Over the past five years, a company named Flannery Associates has spent $800 million scooping up land outside San Francisco — without explaining who’s behind the effort or what they plan to do with the land. Now, local officials who’d been looking into the matter finally have their answer: a group of wealthy and recognizable tech leaders are behind the venture, and they’re hoping to use the land to build a brand new city, according to reports from The New York Times and Bloomberg.
The reports say that LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Andreessen Horowitz investors Marc Andreessen and Chris Dixon, former GitHub CEO Nat Friedman, Emerson Collective founder Laurene Powell Jobs, and other tech leaders and investors have put money into the venture. The leader of Flannery Associates appears to be Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader.
Flannery Associates recently began polling residents of Solano County, the area northeast of San Francisco where its land is located, about plans to build a “new city with tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar energy farm, orchards with over a million new trees, and over ten thousand acres of new parks and open space,” according to SFGate. The company has acquired around 52,000 acres to build on, most of which is currently farmland, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The project faces a substantial blocker, though: zoning. The land is substantially zoned for agricultural use, not residential, which means Flannery Associates will need to get a rezoning pushed through, which is no easy task in California. The company seems to be trying to put a ballot initiative up for vote next year in the county in an attempt to move the project forward.
It’s not entirely clear why the investors wanted to make this happen, but at least one investor, longtime VC Michael Moritz, painted the effort as a way to escape San Francisco. High-profile tech figures have criticized city leadership over issues like crime and homelessness, even as the tech industry has played a role in exacerbating an affordable housing crisis in the city. “This effort should relieve some of the Silicon Valley pressures we all feel — rising home prices, homelessness, congestion etc,” Moritz told one investor, according to the Times.
Tech leaders have attempted to make their own cities before as a way to escape to friendlier locations or support their businesses. As Bloomberg points out, Elon Musk and Larry Ellison have both bought up swathes of land to create dedicated communities — in Musk’s case, for Tesla and SpaceX employees outside Austin, and in Ellison’s case, for his rich pals in Hawaii.