The identity of a group of Silicon Valley moguls planning to buy up land in a rural area of California near United States Travis Air Force Base has been revealed, according to a report by The New York Times.
The leader of the group, Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader who was born in the Czech Republic, is working with venture capitalists Michael Moritz, Marc Andreessen, and Chris Dixon, and Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn co-founder, venture capitalist, and Democratic party donor, and Laurene Powell Jobs, founder of the Emerson Collective.
Several years ago, Sramek pitched an idea of building a walkable California metropolis that could create thousands of jobs and serve as an experiment for new designs, construction, and new forms of governance.
In the past several years, the group has used a business called Flannery Associates to spend some $900 million buying thousands of acres of agricultural land throughout Solano County, near the Northern Eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Solano is currently the poorest county in the region. It is a geographic hotchpotch with parched farmland and Travis Air Force Base, one of the military’s busiest airports and gateway to the Pacific.
The purchase of so much land stoked fear throughout the area, prompting two members of Congress to start federal investigations. The company did not try to alleviate fears from lawmakers and state officials in California.
The Air Force, Department of Agriculture, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.(CFIUS) had launched investigations into the matter, with officials wondering whether the land would house new wind farms, or a new base for Chinese foreign operation.
Flannery’s purchases are focused on the county’s undeveloped eastern half, consisting of a checkerboard of plots. Some parts of that land look to be a potential city whose precise location is unclear. What is left over could be used as political chips to create conservation programs, green energy projects, and recreational amenities to curry favor with California politicians and voters.
David Townsend, a Democratic consultant with experience in land use issues in Northern California, told reporters that local opposition would also most likely be significant in an agricultural county where many longtime residents had moved to escape development and traffic.
“What happens in these things is people show up in red T-shirts yelling that a bunch of rich guys who don’t even live here want to put 20,000 more cars on our roads, and what do we get for it? A couple of parks?” Townsend told the New York Times.
“Something like this could take years and years,” he added.
The company has hired political consultants and approached supervisors, the governor’s office, and members of Congress, and will likely appeal to voters with a full-blown political campaign focused on economic development.