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California Forever proposes land exchange that protects Travis Air Force Base, creates a 15,000-acre contiguous preserve on the Jepson Prairie, and funds completion of the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan

By California Forever · Tue Nov 07 2023

Solano County
675 Texas Street
Fairfield, CA 94533
Attn: William Emlen, County Administrator

City of Fairfield
1000 Webster Street
Fairfield, CA 94533
Attn: David Gassaway, City Manager

Solano County Water Agency
810 Vaca Valley Parkway, Suite 203
Vacaville, CA 95688
Attn: Chris Lee, General Manager

November 7, 2023

Dear Mr. Emlen, Mr. Gassaway, and Mr. Lee,

California Forever is committed to finding win-win solutions to big problems that help all of Solano County. When we announced our project, we stated two principles about what to protect: (1) Protect and support Travis Air Force Base, and (2) Protect Solano’s open space and prime agricultural lands.

We recently learned that certain parcels northeast of Travis AFB were identified as targets for acquisition and protection by public agencies under the Department of Defense's Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) program, but by that time the parcels were identified, our company had already acquired them (see the REPI priority parcel map attached below). In addition, we learned this Friday, November 3rd, that Solano County Water Agency’s environmental consultants, LSA, expressed a concern that it would be challenging to complete the goals of the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan without some of our properties.

Drawing on the two principles stated above, and on two months of active conversations with local officials and stakeholders, we have identified an opportunity for a multi-benefit land exchange that would help resolve both of these issues.

Under the proposal, Solano County, the City of Fairfield, and Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) would exchange 1,403 acres of pasture lands with medium habitat values that these agencies purchased for environmental purposes 6-10 miles east of Travis AFB for 1,573 acres owned by California Forever with highest habitat values, located on the Jepson Prairie, next to Travis AFB, and which were previously designated as top priority for acquisition and protection by public agencies under the REPI program. These 1,573 acres the agencies would receive on the northeast side of Travis AFB would add to over 2,000 acres that the City of Fairfield and the Solano County Water Agency already own east and south of Travis AFB for the same reasons – protecting Travis AFB and sensitive environmental habitat. In addition, California Forever would contribute $1 million to fund the completion of the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan.

The details of the proposal with additional maps are shown below in Exhibit A, but the essence is captured in the following map from the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan. Currently, the public agencies own the 1,403 acres shown in orange, blue, and purple hatching, across 3 separate holdings. In this exchange, that acreage would be swapped for the large area east of Travis AFB runway, and near the the Assault Landing Strip, shown in yellow hatching.

We understand that many public officials and voters in Solano County have not made a decision about whether to support our proposed project. That’s why closing this exchange would be expressly conditional on the voters approving a ballot measure proposed by California Forever in November 2024, and all subsequent permitting being completed. 

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.

We believe this exchange proposal is a win-win transaction that makes good sense for all sides involved. We believe that the public agencies and the public at large would benefit in six ways:

  1. The public agencies would acquire properties previously identified as priority purchases for protection of Travis AFB under the REPI program.

  2. The public agencies would increase the environmental value of their holdings, by moving their holdings from areas with lower conservation values to an area with higher conservation values, as explained in more detail below.

  3. The public agencies would increase the environmental value of their holdings by exchanging 3 separate and scattered holdings for one contiguous holding which is the capstone property for creation of a contiguous 15,000-acre regional preserve on the Jepson Prairie, which would create priceless contiguous habitat and migration corridor.

  4. The public agencies would increase the acreage of the holdings they own by 170 acres, from 1,403 acres to 1,573 acres.

  5. Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan would be updated to include our project, and would benefit from the availability of some of our lands for environmental mitigation. This would help solve the issues identified in the recent memo from SCWA's consultant, LSA, which stated that completing the Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan could be more challenging without access to our lands for mitigation purposes.

  6. California Forever would contribute $1 million to funding the costs of completing the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan, saving money for the tax-payers and rate-payers of Solano County.

This offer is a summary of terms of the proposed transaction. The details and full agreements (including how the parcels are divided among the three agencies) would be negotiated with the staff and attorneys for each of the participating agencies. Our offer is conditional on mutual approval and execution of the transaction agreements by both the agencies and by California Forever no later than December 31, 2023, such that we can reflect any such exchanges in the designs and plans which we will be presenting to the Solano community in January 2024.

