Who Are the Wealthy Investors Buying Rural California Land?

10 September 2023

A group of technology investors recently released its plans to create a new "green" city between San Francisco and Sacramento in California.

The group's name is California Forever. It posted the plans on its website of the same name. The leader is Jan Sramek, a former trader for the financial services company Goldman Sachs.

California Forever has purchased about $800 million of land in Solano County. The county includes small cities, many farms, and an American military base.

A wind farm is seen at dusk in rural Solano County, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. V<I>&#</I>225;squez)
A wind farm is seen at dusk in rural Solano County, Calif., Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. V&#225;squez)

The area is about 100 kilometers from San Francisco and 50 kilometers from the state capital of Sacramento. About 450,000 people live in the county. The cost of a mid-level home is around $600,000 while homes closer to San Francisco can be two or three times more. Housing supply is one of the greatest concerns in California, and those who work as schoolteachers, nurses or police officers cannot live close to where they work.

California Forever's announcement opened with this message, "Starting a conversation about eastern Solano County. A chance for a new community, good paying local jobs, solar farms and open space."

The post includes a lot of information about the land purchases and the group's ideas. The website includes drawings of new homes, farms, fields with solar panels, people sitting in boats and fishing and eating meals in a central city area.

The investment group has purchased 202 square kilometers of land since 2018. Among the investors are business leaders Laurene Powell Jobs, tech investor Marc Andreessen and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman. California Forever's post reported that 97 percent of its investors are American. There had been some concerns that the investment group was from outside of the U.S.

The project sounds good to the investors, but local leaders and residents are not sure they agree.

To start with, many people are upset with the group's secrecy. The investors made the purchases under the name "Flannery Associates LLC."

Mike Thompson represents the area in the lower house of the U.S. Congress. He said the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been working to learn who was behind the land purchases.

"Their secrecy has caused a lot of problems, a lot of time and a lot of expense," Thompson said.

The investors say they needed to keep their identities secret until they had enough land. Now that they are discussing the project, they say they want to have conversations with the residents of Solano. The group started by sending a survey to homeowners.

The survey asked residents about what they want for the future of Solano County. Residents' answers included lower cost of living, more good jobs, as well as improved schools and safety from crime.

Solano County resident Princess Washington is suspicious of California Forever's plans. Washington is the acting mayor of Suisun City, in central Solano. She says many people who live in the area do not want development. They want to keep the area close to Travis Air Force Base open.

She said she is concerned that the Flannery group wants to create a "city for the elite" by falsely saying they plan to build low cost homes.

She wondered why the group does not want to transform cities that already exist.

"The better thing would be to approach our city leaders and work with us within our city boundaries. Not to create a new city."

Flannery also faced anger earlier this year when it opened a court case against a group of landowners. Flannery said the land owners were working together to make sure they sold only at high prices.

Other residents say they became worried just recently, when the group sent out a survey. It asked the community about its level of support for "a major new project ... with tens of thousands of new homes."

Representative Thompson says he is not sure Sramek and the other investors understood Solano County or its values.

He said Sramek thinks his financial expertise will help the developers push the project forward faster than other California homebuilders.

"He doesn't have a plan, he's not there yet," Thompson said.

Many homebuilders say California is a difficult place to do business because there are many rules for the industry to follow.

Hoffman and Andreessen did not respond to emailed requests for comment, nor did Jobs through her business Emerson Collective.

Project developers said they will protect the military base and farmers who want to keep farming on their parcels.

I'm Dan Friedell. And I'm Caty Weaver.

Dan Friedell adapted this story for Learning English based on a report by The Associated Press.


Words in This Story

resident –n. a person who lives in a region, city; a home or land owner

expense –n. money spent to do business or work or to purchase something

survey –n. a group of questions asked of many people in order to get the public's opinion about a topic

elite –adj. at the highest level

transform –v. to change something into something else

approach –v. to come to a person and ask for something or to make an introduction