A few days ago, I reported on the project being promoted by Silicon Valley investors to build a “green city.” It’s being sold as an urban center with “affordable homes, walkable urban centers, sprawling green spaces and clean energy.”
The project is being headed by a mysterious group calling itself Flannery Associates. They are backed by a who’s who of Silicon Valley billionaires and they’ve spent nearly a billion dollars over the last several years buying up enormous plots of land around Travis Air Force base in Northern California.
Until quite recently, no one knew much about Flannery Associates. As it turns out, that was a good strategy. Their plan to build a new city is not going over well in rural Solano County.
The local Congressman, Rep. John Garamendi, had some angry words for the investors.
“Flannery Associates is using secrecy, bullying and mobster tactics to force generational farm families to sell,” he said. “These Silicon Valley big wig billionaires should be ashamed, and they should be held to account.”
Brian Brokaw, a spokesperson for Flannery, said the group was “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.”
Brokaw forgot to mention that Flannery was going to be buying up tens of thousands of more acres from farmers who may not want to sell.
Solano County Supervisor Monica Brown is not familiar with Silicon Valley and spent most of her professional career as a schoolteacher. She heard from friends who received the survey and wondered if the company had the best interests of the county’s current residents in mind.
“We’re growing food and helping people. Why would you stop economic growth like that?” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Why would they spend $800 million and not be transparent about it?”
Flannery is suing a group of family farmers for inflating the price of their land. Of course, they did. It was impossible for Flannery to keep their secret for very long. And once it got out that a bunch of billionaires were in a buying frenzy, what did Flannery expect the farmers to do?
Others who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation by the company say they feel as though Flannery Associates will target anyone who speaks out about the company’s aggressive tactics to buy land.
Garamendi, the congressman who represents the area, called the lawsuit a “heavy-handed, despicable intimidation tactic.” He said that the company managed to purchase all the land without any of the current governmental safeguards in place to flag the issue. He said that, in the future, information about large land sales, and who is buying and selling, would be vital for lawmakers and residents.
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For Flannery, this will be an uphill battle that could go on for decades. There are zoning issues that need to be voted on and infrastructure to be built. But the primary question that needs to be answered is “why”?
It could be that the billionaires — most of whom live and work in San Francisco — are looking for an exit from the city.
Michael Moritz, venture capitalist and founder of Sequoia Heritage, the $15-billion wealth management, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times last February where he said the city had become “a prize example of how we Democrats have become our own worst enemy.”
“The core of the issue, in San Francisco and other cities, is that government is more malleable at the city level than at higher levels of government,” Moritz wrote. “If the U.S. Constitution requires decades and a chisel and hammer to change, San Francisco’s City Charter is like a live Google doc controlled by manipulative copy editors.”
Moritz is one of the primary investors in Flannery Associates’ dream city. I wonder how many other Silicon Valley billionaires echo those sentiments.