We wish to emphasize here again that while the transaction would need to be agreed now so that it can be incorporated into the plans, the actual exchange would be conditional on both Solano voters and the applicable agencies and regulators ultimately approving our project. This is part of our commitment to proceed with our project only with voter approval.

The reason to agree on this transaction now is to ensure that we can propose a more orderly plan to the voters, so that IF the voters and regulators approve the proposal in the future, THEN the exchange automatically and immediately closes, thereby guaranteeing two key goals shared by the people of Solano County – creating a more contiguous and valuable environmental preserve, and transferring 1,573 acres next to Travis AFB runway into public ownership to protect the base. 

We are committed to being a partner in solving key issues facing Solano County and the region. We hope this transaction is the first of many ways that California Forever and local stakeholders can work together in a productive and collaborative fashion that benefits everyone involved. We look forward to working with all stakeholders on this multi-benefit transaction, and attending public meetings where this matter is discussed to answer any questions.

Exhibit A

Solano County, the City of Fairfield, and Solano County Water Agency (SCWA) currently own 1,403 acres on the west and east side of Hwy 113, alongside Creed Rd, approximately 6-10 miles away east from Travis AFB. It is our understanding that your agencies purchased these properties for environmental mitigation purposes. In the case of the SCWA property, the purchase was of 1,600 acres, consisting of roughly 300 acres of irrigated pasture (with water rights) and 1,300 acres of dryland pasture (without water rights). California Forever’s offer to SCWA is for 1,120 acres of mostly dryland pasture, without any water rights. The offer includes SCWA retaining majority of the irrigated pasture, and SCWA retaining 100% of the water rights. Solano County owns approximately 163 acres of dryland pasture, and the City of Fairfield owns approximately 120 acres of dryland pasture, in both cases without surface water rights. California Forever would therefore be purchasing a total of 1,403 acres. The location of these properties is as follows:

The habitat value of these properties can be seen on the following map prepared by the Solano County Water Agency in its draft Solano County Habitat Conservation Plan:

This map shows the number of conservation elements present in each hexagonal cell.  As discussed in Chapter 4 of the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan, a conservation element means the presence of a given species in each particular area, such as tiger salamander, Swainson hawk, burrowing owl, and others. The higher the number of conservation elements, the higher the number of species or other environmentally desirable attributes in that area. Solano Habitat Conservation Plan further specifies that “Priority areas for acquisition and restoration under the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan correspond to cells with four or more overlapping key conservation elements”. The map above shows that the 1,403 acres that California Forever would be acquiring have conservation values mostly of 1, 2, or 3, with only a small minority having 4 or more conservation elements.

Our offer is to acquire these 1,403 acres from public agencies in exchange for 1,573 acres, most of which we understand were identified as priority acquisitions for public agencies under the REPI program, in order to increase the public’s control over the area near the Travis AFB runway and in the Assault Landing Zone. These priority parcels are shown on the following map of Travis AFB REPI parcels, with those now owned by California Forever and being offered for exchange highlighted with yellow hatching:

The following map shows the 1,403 acres owned by public agencies and the 1,573 acres owned by California Forever on a satellite map in relation to Travis AFB:

As can be seen on the following map, in addition to being priority parcels for purposes of protecting Travis AFB, the majority of these parcels also have 4 or more conservation elements under the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan:

Finally, as can be seen on the following Figure 3-11 of the Solano Habitat Conservation Plan (that we updated to show, in blue, recent conservation easements or contracts to create conservation easements), completing this exchange would give the public ownership of all remaining properties that fill the remaining gap in the Jepson Prairie protected area. 

This exchange would therefore become the capstone achievement that substantially completes the preservation of the Jepson Prairie ecosystem, and creates a fully contiguous open space reserve of approximately 15,000 acres. The Jepson Prairie is rich in its species diversity and character and is home to many species of concern to the people of Solano County, as well as conservation groups and resource agencies charged with their stewardship. Adding the properties we are offering to exchange here to this ecosystem would be the culmination of a 30 year effort by many environmental groups and agencies to create one large contiguous habitat of 15,000 acres in this area.