U.S. Rep. Thompson asks unknown, tech-backed company about plans for Solano County land
A mysterious company backed by a collective of tech-based investors that has purchased more than 50,000 acres of farmland between Fairfield and Rio Vista in Solano County wants to build a "town or towns," the congressman representing the area has learned.
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, met Tuesday with two representatives from the company, Flannery Associates LLC, including its leader Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader.
"I was blunt. I told them they’ve pissed off every elected official. They’ve pissed on every farmer. They’ve alienated the entire county," Thompson said Wednesday.
The congressman, whose district includes Solano County, met with the Flannery representatives to find out what they’re hoping to accomplish in buying up land in an area known for sheep grazing, small-grain farming and a little cattle ranching. More than 1,000 wind turbines are located in the rolling, golden hills.
Thompson said he was told they plan on building an "environmentally appropriate town or towns."
If this is the case, Thompson said, "they’re building the airplane while flying."
Thompson said he’s concerned about maintaining national security protocols since Travis Air Force Base is partially surrounded by some of the parcels Flannery has purchased. The congressman said he wonders about food security since the farmland would give way to an urban proposal.
Thompson’s criticism of the company’s plans lies with its overarching failure to involve members of the community in this tight-knit region.
Sramek, during the meeting with Thompson, which included a Flannery Associates political consultant, acknowledged transparency errors had been made. He pledged to start hosting town hall meetings and opening offices in the area so the group could share its vision and get feedback from community members.
"They’ve upended a way of life. There will be lots of suspicion for years now," Solano County Agriculture Commissioner Ed King said, echoing Thompson’s view that trust has been broken in the process.
Since 2018, Flannery has bought up 140 rangeland properties in the Jepson Prairie and Montezuma Hills area of Solano County for almost $1 billion. And now the group is suing the ranchers in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, accusing the ranchers of conspiring to "collude, price fix and illegally overcharge Flannery," according to the complaint filed in May.
In the legal challenge, Flannery contends some farmers bought their properties decades ago starting at $470 an acre. Years later, Flannery offered, in some cases, to purchase the land for more than $2,000 an acre or five times more than what the owners originally paid.
Flannery’s lawsuit seeks damages of $510 million from more than 30 defendants.
Calls to two defendants named in Flannery’s court action, as well as legal representatives for Flannery could not be reached for comment.
Flannery’s proposed town or towns may take years to build, given the lengthy process of working mandates under the Local Agency Formation Commission.
"It’s concerning. But the damage has already been done. It’s already disrupted the supply (of farmland)," Solano County Farm Bureau County Manager Lisa Shipley said. "I’ve heard people say they’ve never seen anything like it."
Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production, tech, energy, transportation, agriculture, banking and finance. She can be reached at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]