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Silicon Valley titans used ‘strong-arm tactics’ to get land for utopian city: local farmers



A shadowy firm backed by Silicon Valley billionaires used a variety of “strong-arm tactics” to wrest away nearly $1 billion in California farmland where they intend to build a utopian city, local property owners alleged in a recent court filing.

Flannery Associates, which is bankrolled by techie titans including LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, paid “massive premiums” to acquire huge tracts of farmland in Solano County and “resorted to pressure tactics” for locals who refused to sell their property, court documents said.

That included lease terminations and evictions for holdouts and initiating costly litigation that left others with the choice of paying huge legal fees or caving to the sale offer, according to the filing.

The firm would “play one family against another by misrepresenting the families’ intentions regarding Flannery’s offers, in hopes that families otherwise unwilling to sell would feel pressure not to disappoint their friend and neighbor,” according to the defendants.

Flannery has bought nearly $1 billion in Solano County farmland.
Getty Images

The defendants cited one episode in which seven of eight family members wanted to continue owning their farmland, while one wanted to sell. Flannery allegedly used a “divide-and-conquer” strategy by “acquiring the one-eighth share and then suing the other seven.”

The filing emerged as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed last May by Flannery against several landowners for allegedly violating the Sherman Antitrust Act by colluding to drive up the price of their property.

As The Post previously reported, local lawmakers, including Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), have been sharply critical of Flannery’s secretive effort to acquire the land – much of which surrounds the critical Travis Air Force Base, a key local economic driver and military hub.

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman is pictured.
REUTERS

In August, Garamendi called out Flannery for using what he described as “strong-arm mobster techniques” to acquire the land, including pitting family members against each other.

Officials have also slammed the secrecy with which the mysterious entity pursued the land grab, which sparked such alarm that Garamendi and fellow Democratic Rep. Mike Thompson asked the feds to look into the matter.

Flannery claims the price-fixing “conspiracy” resulted in the firm paying “at least $170 million in overcharges” compared to fair market value for the land. The firm is seeking $510 million in damages – triple the cost of the overcharges.

A Flannery Associates spokesperson did not immediately return The Post’s request for comment.

Jan Sramek is heading up the California Forever project.
KGO-TV

Bloomberg earlier reported on the filing.

A spokesperson for the firm told Bloomberg that the company has “specific evidence” that the landowners engaged in a price-fixing scheme and is open to reaching settlements with the remaining defendants.

In their filing, the defendants said Flannery’s claim that it possesses “smoking gun evidence of price-fixing is “pure hyperbole, meant to intimidate.”

Marc Andreessen is one of the Silicon Valley moguls backing Flannery Associates.
San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
Getty Images

Flannery and its parent company, California Forever, recently released artistic renderings for its utopian city project.

The firm has pitched locals on plans for a city powered by sustainable energy that will include “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.”

The project is led by Jan Sramek, a former Goldman Sachs trader.



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