Previously anonymous investment group has gobbled up $1 billion worth of land.
About 52,000 acres land in Solano County, southwest of Sacramento and east of the Napa Valley, will become a new “megacity” if a group of tech titans get their way. Scott Roth / Wikimedia Commons C.C. Share-Alike 3.0 License
The mystery of who was buying up nearly a billion dollars worth of land in Solano County—including land surrounding Travis Air Force Base on three sides—has been solved. Earlier speculation had pointed a finger at China, setting off national security fears about the massive real-estate buys around the base, the busiest military airfield in the country.
“The proposal of a megacity must answer legitimate community concerns about transportation, water, sanitation, and environmental impact.”
—U.S. REP JOHN GARAMENDI (D-CALIFORNIA)
According to reports by both the San Francisco Chronicle and New York Times, the formerly mysterious, Delaware-registered company known as Flannery Associates, which had somehow managed to keep its owners and investors secret despite investigations by both the Air Force and the United States Treasury Department, is controlled by a group of Silicon Valley billionaires.
What could a consortium of tech titans—which includes Laurene Powell Jobs, Netscape founder Marc Andreesen, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman—want with 52,000 acres of land over more than 300 Solano County parcels?
A New California “Megacity”
Two Democratic congressional reps, Mike Thompson and John Garamendi, are set to meet with Acosta Consulting, a political consultancy firm that now represents Flannery, according to a report by KABC-TV News—which also reported that the tech investors plan for the land in “the creation of a new city,” a prospect that left Garamendi unimpressed.
Moritz envisioned “a kind of urban blank slate where everything from design to construction methods and new forms of governance could be rethought.”
“Flannery Associates spent nearly $1 billion forcing families off the land and if they intend to build a megacity, they have a long way to go to establish trust in the community,” Garamendi, a former California lieutenant governor, said in a statement. “The proposal of a megacity must answer legitimate community concerns about transportation, water, sanitation, and environmental impact.”
The leader of the investment group, according to the Times and Chronicle reports, is Welsh-born former journalist turned billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, a partner in the leading Silicon Valley firm Sequoia Capital for 38 years, until the 68-year-old departed the company in July.
Moritz sent a pitch to investors describing his idea for “transforming tens of thousands of acres into a bustling metropolis,” the Times reported. According to the report Moritz envisioned “a kind of urban blank slate where everything from design to construction methods and new forms of governance could be rethought.”
“Son of Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko”
The whole operation, however, originated with a 36-year-old financial “whiz kid” and former exec at the powerful investment bank Goldman Sachs named Jan Sramek, who was once looked upon as “the next big thing in high finance before he faded from the spotlight,” according to a profile by The Daily Beast. The profile said that Sramek liked to quote Ayn Rand and “revered” Peter Thiel.
After an appearance on CNN, Sramek said that the network edited his comments to make him look like “a son of Ayn Rand and Gordon Gekko,” according to the Beast report. And in a self-help book he authored, he cites Rand’s quote, “The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me.”
Flannery Associates was hyper-aggressive in its efforts to buy up land for the supposed new city, using techniques that one local rancher described, according to the Beast report, as “like a hostile takeover. It was Shakespearean, a ‘Game of Thrones’ kind of thing.”
But until this week, no one from Flannery has attempted to contact anyone in the government to get input on their plans for the city.
“This is their first effort, ever, to talk to any of the local representatives, myself included,” Garamendi told the Times.
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