Outstanding conservation group calls for resistance

A distinguished environmental group on Thursday spoke out against plans backed by Silicon Valley billionaires for a brand new utopian city the scale of Vallejo in Solano County.

The Solano Land Trust, which has close ties to Bay Area environmental groups and works with state agencies comparable to the Coastal Conservancy and the Department of Fish and Wildlife, is urging county residents to vote against the project to rebuild town from the bottom up in November when it’s scheduled to go to a referendum to rezone 17,500 acres of agricultural land.

“A development of this magnitude will adversely affect Solano County's water resources, air quality, transportation, farmland and natural environment,” the land trust said in a news release. “The associated pollution will be harmful to both our community and environmental health.”

The California Forever project was launched in 2017 under the leadership of former Wall Street trader Jan Sramek, with financial backing from billionaire enterprise capitalists Marc Andreessen and Michael Moritz, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and businesswoman Laurene Powell Jobs. Through its real estate arm Flannery Associates, California Forever spent five years secretly buying up tens of hundreds of acres of ranchland before suddenly sparking an indignant outcry amongst Solano County residents by filing a $510 million lawsuit against the recalcitrant landowners, whom it accused of conspiring to overcharge them out of “endless greed.”

Suddenly thrust into the highlight, the plan soon became embroiled in a broader controversy, with doubts and pointed questions coming from local and state officials to members of the U.S. Congress. Farmers against the project say it will destroy necessary agricultural products and a lifestyle that stretches back through generations of ranching families.

In April, California Forever, which has spent greater than $800 million to purchase greater than 60,000 acres, said it had collected and submitted greater than 20,000 signatures to county officials, excess of the 13,000 valid signatures it must get on the November ballot. Solano County officials say They will determine by Monday whether the supporters have enough signatures.

In response to the land trust's renewed opposition to the project, California Forever said in a press release Thursday that it was limiting its plan to 17,500 acres and considering it at a protected distance from sensitive areas comparable to the San Francisco Bay Delta and the Suisun Marsh.

“We propose a compact, sustainable community with no ecological habitat, on poor soils, and with low fire hazard, as shown by official state and county maps,” California Forever said. “Because of the poor soils, the entire 17,500 acres produce only $6 million in agricultural output per year – just 1.6% of Solano County's total $385 million production.”

Until this week, the land trust had deliberately avoided commenting on whether the project should go ahead. But tensions were brewing. Late last 12 months, Sramek and his wife donated $20,000 to the trust, and California Forever announced the funding at a town hall meeting and on its website, calling the cash a grant. The land trust's executive director, Nicole Braddock, denied in a message to her organization's mailing list that the cash was a grant — which could indicate the trust supported the project — and returned the cash. Sramek then responded with a response that California Forever posted on Facebook, accusing Braddock of defaming him, his wife and California Forever.

Even within the wake of that bitter public dispute, Braddock told this news organization in January, “The Land Trust has not yet taken a position on the project.”

Braddock said in a telephone interview Thursday that the choice to reject the project got here after careful evaluation and weighing the proposal against the trust's mission to guard land and water for future generations.

“The public is very concerned about the water,” Braddock said, noting that Solano County officials have said a brand new state water plan could the district's water supply is significantly affected in drought years. “The community is really concerned about traffic and the pollution that comes with it. The community is concerned about people coming from outside our community with a lot of money to buy land and decide how we should develop it.”

Braddock also objected to California Forever's designation of the event area as substandard land since it provides wildlife habitat, helps recharge groundwater and enables environmentally friendly agriculture. “We grow food there using only rainwater,” Braddock said.

California Forever said its project has already received commitments from employers and may also include the development of California's largest solar farm. The proposed ballot initiative, the corporate said, offers a chance to “upgrade our communities from Vallejo to Dixon and from Fairfield to Rio Vista.”

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