For years, a little-known company by the name of Flannery Associates has been buying up undeveloped land directly northeast of San Francisco in Solano County. Hundreds of landowners who have received offers for their properties, many times more than what the land is actually valued, have wondered exactly who is behind these real estate purchases — now thousands of acres of rolling hills.
A new report from the New York Times details what’s going on here: A group of tech elites have come together to buy up land in an attempt to create a city of their own. The group includes tech billionaires like Marc Andreessen of the VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. (The firm Andreessen Horowitz itself is also an investor.) Other notable names like Chris Dixon, who leads Andreessen Horowitz’s crypto fund, as well as the founders of the payment company Stripe have invested. Even Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Job’s politically-active widow, is involved.
According to the report, the mastermind behind Flannery Associates is a 36-year-old former Goldman Sachs trader named Jan Sramek. A quick search of Sramek’s name pulls up a flurry of glowing articles on the former investment banker from about a decade ago. In those days he was in his 20s, and for a moment he was a sort of golden child in the finance world.
A 2017 pitch from Flannery Associates breaks down what the company claims its looking to do: “Take an arid patch of brown hills cut by a two-lane highway between suburbs and rural land, and convert [it] into a community with tens of thousands of residents, clean energy, public transportation and dense urban life.”
In light of its agreeable stated intentions, it’s odd that Flannery Associates’ has chosen to keep the locals living in the area in the dark about what it’s attempting until very recently. The company has been operating in such secrecy that even local Congresspeople couldn’t figure out the identity of those behind it.
However, the company lifted its cloak of anonymity just this past week, reaching out to public officials and requesting meetings to discuss its plans.
Why? The reason is likely because Flannery Associates has been mostly buying up farmland and other property that’s not actually zoned for residential use. That means it’s going to need to lobby officials and convince the locals to vote on a rezoning effort. The company is hoping the promise of jobs, new homes and public spaces will win them over.
But current residents just need to look dozens of miles south at Silicon Valley to see who a city that caters to the whims of the tech elite ends up actually being for.