Mar 22, 2024

A closer look at California Forever

By John Garamendi, Representative for California’s 8th Congressional District

(Originally published in the Spring 2024 issue of California Waterfowl) 


Should a new city of 400,000 residents be built on the western edge of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta?

When it comes to Delta issues, we usually think of water grabs, peripheral canals, tunnels and sea level rise. However, a new mega-city just west of Rio Vista will have equally harmful effects as any water raids.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast, gives life to California every day. The Delta provides drinking water to nearly two-thirds of our state — water that allows cities to thrive and vast farmlands to flourish. The Delta, and the surrounding area, are habitats for a unique abundance of plants, waterfowl and wildlife.

Those of us who call the Delta home experience these wonders firsthand and witness the prosperity that pours from the meeting of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers. As long-time residents of the Delta, my wife Patti and I have worked tirelessly to save the Delta, fighting off water grabs like the peripheral canal and Governor Newsom’s Delta tunnel boondoggle. We have promoted civic action in the historic communities, conserved unique biological areas and secured money for flood protection. In 2019, Congress passed my bill establishing a National Heritage Area encompassing the entire Delta. As lieutenant governor, California state land commissioner, and deputy secretary of the Interior under President Clinton, I helped conserve agricultural land throughout the country. During my years of service, I have seen terrible developments that forever destroy the natural life of a region. California Forever’s plan for a new city at the very edge of the Delta in Solano County is one of the most shortsighted and damaging plans I have ever seen.

In 2016, a secret Delaware-based LLC named Flannery Associates began to buy farmland between Rio Vista and Fairfield, shelling out over $800 million to purchase 64,000 acres of farmland, zoned agriculture and open space. Despite intense efforts by Solano County and Fairfield city officials and myself, Flannery Associates’ lawyers hid the source of their money and their intentions. In 2023, after five years of intense pressure from myself and Congressman Thompson, the U.S. Treasury and the FBI began to investigate risk to Travis Air Force Base. This forced Flannery Associates to disclose some of their investors and their intention to build a city.

Knowing that their years-long secrecy produced tremendous distrust, Flannery Associates changed their name to “California Forever” and quickly assembled a slick public relations team to rebrand their efforts as socially and environmentally friendly. But hiding behind that veneer are the same old strong-arm, mobster tactics they have been using to force families from their land. Even now, Flannery Associates/California Forever is suing six farm families demanding $510,000,0000 in damages, claiming the families are a “secret conspiracy” and using “anticompetitive” practices in violation of anti-trust laws. You do not have to be a lawyer to know that refusing to sell land that has been in your family for generations is not a violation of our country’s antitrust laws. The irony of a group of Silicon Valley billionaires using their unfathomable wealth to sue landowners for acting like a monopoly is despicable and reveals everything we need to know about the character and intentions of Flannery Associates/California Forever.

Aside from the heavy-handed attempt to bully people off their property, Flannery Associates/California Forever has not considered the impact that developing this 400,000-resident boondoggle will have on residents in the Delta, the nearby communities and the Delta ecology. There must be answers to the obvious questions of ecological damage, water supply, sanitation, highway congestion, schools, medical systems, fire stations, and who will pay for all of this. The immediate issue facing Flannery Associates/California Forever is that their plans are incompatible with Solano County’s general plan and Orderly Growth Ordinance. In 2008, for the third time in 30 years, Solano County voters restricted urban growth to existing cities and placed nearly all of the 64,000 acres acquired by Flannery Associates/California Forever in agriculture and open space zones.

Even if Flannery Associates/California Forever can convince Solano County residents to change county laws, they face additional environmental challenges. This area is home to numerous endangered and threatened species and is a key corridor of the Pacific Flyway. Converting thousands of acres of prime agricultural and open land into a massive urban city will undoubtedly harm waterfowl and other migratory bird species and trigger protections of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The last issue of this magazine covered the important role that agricultural operations can have in supporting waterfowl as they migrate through California. The 20 miles of undeveloped farmland between Rio Vista and Fairfield is a prime example of the synergy between agriculture and the migrating waterfowl. At best, Flannery Associates/California Forever is naïve about the ecological damage their project will cause to the Delta and the myriad environmental reviews the project would have to clear. At worst, they know and just do not care.

An honest “California Forever” is not a new city. It is a healthy Delta and surrounding landscape that preserves the diverse and respectful land uses we now practice. It is ensuring agricultural families can stay on their land, restoring our wetlands to support wildlife and waterfowl, and supporting wider use of conservation easements for willing landowners. Only through continuing our established conservation efforts can we preserve a landscape that provides a resilient water supply, boundless recreation opportunities and robust waterfowl populations for our hunters. The coming months will present several opportunities to publicly challenge Flannery Associates/California Forever and reaffirm that open space is far more valuable than a new city and the ego and greed of Silicon Valley billionaires.