SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The investment firm that purchased nearly $1 billion worth of Solano County farmland had its first meeting with Bay Area congressional leaders Tuesday night to discuss their vision for a 'utopian city.'
After five years of unanswered questions, widespread speculation, and concerns over a possible threat to national security - the mystery surrounding the encroachment of Travis Air Force base is starting to reveal itself.
The CEO of Flannery Associates and the firm's consultant sat down with Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Napa) to discuss their plan. Thompson told the ABC7 News I-Team the brains behind the endeavor is a former Goldman Sachs trader, Jan Sramek, who was present at the meeting.
"They tell me that they want to build a city in a way that's environmentally appropriate or a way that will be energy efficient," said Rep. Thompson. "It'll be a green development, they say will not be in conflict with any of the military installation at Travis Air Force Base."
"Did you ask them why these plans were kept secret for so long?" the I-Team's Stephanie Sierra asked.
"I didn't have to," said Rep. Thompson. "They lead with that - they told me it was critical that they develop this shroud of secrecy in order to make the purchases that 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."
"Did they come to with specific plans on how they hope to tackle this?" Sierra asked.
"No, we didn't talk a lot of specifics," Rep. Thompson said. "As a matter of fact, I raised a couple of questions with them that they couldn't answer specifically."
Thompson says he asked Mr. Sramek questions about the agricultural work that's done in the area where his firm acquired land.
"And I don't think they had a clear understanding of the significance of livestock in Solano County," said Rep. Thompson. "And it was my impression that they kind of pooh pooed the agricultural value of the land."
Public records obtained by the ABC7 News I-Team show Flannery has purchased more than 55,000 acres of land since 2018. According to the county's assessor, in many cases the purchases were made for more than double or triple what the land is worth.
In May, Flannery filed numerous lawsuits against Solano County farmers alleging an illegal price-fixing conspiracy. According to the suits, the firm is seeking $510 million in damages.
"They've minimized that," Rep. Thompson said. "They said that given the number of acres that they've purchased, the percentage of individuals that they sued is minuscule."
Thompson added the firm claimed that everybody who has been sued has the financial resources to defend themselves in court.
Sources close to the network of investors confirmed to the I-Team that Flannery is backed by the heavyweights of Silicon Valley - including billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz, billionaire businesswoman Laurene Powell Jobs, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, among others.
"Then finding out that they're these billionaires want to put in a city - in Solano County - No! Where is the infrastructure coming from? Water?" said Solano County District 2 Supervisor, Monica Brown.
Thompson said the firm plans to open three district offices in Fairfield, Vallejo, and Vacaville where they will have their plans laid out for people to see. The congressman added the firm indicated plans to conduct town hall meetings so the community can come out and ask questions directly.
"We are grateful to Rep. Mike Thompson for meeting with Flannery's CEO today to discuss our vision to deliver good-paying jobs, affordable housing, walkable communities, clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, open space, and a healthy environment," Brian Brokaw said on behalf of Flannery. "Our team is working closely with the community and will continue to meet with local leaders to craft a shared vision for Solano County's future."
Flannery told the I-Team the meeting with Rep. Thompson is one of many that are in the works with county, state and federal officials over the next few weeks.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Fairfield) says he hasn't confirmed a meeting with the firm yet.
"I think its pie in the sky. We know this area. I've talked to a very seasoned developer in California and asked what do you think of that? He said, keep in mind that the land is about 1/10th of the actual cost of building the city. You've got streets and roads and sewer systems and sanitation. They even want to build a concert hall," said Rep. Garamendi. "And you're looking at a situation where actually about 40% of what they purchased is a wind farm. We're talking about giant turbines. So they're going to put houses underneath the turbines? And about the other maybe 25% to 30% of it is a gas field with hundreds of gas wells, many of which are now closed off."
A survey that was sent out last week that local officials believe is tied to Flannery hinted the project would be done without taxpayer money.
"I don't think that's possible to do," Rep. Thompson said. "I don't think they fully understand the work that they have ahead of them. This is at the point, this may be a real good example of the dog catching the cars."
"Based on the knowledge, you know now, can you confidently state Flannery does not pose a threat to national security?" Sierra asked.
"I can say that there are at least two people associated with Flannery who have this story and as I said, as this unfolds, we'll find out if that story holds up," Rep. Thompson said.
Editors Note: Venture Capitalist Michael Moritz finances our media partner the San Francisco Standard.
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