Since 2018, a group called “Flannery Associates” invested more than $800 million on almost 54,000 acres of agriculture-zoned land surrounding the Travis Air Force base in Solano County, California, public records show.
Despite early speculation China was behind the purchases — amid concerns that companies with ties to China have been ramping up efforts to buy American farmland — legal representation for Flannery has maintained the group is controlled by U.S. citizens, with 97% of its capital coming from U.S.-based investors.
However, after eight months of investigation, federal officials were not able to confirm or deny this to be true, and were not able to determine exactly who was backing the company.
Now, reports from The New York Times and San Francisco Chronicle reveal Flannery is comprised of a group of ultra-wealthy Silicon Valley investors acquiring vast parcels of land northeast of San Francisco with the mission to build a new California city “from scratch.”
According to the reports, the investors’ plan for the land involves creating a new urban center that could accommodate the growing demands of the tech industry and provide a fresh environment for innovation and economic growth.
The goal, according to the reports, is to establish a new city that caters to the needs of Silicon Valley tech companies and professionals, potentially alleviating some of the challenges posed by congestion, housing shortages and high costs of living in the Bay Area.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that these land acquisitions have been met with a mix of excitement and concern from local communities and government officials.
Democratic California Rep. John Garamendi called developments around Travis Air Force Base a critical national security issue.
“The fact they chose to buy all three sides of the Travis Air Force Base even raises immediate questions about national security,” Garamendi said.
To pull off the project, according to the Times, the company will have to use the state’s initiative system to get Solano County residents to vote on it.
Garamendi said utilizing an initiative means they’re going to override the local protections that are in place for Travis Air Force Base.
According to Garamendi, the area is “heavily impacted by some very severe restrictions that prevent development and other kinds of activities that would somehow degrade or harm Travis Air Force Base.”
The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review office is currently investigating Flannery Associates. Garamendi says there are valid concerns that Flannery’s land acquisitions could be tied to foreign enemies.
“Wherever the money is coming from,” he said, “the underlying problem of securing Travis Air Force Base remains.”
Garamendi also said the “organization has been just playing nasty,” referring to farmers in the area being targeted in a lawsuit from the group.
“Please understand that this group spent five years secretly and in my estimation, using strong-arm techniques that would best be associated with monsters to acquire the land,” he said.
Garamendi said he’s been in contact with the families of farmers who handed over their land to Flannery, saying they didn’t want to sell in the first place.
Since no California laws require them to sell, the land was bargained for by both parties at a much higher price. But now, Flannery is suing those families for $510 million, accusing them of conspiring together to inflate the value of the land.
“It’s a suit designed to force the farmers to lawyer up, spend tens of thousands of dollars on lawyering and maybe at the end of the day, bankrupt themselves,” Garamendi said. “In fact, that has happened to at least one family that I know of and I’ve heard rumors that another family simply said, ‘We can’t afford the lawyers.’”
NewsNation correspondent Emily Finn contributed to this article.