California Forever CEO Defends Decision to Sue Local Farmers

Jan Sramek, the CEO behind the controversial California Forever project, appeared at Bloomberg’s annual tech conference in San Francisco on Thursday. He was treated to a not-exactly-amiable discussion with one of the outlet’s reporters, Karen Breslau. For the most part, Sramek tried to keep it together as he was asked a series of pointed questions about his quixotic project.

California Forever is a proposed development in Solano County, California, that would see a brand new city built on thousands of acres of Bay Area farmland. Flannery Associates, the company behind the project, spent years secretly purchasing land parcels, only to disclose its true intentions after substantial scrutiny by the news media. In one case, where some longtime landowners initially refused to sell to the company, California Forever accused them of “price fixing” and sued them. The lawsuit has been a sore point between the local community and the developers ever since. On Thursday, Breslau brought up the suit and asked Sramek why it seemed like a good idea.

“You then sued—you brought a federal antitrust action—against a number of longtime land owners in Solano County and accused them of price-fixing, of collusion…That case is still working its way through the federal bankruptcy court. These are your future neighbors. What were you thinking?”

“It was a hard decision but we have laws on the books that protect against that kind of conduct,” Sramek eventually answered, while referring to the farmers the company had sued as a “price-fixing ring.”

“What is the law that says if you want my property and I don’t want to sell it to you, you drag me to court?” Breslau shot back.

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“There’s no law like that,” Sramek admitted. “What we have a law against is that if the six gas stations in town get together and say that they’re gonna charge $50 for gas, then there’s price-fixing laws against that and we had actual emails and actual text messages between land owners saying ‘Hey we want to sell to these guys but if we all get together and agree on a higher price we can get more money.’”

Breslau later asked Sramek about whether the local community supported the project or not. At local “town hall” meetings about the project, locals have notably stood up and screamed at Sramek over and over again. “There’s a lot of unhappiness in the region [about the project], there’s also a lot of curiosity. It’s very mixed,” Breslau said.

Sramek claimed that many people in Solano County supported the project. “We have so many supporters who are third, fourth, fifth generation Solano County residents. We have nurses, doctors, and teachers, we now have elected officials,” claimed Sramek. “We have now gotten to the point where people are evangelizing to their neighbors and dispelling all of this misinformation that the no-growth or de-growth forces in the county have spread,” he said.

“Is there anything you’d do differently?” Breslau asked, towards the end of the conversation.

Sramek said that anytime you’re building something “of this scale, of course, you’re going to make a lot of mistakes along the way.”

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