The project is backed by an all-star list of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, including philanthropist Lauren Powell Jobs, LinkedIn co-founder Reed Hoffman and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. The New York Times The group’s investors and plans were first reported.
Flannery’s parent company, California Forever, has acquired more than 78 square miles of farmland in Solano County since 2018, mostly in the southeastern part of the county, with parcels stretching from Fairfield to Rio Vista. According to the website, Sramek fell in love with the area through fishing trips, and he and his wife recently bought a home in the county for their growing family.
Last month the project released a survey of residents to gauge support for “a new city with tens of thousands of new homes,” a solar energy farm and new parks funded entirely by the private sector.
But to build anything resembling a city on what is now farmland, the group must first get Solano County voters to approve a ballot initiative to allow urban uses on the land, which has been in place since 1984. Local and central authorities still have questions about the group’s intentions.
Bipartisan Congress, which has spent years trying to figure out whether foreign adversaries or investors are in the field to buy a U.S. Air Force base that’s critical to national security and the local economy, is furious that Flannery has kept his identity hidden for so long. The website says 97 percent of its funding comes from US investors and the rest from the United Kingdom and Ireland.
“The FBI, the Treasury Department, everybody is trying to figure out who these people are,” U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents much of the district, said after meeting with Sramek this week. “Their secrecy has caused a lot of trouble, a lot of time and a lot of expense.”
The investment committee said it wanted secrecy until enough land was bought to avoid short-term speculation, but was willing to hear from Solano families through a mail-in survey and the creation of a community advisory board. Past studies have shown parents are more concerned about their children’s future, the website said.
“Instead of watching our kids leave, we have the opportunity to create a new community that will attract new employers, create good-paying local jobs, build homes in walkable neighborhoods, lead the environment, and fuel a growing tax base to serve the county. Big,” it said.
California needs more housing, especially affordable housing for teachers, firefighters, service and hospitality workers. But cities and counties can’t figure out where to build because established neighborhoods argue against the new homes, which they say will congest their roads and spoil their peaceful lifestyles.
In many ways, Solano County is ripe for growth. It is 60 miles northeast of San Francisco and 35 miles southwest of Sacramento, the capital of California. With a median sales price of $600,000 last month, Solano County homes are among the most affordable in the San Francisco Bay Area.
But Suisun City Mayor Pro Tempore Princess Washington said residents deliberately decided to preserve the open space and keep the area around Travis Air Force Base unencumbered.
He suspects the group’s real intention is to “create a city for the elite” under the guise of more housing.
“The economic impact is everywhere. Why would you spend over a billion dollars to build a brand new city when you have all these things that can be accomplished all over the Bay Area?” she said.
Flannery further angered locals when he sued several landowners in May in a court case accusing them of conspiring to fix prices on their properties. The company disclosed that it has purchased or is under contract for approximately 140 properties worth more than $800 million.
Last week, residents began receiving a Bush poll gauging voter support for “a massive new plan” that would include “a new city with tens of thousands of new homes.” County residents are more likely to support the project if they are given priority and funding to lease or buy one of the new homes, the poll asked.
Thompson, the congressman, was unimpressed after meeting with Sramek, saying the developer was vague on details and failed to show any understanding or appreciation of the district or its values.
Asked how he plans to help residents finance new homes, Sremek told him Thompson plans to use “all of his knowledge as a finance guy” to build savings. Development in California has stalled, but Thompson told Sremek he hopes they will be approved quickly “because their plan is so good, their intentions are so good.”
“He doesn’t have a plan, he’s not there yet,” Thompson said.
American representative. John Karamendi, of the district that covers Travis and the immediate surrounding area, said he came to the site and county officials about five years ago for help figuring out who was buying the land. Karamendi, who is scheduled to meet with Sramek Friday, was stunned to learn who is supporting the plan.
“You super-wealthy Silicon Valley billionaires are the party to all this. Are you such a person? Is this how you want to operate?” he said. “What they managed to do was poison the well completely.”
Hoffman and Andreessen did not respond to emailed requests for comment, and neither did Jobs through his business, Emerson Collective.
Project developers said they would protect the military base and farmers who wanted to keep agriculture on their parcels could do so.
Flannery has purchased all the land surrounding the small town of Rio Vista, said Mayor Ron Cote.
More than half of the city’s 10,000 residents are elderly, he suspects, won’t appreciate the added congestion and noise, but others may want the improved medical care, nightlife and shopping that a nearby sophisticated city can bring.
“If it’s done right, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the county. Their tax revenue base will increase a little bit. So there’s a big windfall from that. Property values will probably go up here more and more. So I think it’s good from that perspective,” Cote said.
“But again, I think you’re giving up the quality of lifestyle that’s unique to this area.”