Congressman warns new Solano Co. city will disrupt 'critical training operations' at Travis AFB

Stephanie Sierra Image
Wednesday, February 7, 2024
A possible hurdle for CA Forever's new city in Solano County
Congressman John Garamendi warns the proposed new Solano County city will disrupt "critical training operations" at Travis Air Force Base.

SOLANO COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- There's new pushback to the proposal to build a new city in Solano County. This time, it's coming from officials at Travis Air Force Base.

Congressman John Garamendi told ABC7 these new concerns will impact our national security and potential future operations at the base itself. This comes a few weeks after California Forever launched their ballot initiative to take to voters.

"If this city is ever built as proposed in the initiative, Travis Air Force Base will be in deep existential trouble," Garamendi said.

RELATED: Here's a glimpse into Solano Co.'s proposed new city with newly-released blueprints, renderings

The billionaire-backed group that's working to build a new city in Solano County filed a ballot initiative Wednesday to take to voters.

The Concerns

Following a meeting with U.S. Air Force personnel, Garamendi says the base is concerned that the coordinates for the new city would be directly beneath critical flight zones. If built, he says necessary training for combat missions, also known as sorties, would be impossible to do.

"Right now, 120,000 times a year on average, Travis Air Force Base conducts night vision sorties as though they were operating in a war zone, having to land on a contested air base," Garamendi said. "And that would be impossible if there's a city because of the ambient light from the city."

Travis Air Force Base officials provided the following statement to the I-Team:

"The current plans for a new city would degrade training flights. Construction of an industrial zone located where these training flights are flown will force aircraft to raise altitudes to meet FAA flight obstruction clearance regulations. Any new industrial zones require careful consideration and coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to mitigate these concerns. Any impact on airspace has the potential to affect both real-world and training missions in the vicinity."

RELATED: Survey results show how Solano Co. residents feel about new 'walkable, affordable city'

The base also clarified that sorties encompass numerous types of flights, including real-world operations, exercises, and training flights, which consist of multiple "touch-and-go" landings, patterns and night-vision goggle training.

Air Force officials added while the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis AFB is the primary user of the airspace, other services, including the National Guard and reserve units, also utilize the airspace for both real world and training sorties.

According to Travis Air Force Base, any large construction projects near active military installations require careful consideration by all state, federal and local agencies.

"Due to the high operations tempo at Travis AFB, it's important to consider impacts to both mission and the team. Some of our ongoing challenges include traffic congestion along Highway 12, environmental concerns and primarily, the safety and security of the installation. Our security includes consideration for residential and commercial developments and the impacts they may have on base operations," the base told the I-Team.

RELATED: California Forever opens 2 offices where residents can preview 'new walkable city'

In the ballot initiative released last month, California Forever CEO Jan Sramek said the security buffer around the base, seen below in light green, would be nearly doubled, as illustrated in orange on the map. He also added he's locating the community outside of the noise contours and accident potential zones.

But this map obtained by the I-Team shows a different perspective from the base.

According to the rendering of the base's local air traffic areas, the proposed new city is pushing into the military's space designated for radar patterns and airspace - colored in turquoise and green on the map.

RELATED: California Forever opens 2 offices where residents can preview 'new walkable city'

The map also shows two dots labeled "museum" and "creed" where sources have confirmed critical training operations take place that are bordering the city's blueprint.

According to a statement provided by Travis Air Force Base officials:

"These specific waypoints are also vital for night vision goggle (NVG) training, which requires minimum illumination in a nighttime environment. The proposal will increase environmental light pollution, hampering NVG training and increasing the risk to force."

RELATED: California Forever opens 2 offices where residents can preview 'new walkable city'

Rep. Garamendi says this would interfere with practice for combat missions also known in the military as 'daytime sorties.'

"Their daytime sorties, practice sorties - would be directly over a good portion of that city where they fly at a high altitude, descend very, very rapidly to make a very tight turn onto a very short runway," said Garamendi. "They will not be able to do that, if that city is ever built."

This wasn't a problem before because the land that borders the base has always been zoned for agricultural use. So the only witnesses to these practices are mostly cows, sheep, and endless miles of grazing land.

The congressman also raised concern this community, if built, will have to deal with a lot of noise. Specifically, C-5s and C-17s - which are used for the rapid delivery of troops - that would fly directly over the proposed city to access or leave the base.

"Therefore, the sound interruptions would make it very difficult for the city to operate," Garamendi said.

But Sramek says he's committed to making the base stronger. The CEO told voters last month the company's first goal is to be a great neighbor to Travis.

"We knew we had to protect the base," said Sramek, adding he also wants to provide affordable homes to young military families.

But this is the first time we're getting insight these plans could negatively impact Travis, one of the most critical military bases in the U.S.

"And associates didn't bother to find out ahead of time what impacts would exist," Garamendi said.

RELATED: Heated town hall in Vallejo over California Forever's proposed new city in Solano Co.

Last September, the I-Team asked Sramek about that.

Stephanie Sierra: "When did you first reach out to Travis Air Force Base?"

Jan Sramek: "After we announced, basically immediately after we announced the plans publicly - a month ago, probably."

Sierra: "If the intent was to build a city years ago, why did you purchase land around Travis Air Force Base early on?"

Sramek: "Because we wanted to be able to work with Travis in a way that that protects Travis and that makes Travis stronger."

Sierra: "How can you work with Travis if you only communicated with them a month ago for the first time?"

Sramek: "Because we never proposed to do anything before then. We knew that we would want talk to Travis before we ever proposed anything."

California Forever responds:

"California Forever's top priority has always been protecting and supporting Travis Air Force Base. That's why we carefully chose a location for the new community that fully complies with all regulations that address the impact of air flight operations on land use around the base," said spokesperson Brian Brokaw.

What's next?

Enough signatures would have to be gathered in order for the initiative to make it on the November ballot. For more information on California Forever's plans, click here.

Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.

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