SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A nearly $1 billion mystery to create a 'utopian city' is starting to reveal itself. The ABC7 News I-Team has learned new insight about a massive land acquisition in Solano County that was initially tied to concerns surrounding national security.
"They're being very secretive," Solano County Assessor Glenn Zook said in early August. "I've never seen anything like this."
"I'm very concerned about our national security," Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa County) told the I-Team during an Aug. 3 interview.
"I got to protect Travis," said Solano County District 5 Supervisor Mitch Mashburn in early August. "It's sort of shrouded in mystery - there's a lot of speculation out there."
Sources familiar with the matter told the I-Team the investment firm Flannery Associates bought more than 55,000 acres of dry farmland with hopes to build a utopian city focused on affordable housing, clean energy and sustainable infrastructure.
But for five years - local, state, and federal officials say they were left in the dark.
Since 2018 concerns were raised over the acquisitions as they started to surround Travis Air Force Base -- also known as the Gateway to the Pacific -- one of the most critical military bases in the western U.S.
Rep. Thompson said the firm told him the secrecy was critical in order to make the purchases they wanted to make.
"And once they got the land, the critical mass of the land, then they were able to be more open than they had been," Thompson told the I-Team after meeting with the firm Tuesday night.
Sources close to the network of investors told the I-Team the firm is backed by the heavyweights of Silicon Valley - a slew of tech billionaires. The firm was formed in Delaware, a state with strong legal protections to guard corporate ownership.
Public records analyzed by the I-Team show Flannery has purchased more than 300 parcels of land in Solano County since 2018 - dozens of which are now bordering three sides of Travis Air Force Base.
Solano County Administrator Bill Emlen says the price point and strategic location near the base initially caught their attention. Federal officials told the I-Team the process went from suspicious to intimidating.
"They were purchasing land for many times what it was worth," said Emlen.
"At what point did you become concerned about these acquisitions?" the I-Team's Stephanie Sierra asked.
"As early as 2019, we were getting concerned," Emlen said.
Public records show by 2019, Flannery purchased another three parcels bordering Travis. By 2020, most of the land was acquired around the base.
Rep. Thompson sounded the alarm to the U.S. Air Force that prompted a federal investigation involving the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.
The ABC7 News I-Team sat down with Thompson in early August.
Stephanie Sierra: "We've learned there is sensitive military storage that extends beyond the base. Are any of the other land acquisitions around Solano County raising concern about that or any possible threat to national security?"
Rep. Thompson: "Well, it's my understanding they've purchased land next to a major communication facility away from the base and they purchased land on or near an area where sensitive fiber has been buried. It's my understanding they've also purchased land on or near where our supply of piping lies to bring fuel onto the base. Those all raise concern with not just me, but the entire community."
The CEO of the firm Jan Sramek and his consultant sat down with Rep. Thompson for the first time Tuesday night to get clarification on that.
Rep. Thompson: "They told me that in those cases it was property they had to buy in order to be able to purchase other property that they wanted, and that they've since sold that."
Sierra: "Just to clarify, were you referring to the parcels of land adjacent to the communication tower that extends beyond the base?"
Rep. Thompson: "That's correct."
Sierra: "Flannery indicated to you that they have since sold back that land?"
Rep. Thompson: "Yes, they sold it to someone. They didn't say who. They said that they were working with a major property owner to buy a property and the property owner said, 'While you're at it, why don't you buy this, too?' I don't know if that was negotiating leverage with the seller or how it came about."
Sierra: "Does that make any sense to you?"
Rep. Thompson: "There's nothing about this that's made a lot of sense to me from day one. You know, I've been involved with a lot of private development endeavors, and I have never been involved with a group of potential developers who have done it this or have had to work with local, county, state and federal officials to get what they want."
A representative of Flannery told the I-Team the firm is in the preliminary planning stages - currently focused on meeting with members of the community and elected leaders.
"There is a lot of unfortunate speculation going around right now," said Brian Brokaw, on behalf of Flannery. "There are no plans to put any homes within a mile of Travis AFB. We are working closely with the community and with Travis AFB. Supporting and protecting Travis is a top priority."
Editors Note: Venture Capitalist Michael Moritz finances our media partner the San Francisco Standard.
Take a look at more stories by the ABC7 News I-Team.
If you're on the ABC7 News app, click here to watch live