A “land exchange” with three Solano County public entities that was proposed this week by a group of billionaire Silicon Valley investors came with one key caveat: voters must approve their company’s plan to build a new city in Solano County on land it has acquired in a buying spree dating back to 2018.
The company, California Forever, which is the parent company of Flannery Associates LLC, posted Tuesday an open letter on its website to representatives for the city of Fairfield, Solano County, and the Solano County Water Agency, offering to give up 1,573 acres of land the company acquired near Travis Air Force Base in exchange for 1,403 acres owned by the three public entities.
The company dangled the completion of a contiguous nature preserve and maintaining public ownership of land adjacent to the base as incentive for its proposal, but specified that everything was off the table if voters reject a so far unspecified ballot measure to change the county’s current development plan. That would allow the company to begin to pursue its goal of building a city in the southeastern part of the county.
“Put plainly, if the voters or any regulatory agencies whose approvals would be required later do not approve our plans, the exchange agreement would terminate … ”
Excerpt from California Forever’s open letter to SCWA
The company, which has acquired about 60,000 acres of land, according to court documents, plans to put forth a measure on the local ballot in November 2024, but has not publicly released the proposal or its process for how it would get on the ballot. Any large-scale urban development outside of existing cities would require changes to the Solano County General Plan, approved by voters in 2008.
“Put plainly, if the voters or any regulatory agencies whose approvals would be required later do not approve our plans, the exchange agreement would terminate, we would cover all legal and other costs of the public agencies incurred in negotiating the exchange, and everything would remain the same as it is today,” the letter said.
Investors in California Forever include its founder and CEO Jan Sramek, who is a former Goldman Sachs trader, Marc Andreessen, Netscape founder and venture capitalist, and LinkedIn co-founder and venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, along with others. The company drew scrutiny from lawmakers for avoiding publicly identifying who was behind the spate of land acquisitions near Travis Air Force Base, and for suing reluctant sellers that it accused of conspiring to inflate land prices.
The group went public in August with the launch of a website, meetings with elected officials and media interviews. It said it maintained secrecy to “avoid creating a rush of reckless short-term land speculation.”
An unprecedented offer
Solano County Water Agency general manager Chris Lee said the water agency received a link to the letter via email Tuesday morning. He said the water agency would likely consider the offer, which he said would be unprecedented for the water agency.
“Something like this has never been done before,” Lee said.
He said Sramek had contacted him on Friday and suggested that he would attend the water agency’s meeting Thursday and speak during the public comment period about the proposal. If the agency decides to formally consider the land exchange, it would have to be voted onto the agenda for a later meeting, and would likely be considered behind closed doors, as it involves a real estate transaction.
Matthew Davis, a spokesperson for Solano County, said the county had also received the letter on Tuesday and is currently reviewing the offer.
The exchange of parcels would form a contiguous, 15,000-acre nature preserve on the Jepson Prairie that local agencies have been planning for decades as part of a Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan, led by the county water agency.
The federal lawsuit against dozens of landowners is continuing, with a hearing scheduled for Dec. 6 to review defense motions to dismiss the case and to issue a protective order to prevent the defendants from having to produce certain material to Flannery Associates for discovery while that motion is pending.
California Forever representatives did not respond to questions by the time of publication.
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