Tech industry investors revealed to be behind a multi-year scheme to buy up land in a rural area of California near a major U.S. Air Force base are racing to gain support for a peculiar urban construction project, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Silicon Valley moguls invested nearly $900 million buying up acres of farmland in Solano County, often far above the market price, under a firm named Flannery Associates with hopes of constructing a utopia-like city on the area, according to the NYT. Now, the executives must beguile local entities, as well as lawmakers and federal agencies who spent months or years seeking to identify the personalities behind Flannery and rule out prospects nefarious intent, into supporting the expansive project.
In 2017, Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader, pitched an idea: to build a walkable California metropolis that could produce thousands of jobs and serve as a sort-of petri dish for new designs, construction and forms of governance, the NYT reported, citing three people familiar with the matter. Big-name tech investors, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, investors Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon and billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz among others.
Until late August, Flannery’s executives and business plan were unclear. Neither is why they opted to remain anonymous.
“We got the F.B.I. and Treasury involved,” Democratic California Rep. John Garamendi, who learned of Flannery’s identity only after being contacted by the NYT, told the outlet. Representatives had recently reached out to him to set up a meeting.
The Air Force, Department of Agriculture and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) had all launched investigations. Theories abounded, including whether the land would house new wind farms, a new port or a Chinese foreign influence operation.
Flannery previously told Solano County it “is owned by a group of families looking to diversify their portfolio from equities into real assets, including agricultural land in the western United States,” The Wall Street Journal reported in July.
Garamendi and Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson devoted four years trying to suss out the company’s identity after Solano locals began to grow suspicious, according to the NYT.
“I couldn’t find out anything,” Garamendi said.
Now, Flannery has hired political consultants to deal with conflicts that might arise as it seeks to break ground on new development, according to the NYT. It reached out to supervisors, the governor’s office and members of Congress in recent days.
It will also have to get permission from Solano County residents, likely appealing them to cast votes overturning the county’s slow-growth ordinance, according to the NYT. On the outskirts of the Bay Area, Solano is comparatively low-income, consisting of ranchers, farmers and blue-collar workers who fled the high costs of living in places like nearby San Francisco.
Sramek declined to comment to the NYT.
“We are excited to start working with Solano County residents and elected officials, as well as with Travis Air Force Base,” a spokesperson for the investors previously told the outlet.
Flannery purchased at least 20 parcels of land surround Travis AFB, known as the “Gateway to the Pacific” and home to a unit that plays a major role in facilitating global U.S. military transport.
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