25.02.2024

Billionaire group under scrutiny for plan to build ‘utopian city’ in California

A US congressman was left wanting after meeting with a mysterious group aiming to build a “utopian city” in northern California. Rep Mike Thompson of California met with a representative of Flannery Associates, the tight-lipped company that bought thousands of acres of land in a rural part of Solano County, California, with the apparent intentions of building a city, according to The Daily Beast.

Recent reporting suggests the group is comprised of numerous tech billionaires, including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and venture capitalist Michael Moritz.

The congressman reviewed the group’s plans for their land — the acquisition of which has concerned residents in the region since the purchase was made six years ago — and told The Daily Beast the group has a “long, long, long, long way to go.”

He is the first known legislator to meet with the company’s representatives.

The company’s representative reportedly told Mr Thompson that they intended to build “incredible homes” and a “walkable community,” but had nothing concrete to show how it would achieve those goals. He said there were no blueprints or environmental assessments to provide technical details of the imagined city.

He said that while the group “didn’t share anything with me,” it could be a case of the group’s leader, Jan Sramek, holding his cards close “until he’s ready to play” them.

The group purchased more than $800m in farm land in the region, much of which was reportedly bought at well over the market value.

A spokesman for the group said they were “grateful to Rep. Mike Thompson for meeting with Flannery’s CEO” to discuss their “vision to deliver good-paying jobs, affordable housing, walkable communities, clean energy, sustainable infrastructure, open space, and a healthy environment,” according to The Daily Beast.

The group said they would continue to work with “local leaders” to “craft a shared vision for Solano County’s future.”

Though the billionaires reportedly funding the project were not present at the meeting, Mr Sramek and a political consultant were available. Mr Thompson said Mr Sramek grew up in a town he described as walkable and blue-collar in the Czech Republic, and said it was apparently the man’s dream to create something similar in the US.

The congressman said the group apparently kept its members’ identities secret for years because they wanted to wait until they had enough land to start moving on their project.

Some of that secrecy may have been intended to keep landowners in the dark about the capital controlled by the individuals backing the purchases; in May, the company sued some of the property owners they intended to buy from, alleging they conspired to inflate the price of their land.

Before Flannery can move on its project, it will have to win over the support of Solano County residents and navigate the miles of red tape at the city and state level that will likely hinder a project of the scope they’re proposing.

Mr Thompson said the land was heavily regulated and controlled by either the state, the federal government, or individual city and county entities, warning that “whatever they are planning … is going to have to clear a whole bunch of hurdles.”

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