Someone bought 52,000 acres in the Bay Area. No one knows who they are.

By Katie DowdAug 15, 2023

An aerial view of Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif.

Google Street View

One of the biggest mysteries in Solano County may be one step closer to being solved.

Since 2018, a shadowy company called Flannery Associates has been buying up land around Travis Air Force Base — so much land, in fact, that it is now the biggest property owner in the county. Its land now surrounds the military base on three sides, said Congressman John Garamendi, who represents California’s 8th District.

In July, the story went public when the Wall Street Journal published a report about how Flannery Associates has spent nearly $1 billion in land acquisitions in the county. Because the group incorporated in Delaware, state regulations mean there is no public paper trail of who is behind the limited liability company. Even government officials are stumped, prompting Garamendi to publicly voice his concerns that it could be a national security issue.

If Flannery Associates is to be believed, its investors are spending mind-boggling amounts of money to own the dry, rolling hills between Fairfield and Dixon and the marshlands south to Rio Vista. In a lawsuit the group filed in May, it accused a number of Solano County landowners of illegally colluding to drive up prices when Flannery came calling. In the suit, Flannery Associates said it was already offering over $15,000 per acre for properties around Jepson Prairie and Montezuma Hills.

For reasons not explained by Flannery, it admits in the lawsuit to paying far above the market rate for its Solano County acquisitions. Since 2018, Flannery says it bought or was under contract with 140 separate properties to the tune of over $800 million. "Except for the initial few purchases, Flannery’s purchases have been at a substantial premium to fair market values," the filing claims.

Despite its land grab, Flannery Associates has never made public what it intends to do with 52,000 acres of Solano County — an empire that is nearly double the size of the city of San Francisco. In the suit, Flannery only details the ways in which it won’t alter the land: It claims it told landowners that they could keep "existing income streams from wind energy and natural gas storage," could "continue using these properties rent-free for decades," and would receive "significant grants from Flannery for charitable giving, to be used at the [landowners’] discretion to support local schools and other non-profits."

A KC-10 Extender is parked on the ramp as a C-5M Super Galaxy takes off at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif., March 16, 2017.

HUM Images/Hum Images/Universal Images Grou

Now, a government probe into Flannery’s investors may be in the works.

CNN first reported that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States may be looking into the secretive purchases. CFIUS, which falls under the Treasury Department’s purview, has the power to review certain real estate or investment transactions by foreign buyers to determine if there is a security risk to the United States.

When asked for comment, a spokesperson from the Treasury Department said CFIUS does not publicly comment on transactions it is reviewing.

"CFIUS is committed to taking all necessary actions within its authority to safeguard U.S. national security," the spokesperson said.

A lawyer who represents the Flannery group told the Journal that 97% of the investors are American, with British and Irish investors making up the other 3%, but that information has not been independently verified. When reached for comment, Rep. Mike Thompson, whose district includes parts of Solano County, wrote in a statement that the "many land purchases in Solano County by the mysterious Flannery group has caused concerns in regard to national security and food security." Thompson said he has been "pushing" the Treasury Department, the Department of Defense and the FBI to investigate the acquisitions.

"Flannery’s purchases are surrounding Travis Air Force Base, one of the most significant national security sites in our country, and it’s been devastating to family farmers," Thompson said.

Travis Air Force Base, which was built in the 1940s, got the nickname "Gateway to the Pacific" for its role in troop and cargo transport in America’s wars in Asia during the 20th century. Today, it’s the largest employer in the county, with 13,000 employees.

Aug 15, 2023

Katie Dowd is the SFGATE managing editor.