Shadowy group that owns 52,000 Bay Area acres may be planning to build a new city

By Katie DowdAug 22, 2023

Rio Vista, on the Sacramento River, is viewed from the air on May 22, 2023.

George Rose/Getty Images

Amid a flurry of rumors about a mysterious buyer who has purchased 52,000 acres in Solano County, local residents have received a survey gauging support for a "new city with tens of thousands of new homes."

Fairfield Mayor Catherine Moy confirmed to SFGATE on Tuesday that Solano County residents have been receiving the push poll, and former Fairfield councilmember Marilyn Farley told SFGATE that she received the survey via text message.

The survey is extensive, and it may be the first window into what Flannery Associates plans to do with its newly acquired Bay Area empire.

The group, which incorporated in Delaware, where it is not required to name the people behind the business, has been the subject of speculation and even a possible government probe. Starting in 2018, Flannery began purchasing parcels of land from Fairfield to Rio Vista. (One of its first purchases was near Flannery Road in Rio Vista, possibly giving the group its name.) By its own admission, Flannery paid over the market rate to acquire that land, but in the years since, nothing has been developed on it. The group is now the largest landowner in the county.

The clandestine nature of the purchases — and the fact that Flannery’s properties now flank three sides of Travis Air Force Base — led to concerns about national security. Rep. Mike Thompson, whose district includes parts of Solano County, told SFGATE last week he has been "pushing" the Treasury Department, the Department of Defense and the FBI to investigate the acquisitions.

Screenshots of the survey reviewed by SFGATE show an extensive market research campaign. It starts by informing recipients that they will be weighing in on "a description of an initiative that might be on the ballot in Solano County next year" regarding a new development in eastern Solano County.

"This project would include a new city with tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar energy farm, orchards with over a million new trees, and over ten thousand acres of new parks and open space," the survey continues.

It goes on to ask a variety of questions, prompting respondents to pick if the statement makes them "much more likely" to support the initiative, "somewhat more likely" or "less likely" or if it has "no impact on support." Among the statements are:

— "Solano County residents would be given priority and downpayment assistance to buy or lease homes in this new project."

— "It would replace Solano County’s current aqueduct."

— "It would be funded entirely by private sector money."

— "It is being led by a group of architects and planners interested in building livable and sustainable communities, not typical developers."

— "It is being funded by a group of California firms and wealthy families who are committed to our state’s future."

The new city is pitched as having a "feel like a college town," with a mixture of housing, schools and restaurants and an emphasis on walkability.

Because the survey was sent via an online survey site, it’s not clear who is behind the mass texts. Three lawyers listed as representing Flannery in a recent lawsuit did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

Since news of Flannery’s acquisitions broke, locals have speculated the buyer could be planning anything from a deep water port to a regional airport to even a nuclear power plant. But building a new city from scratch would present its own set of challenges. For one, the developer would need to acquire water rights to support large suburban housing tracts. And, according to Farley, it would need to change Solano County’s "orderly growth" policy, which restricts urban development in many parts of the county.

"As the mayor of Fairfield, I sit on countywide boards that have received Flannery offers to buy land at greatly inflated prices. We turned the offers away to protect Travis," Moy wrote on her public Facebook page Tuesday. "I tried contacting the firm that is pushing this poll. My email bounced back. I then searched for the firm elsewhere, but couldn’t locate them. They are yet another mystery in the ongoing saga of Flannery."

Aug 22, 2023

Katie Dowd is the SFGATE managing editor.