.

Solano County exceeded its housing goals—permitting over 10,000 homes since 2015—but prices continue to rise because high resource cities are not building enough housing for their growing workforce.

Flannery Associates have been pushing a narrative that building a new city is the only way to tackle our regional housing crisis—but that’s inaccurate. Solano County communities have a strong pro-housing track record, as evidenced through having the fastest development process of all Bay Area Counties (HCD).  Additionally, six of Solano County’s eight cities have had their housing elements certified by the state, with the final two (Benicia and Vallejo) currently under review.  And recent housing bills, like AB2011, in 2022, and SB423, in 2023, will enable the construction of significant amounts of new infill housing projects, by streamlining the development process, cutting red tape, and allowing more new homes to be built in the right places -in existing communities near jobs, transit, and services. 

 

Rather than continue to put the burden of housing on Solano, Flannery Associates should prioritize housing in their own communities in San Francisco and the Peninsula, where job growth has boomed over the last decade, yet NIMBYs have stalled or prevented development through use of CEQA processes and organized opposition on tenuous environmental grounds. Of Solano County’s 260,000 residents, roughly 50% work outside the county, and over 11,000 Solano County residents work in San Francisco (LEHD).  During the 2010s, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties added eight and ten jobs for every home built, respectively, while Solano County added just three jobs for every home built, a much more sustainable ratio (LEHD, California DOF).  While we are excited to support more housing in Solano’s existing communities, the regional housing crisis cannot be solved without the participation of high-resource cities in the inner Bay Area that have been denying much-needed housing for decades.

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