In 2017, Michael Moritz’s Unusual Opportunity
A Chance to Invest in a New California City
In 2017, billionaire venture capitalist Michael Moritz reached out to a potential investor with a unique opportunity: the chance to invest in the creation of a new California city. Located in the affordable area of the San Francisco Bay Area, Moritz and others envisioned transforming thousands of acres into a bustling metropolis that could generate jobs and be as walkable as Paris or New York’s West Village.
The idea was to create a blank slate for urban development, considering everything from design to governance. The location would also be conveniently close to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. The New York Times obtained a copy of Moritz’s note, in which he posed the opportunity to the potential investor.
The Emergence of Flannery Associates
Since then, a company called Flannery Associates has been quietly purchasing large plots of land in an agricultural region 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. While the company has provided little information about its operations, court documents reveal that over $800 million has been invested to secure thousands of acres of farmland.
Flannery has made offers to landowners across the region, paying well above market rates, regardless of whether the land was listed for sale. The mysterious nature of the purchases has sparked speculation and news stories about the company’s intentions. Rumors range from a potential Disney theme park to links with China or plans for a deepwater port.
The Vision of Flannery and its Silicon Valley Backers
Flannery is the brainchild of Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader. Sramek has managed to attract some of the tech industry’s biggest names as investors. The company’s ambitions have grown since the initial 2017 pitch, envisioning a community with tens of thousands of residents, clean energy, public transportation, and a dense urban lifestyle.
The investors behind Flannery, many of whom have not been previously reported, include Michael Moritz, Reid Hoffman, Marc Andreessen, Chris Dixon, Patrick and John Collison, Laurene Powell Jobs, and Nat Friedman, among others. These individuals represent a who’s who of Silicon Valley. The exact amounts invested by each investor remain uncertain.
Reaching out to Local Officials
Representatives for Flannery, after years of silence, recently reached out to local representatives and elected officials to request meetings about their plans. This unexpected contact has piqued the interest of John Garamendi, a Congressman representing the region, who had been unable to uncover information about the company for years.
Flannery’s ambitious project faces significant challenges. The purchased land is not currently zoned for residential use, requiring a potentially complex rezoning process. To achieve their goals, the company will likely rely on the state’s initiative system to convince Solano County residents to support the project through a public vote.
Addressing the Bay Area’s Housing Shortage
Flannery’s project takes place within the context of California’s ongoing housing crisis and Silicon Valley’s frustration with the Bay Area’s limited real estate supply. The region’s high costs have driven tech industry moguls to explore unconventional solutions, such as building entire cities from scratch.
While these ideas often generate attention, they rarely materialize. Flannery’s rapid land purchases, however, have caught the attention of locals who have been left wondering about the buyer’s identity and plans. The purchases have led to a lawsuit alleging collusion among landowners to inflate prices.
Despite the challenges, Flannery’s vision promises significant financial gains. With the potential for rezoning and development, the initial investments could yield substantial returns. The company’s goal is to offer thousands of jobs, increased tax revenue, and investments in infrastructure to entice voters to support the project.
Closing Thoughts on the Land Acquisition
Flannery’s swift and significant land purchases have made landowners in Solano County wealthy and generated curiosity throughout the region. However, many questions remain unanswered about the company’s plans and intentions. While the project faces substantial hurdles, discussions between Flannery and local officials signify a potential step toward bringing this ambitious vision to life.