Secret idea: Silicon Valley elite want to stomp mega-city from California’s soil
For more than five years, the mysterious US company Flannery Associates has acquired thousands of hectares of land in the comparatively quiet and sparsely populated north of the San Francisco Bay Area for above-average prices for 800 million US dollars. For a long time, observers from the area puzzled over who could be pursuing which big plan with it. Rumors circulated that Disney was designing a new amusement park there or that Chinese investors were looking to set up shop not far from Silicon Valley to the south. The latter was of particular concern to local politicians, since the purchased area in Solano County is in close proximity to the US Air Force base in Travis.
Prominent shareholders from the tech world
The New York Times (NYT) has now revealed who is behind the Flannery Group. Accordingly, representatives of the Silicon Valley elite in the area, which is around 100 kilometers from San Francisco, want to stomp a mega-city out of the ground. The farmland, which is only intersected by a two-lane highway, is to be converted into a city with tens of thousands of inhabitants, clean energy including large solar parks and wind turbines, public transport and dense urban life. A kind of overflow valve for Silicon Valley, which stretches from San Francisco to San José, where even the five-lane freeways have long been clogged every day and there are hardly any apartments or houses to be found.
Investors in the previously mysterious company include Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and owner of The Atlantic magazine, and Andreessen Horowitz, a Menlo Park-based venture capital firm that backed tech startups like Skype and Lyft, according to the report has made. Two of the venture capitalist’s shareholders, Netscape veteran Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, also own direct stakes in Flannery. The venture is also being funded by LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Stripe co-founders Patrick and John Collison, and independent investors Daniel Gross and Nat Friedman.
Large-scale land purchase
According to the report, the original mastermind behind the idea is Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs broker. The 36-year-old’s goal is to build a new city between the county seat of Fairfield and the city of Rio Vista. Residents of Solano County were recently officially informed of this for the first time in a letter. As early as 2017, Michael Moritz, another billionaire venture capitalist, sent an initial exposé to potential investors for the founding of a new city in California on Sramek’s behalf. The outlined metropolis could create thousands of jobs, it said, and should be as accessible on foot as Paris or the West Village in New York.
When Flannery began looking for land and quickly bought up a lot of land for good money, Catherine Moy, Mayor of Fairfield, first drew attention to the project on Facebook a few years ago and vented her displeasure at the secrecy. Earlier, she had received a call from a farmer about a mysterious buyer making more or less serious offers across the county. Even after the outing of the investors and their offers of talks, the local politician is concerned. Compared to the NYT, she referred to the poor infrastructure in the area. The streets are already clogged with commuters. The area is also regularly affected by droughts and there is a high risk of forest fires. The project is at best a hardly realistic dream of the future.
“Elephant in a China Shop”
Democratic Representatives John Garamendi and Mike Thompson, representing Solano County, have been sounding the alarm for the past few months and years. “Just this week we got our first clues as to what’s at stake,” Garamendi told the San Francisco Chronicle. In July, both lawmakers introduced a bill to give the US government powers to monitor property purchases by foreign adversaries near military bases, security zones and critical infrastructure sites. Her concerns for Travis Base remain, Garamendi pointed out. More personnel and material are being moved in the direction of Ukraine than via any other air force camp in the USA.
Although the project has already made many farmers in the wine-growing region millionaires by selling their parcels, Duane Kromm, a former administrator in the district, believes the project will fail. Previous plans to build new towns on farmland were “smashed” at the ballot box, he told the Chronicle. Three times voters reiterated that all growth in the county should be concentrated within existing community boundaries. Many locals are also concerned that the group of investors stormed “like a elephant into a china shop”.
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