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Billionaire-Backed Bid for New Solano County City Is Closer to November Ballot

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Residents fill a town hall meeting in Rio Vista on Dec. 5, 2023, for California Forever, a proposed California city backed by Silicon Valley investors on farmland in eastern Solano County. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

This story was updated on April 30, 2024, at 11:15 a.m.

California Forever has gathered enough signatures to qualify its measure for the November ballot, representatives for the billionaire-backed company said Tuesday.

The company, which hopes to transform farmland in Eastern Solano County into a dense, walkable city, must first get its plan approved by voters. However, California Forever had to submit just over 13,000 signatures to get on the ballot.

The Solano County Registrar’s Office confirmed with KQED that they had received the signatures early Tuesday morning. The company claims it collected over 20,000 signatures, but the registrar’s office will spend the next five days counting each signature individually to make sure they have enough to qualify.

Tuesday’s announcement marked a turning point in a campaign that’s been controversial from the start. Despite revealing the ballot initiative in mid-January, California Forever didn’t begin collecting signatures until late March due to back-and-forth with the registrar’s office over the ballot language. The company also faced accusations that the firm it hired to gather signatures, PCI Consultants, was misrepresenting the initiative and manipulating voters into signing it.


California Forever has denied those allegations.

On Tuesday, Jan Sramek, CEO of California Forever, characterized the speedy signature-gathering effort as an endorsement for the plan itself, noting workers gathered 7,000 more signatures than required.

“That number reflects the breadth and depth of support for the East Solano plan across Solano County, from all walks of life, all parts of the county who are saying the same thing: Yes,” he said.

But Paul Mitchell, who heads the political polling organization Redistricting Partners, said signature gathering can be done quickly — if you’re willing to pay for it.

“These signature firms, when they have the resources to hire staff, don’t fail in collecting signatures,” he said. “The signature-gathering process is very mechanical. So if you have the resources to pay for all those mechanics, you’ll be fine.”

While the Secretary of State’s Office did not confirm or deny whether it was investigating any formal complaints against California Forever, a spokesperson at the Solano County Registrar’s Office said at least nine people had emailed the office, complaining about misconduct.

Vacaville resident Tina Collins said she saw that conduct first-hand in early April from a signature gatherer standing outside a Walmart Supercenter in Dixon. She said the worker handed her several pieces of paper to sign, but she was confused about what she was approving. When she refused to sign the documents, she said the signature gatherer followed her to her car.

“I felt extremely uncomfortable,” she said. “I haven’t heard much about [California Forever], but from what I’ve heard, I don’t think it’s promising.”

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California Forever may have an uphill battle ahead of them as they seek approval from voters, who have been deeply skeptical of the plan since it was unveiled last August. It, along with its parent company, Flannery Associates, were forced to reveal their identities after spending the past six years discreetly buying about 60,000 acres of land in the Montezuma Hills. Since going public, California Forever has been met with harsh criticism from several lawmakers, affordable housing advocates and residents.

A poll conducted in early March by FM3 Research on behalf of the Greenbelt Alliance, an organization staunchly opposed to the project, found that 60% of people aware of the company’s plan opposed it.

But despite vocal naysayers, some Solano County voters are supportive. Tyree Carrie lives in Suisun City, a few miles from the proposed new town. He said if it makes it to the November ballot, he’ll vote “Yes.”

“I feel it’s something that’s very necessary,” he said. “There’s a lot of people who are struggling with housing in general, so I think it’s awesome when there are more options available and being able to generate income in an area, as far as giving people work.”

Among the myriad of promises California Forever has tied to its proposal, the company said it would bring 15,000 new jobs with higher-than-average pay. A recent study conducted by Michael Genest, the former California Director of Finance, found a “significant economic gap between Solano County and its neighbors in the Bay Area,” with a 30% gap in average household income between Solano County residents and other Bay Area residents, based on 2022 numbers.

“In cities like Fairfield and [others], there’s not a lot of good-paying jobs and not a lot of affordable housing either,” said Niyah Proctor, a Fairfield resident. “The state of California is really expensive, so I feel like we should add more places for people to be able to afford.”

To woo more voters like Carrie and Proctor and get its initiative approved, California Forever promised to spend big bucks on its campaign. Just how much won’t be publicly available until the company files its campaign finance statements.

Bob Stern, who served on the first council of the Fair Political Practices Commission, said deep pockets don’t necessarily guarantee a “Yes” vote.

“Just because you spend a lot of money doesn’t mean you’re going to win an election,” he said. “It does mean you’re going to get on the ballot.”

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