California Forever’s previously promised “listening tour” continued Monday afternoon in Fairfield, with Paradise Valley Estates hosting a forum for residents to ask community and business leaders questions about the proposed new city in eastern Solano County.
Jan Sramek, CEO of California Forever, moderated a panel discussion with state Sen. Bill Dodd, Solano County Supervisor Mitch Mashburn, and retired Travis AFB pilot Steve Vancil about the company’s proposed developments on the 50,000-plus acres it has purchased over the last five years.
The forum gave each panelist the opportunity to address community residents and answer questions from other panelists and the audience. As regulators expressed their concerns about how the project will affect Travis Air Force Base and the county as a whole, Sramek was repeatedly pressed for more information on his company’s plans.
According to California Forever polling, 81% of Solano County parents do not believe their children will be able to have a future in Solano County, and Sramek asked his fellow panelists what they plan to do about it. Dodd believes those concerns are not unique to Solano County or California, and he is skeptical that a new city will change those responses.
“I just don’t think a project like this is going to change that polling in any significant way,” said Dodd.
But Sramek pushed back, criticizing the North Bay Aqueduct’s water quality, which he claims has some of the most polluted water in the state, as well as other issues confronting the county. He also stated that the same polling mentioned above found that nearly half of the county believes the proposed project is a good idea.
“For every time that someone says ‘this is a bad project’ I think it’s worth asking ‘well, then, what is the alternative?'” Sramek stated.
Mashburn stated that the county is working hard to find new economic drivers in the area, and that cities in the county are doing the same. Mashburn, on the other hand, said he has three children and shares many of the survey’s concerns.
“Jan is right,” he went on to say, “We need more affordable housing.”
Sramek said the company will open at least one physical office in the coming weeks, and the project will have dozens of employees who will interact with the public about the company’s proposals, taking feedback and answering questions over the next few months before a more fully fleshed-out plan is released in January. California Forever is taking this listening tour seriously, according to Sramek, and does not want to finalize plans before hearing all public feedback.
Sramek, who is originally from the Czech Republic, shared some of his personal story. He was born in California, the son of a teacher and a car mechanic, and had the opportunity to study in the United Kingdom as a young man before moving to California ten years ago. He learned about Solano County on fishing trips to the Sacramento Delta, he previously told The Reporter, and had the idea to transform it into a walkable city like the ones he enjoyed in Europe.
Sramek said it saddens him to hear about people leaving the state or having to commute for hours because there are no affordable housing options near their employers, and he hopes the project can help.
“It was a very long shot when we started six years ago,” he told me, “but through a lot of hard work, we got here.”
When asked about the threat to Travis AFB’s strategic operations, Sramek stated that the company has no plans to build within a two-mile radius of the base. He previously told The Reporter that they will not build any closer to Travis than existing City of Fairfield developments.
While California Forever cannot promise to pay for upgrades to the North Bay Aqueduct and Highway 12, Sramek reiterated that the company is willing to be a part of the solution if the project is approved. Sramek also stated that the company may be interested in constructing a desalination plant to provide water to the community or purchasing water from outside the county.
One attendee inquired about the Rio Vista City Manager’s most recent weekly update, which stated that a meeting between city staff and California Forever representatives took place last week, and that “CF representatives stated they have not made a decision on where their city(ies) will be located but expect the overall population to be somewhere in the 400,000 range.” At the forum, Sramek downplayed this figure, claiming he had no idea where it came from.
Later, a representative for California Forever contacted The Reporter to clarify their position.
“I mentioned that our higher-range estimate for the population would be 100,000-400,000 people,” said Gabe Metcalf, the company’s head of planning. “As planners, we talk and think in very long-term time-horizons — to be specific, those estimates would span several decades.” In the medium term, reaching a fraction of that number — perhaps 50,000 people by 2040 — would be an ambitious goal for the new community.
According to Sramek, the property being built on is nonirrigatable land with low agricultural and ecological values, making it ideal for a project of this nature. Mailers containing information and a survey about the company’s proposals are being distributed throughout the county in order to continue collecting data and informing the public, he said.
Dodd, who left the event early, stated that even if California Forever is successful in changing the General Plan and gaining county approval, they will not be able to avoid the California Environmental Quality Act or other state-level regulations.
“My mom always told me, if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all,” Dodd told me. “I don’t think I listened very well.”
Dodd thanked Sramek for coming, but said he found his language, particularly about the Aqueduct, to be derogatory. All North Bay Aqueduct members agree that the intake line needs to be relocated, but the project will cost nearly a billion dollars.
“I’m afraid I have no advice for you,” Dodd admitted.
Mashburn expressed concern about the changes to the area and their implications for the county as a whole, as well as what might happen if California Forever withdraws from the project abruptly.
“Our economy is cyclical,” he went on to say, “and as cycles happen, developers come and go.”
Mashburn expressed concern about the plan’s lack of specifics thus far, and he fears that Solano County will be used as a Petri dish in this experiment.
“Until we see a plan, this particular project is all hat and no cattle,” he added.
However, Sramek stated that the purpose of this listening tour is to hear these concerns and incorporate them into the plan that they hope to release in January, which will include more information about transit, Travis, and the proposed water supply.
“Hopefully what you’ve seen today is that we understand the gravity of the situation,” he went on to say.