(BCN) — A group of Silicon Valley investors behind a land acquisition company called Flannery Associates LLC launched a website Thursday previewing plans for building a new city in Solano County, days after California lawmakers at the state and federal level urged more transparency from the company.
The California state Senate’s agriculture committee held a hearing Tuesday that covered threats to California’s agriculture industry and heard testimony on the land acquisitions, which have included 400 parcels bought up over the last five years by a company that had no identifiable officers or investors.
Flannery Associates has bought 55,000 acres of land since 2018, much of it owned by family farmers, but investors in the company remained hidden because it was registered in Delaware, which does not require a corporation’s officers to be public.
“Just last week, Aug. 22, Flannery Associates finally revealed, after five years, their plan to use an initiative to override local zoning that protects Travis Air Force Base and the farmers, in order to build a mega-city east of Fairfield,” said U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, who testified during the state hearing.
Garamendi said that the company spent $800 million to buy land in the county and resorted to using legal tactics against reluctant residents.
“Flannery Associates is using secrecy, bullying and mobster tactics to force generational farm families to sell,” he said.
The company filed a federal lawsuit in May against several families that it contends colluded to drive up the price of their land. Brian Brokaw, a spokesman for Flannery Associates, did not address Garamendi’s comments when asked for a response, but said in a statement on behalf of the company:
“We’re pleased to be engaged in productive discussions with local leaders about our vision to deliver good-paying jobs, affordable housing, walkable communities, and open space to Solano County. Our team is working closely with the community and local leaders to craft a shared vision for Solano County’s future.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a statement Wednesday that he had met with one of the founders of Flannery Associates on Tuesday but was left with the impression that the group did not have a specific plan for the land that has been acquired over the last five years.
“The secrecy under which they operated caused consternation and concern from residents, local elected officials, and federal agencies, and while they explained their rationale, I do not believe the secrecy was necessary,” Thompson said.
Thompson urged the group to work with local leaders and residents rather than keep them guessing.
“Solano County is a tight-knit community, and it is going to be a long road for Flannery to restore trust and move forward with their proposed vision,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s office did not respond to a request to identify the founder with whom he met, but Brokaw confirmed it was the group’s CEO Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader.
The company on Thursday publicly announced the website for California Forever. It claims California Forever is the parent company of Flannery Associates and lists other investors as “Marc Andreessen, Patrick and John Collison, Chris Dixon, John Doerr, Nat Friedman, Daniel Gross, Reid Hoffman, Michael Moritz, Laurene Powell Jobs, and the California investment firm Andreessen Horowitz.”
Brokaw said Sramek and others planned to continue to meet with local elected officials and community members over the next few weeks. The company says on its website that it operated in secrecy for five years because it wanted to “avoid creating a rush of reckless short-term land speculation.”
The company confirmed its plan to put its idea of building a population center in eastern Solano County to a vote, but it did not specify when. A 2008 Solano County amendment to its master plan limits urban growth outside of incorporated cities, among other restrictions, so any changes like the ones proposed by the company would have to be approved by voters.
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