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Where tech investors are buying land, locals are worried

In a rural part of California’s Solano County, between the Bay Area cities and Sacramento, rumors have swirled for years about the “Flanries,” a mysterious corporation that buys up mostly undeveloped land.

At a shooting range in Birds Landing, an unincorporated community reached by a two-lane highway or gravel road through grassy foothills covered in wind turbines — many of which were more than 200 feet tall — an employee stood is asked why anyone would want to buy land in the quiet zone.

“There are sheep farms, cattle ranches and people growing hay and safflower,” said employee Ashley Morrill, 40. “That’s what they do. There are cattle and things to feed the cattle.

Solano County’s rural roots are still front and center in an area where a company backed by tech billionaires has purchased land to create what it imagines will be the city of the future. That company, Flannery Associates, has committed about $900 million to securing thousands of acres of farmland, according to court documents.

The towns of Vallejo, Fairfield, and Vacaville, home to the majority of Solano County’s 450,000 residents, are not far away. But this part of the county, which altogether covers about 900 square miles, has more in common with the farms of California’s Central Valley than with the corporate campuses of Silicon Valley. And the prospect of big changes has unnerved some families who have lived in the area for generations.

At the end of the two-lane road, a few miles from the range, is Collinsville, an unincorporated community that is essentially a mile-long dead-end street with about a dozen homes, farms, and silos along it. It backs onto a marsh near the mouth of the Sacramento River. Landowners in the neighborhood said the mysterious Flanneries approached them and a few who left abruptly apparently sold their land.

On a hot Sunday afternoon, as the air began to smell of swamp, Lacey Miles was helping her retired father, Tom, unload his car in the driveway of his single-family home. Across the street was an RV with a yellowing sign that said “For Sale” amid five-foot-tall hay.

Mr Miles, 71, said he was concerned buyers were trying to change the countryside he had lived and enjoyed for decades. The only noise behind him was the faint hum of wind turbines spinning a few miles away.

“That’s what we’re here for, the quiet community,” he said. “I love it here.”

Ms. Miles, 42, owner of a janitorial business, lives a few miles away. She had heard about the plan to build a “private city” on Facebook and was opposed to the changes it would bring.

“I moved here to escape the city,” she said. She grew up near Collinsville, then moved and returned 14 years ago with her husband to raise her children in the rural area.

Ms Miles said people who hadn’t sold their land would likely be opposed to any political pressure to create a new town. But she said with a sigh, “Anything is possible when you have money. »

In nearby Rio Vista, a town of about 10,000, most residents who spoke to The New York Times knew that a coalition of Silicon Valley investors had bought up farmland outside the city. .

Mystery shoppers have been a talking point in the city in recent years, with theories ranging from increased development of the wind turbines that dot the surrounding hills to an attempt to build another Silicon Valley to foreign interests making who knows What.

Downtown Rio Vista was just around the corner from a tractor shop, an RV repair shop, and a walkway along the river where the men fish in the early morning hours. It was a stretch of a few blocks lined with American flags and a street art project with differently painted ceramic sheep.

Pickups and sedans were parked in the spaces along the road. A few walked down the street listening to country music, the windows rolled down. Old people wearing cowboy hats gathered at Raul’s Striper Cafe, which is full of memorabilia from the 1950s.

Other residents gathered at Foster’s Bighorn, a watering hole displaying hundreds of wall-mounted animal heads, including a moose, buffalo, giraffe, lion and snow leopard.

Some residents said they were relieved to know the identity of the land buyers. Others were still worried and didn’t want the area to be flooded with technicians. A bartender from Foster’s Bighorn said whatever this new kind of town is, it’s going to be expensive for current residents — much like all those Bay Area towns to the south.


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