SACRAMENTO – In a recent statement, Senator Melissa Hurtado voiced her concerns after an anonymous investor from Delaware purchased a billion dollars worth of ag land near an air force base.
In a July 27 press release, Sen. Hurtado, 16th Senate District, criticized the California legislature for its failure to pass two bills she herself sponsored – bills that would have made it illegal for foreign governments to own agricultural land in the state.
“Since the start of the pandemic, I have witnessed an increase in agricultural land sales purchased by private interests,” Hurtado said. “The $1 billion transaction near the air force base is extremely concerning, especially since California had the ability to be proactive by passing Senate Bill (SB) 1084 in 2022 and Senate Bill 224 this legislative session.” Hurtado introduced both of those bills.
Hurtado referred to a story first reported on in early July by the Wall Street Journal. According to the story, since 2018, Flannery and Associates LLC, a Delaware-based company, has spent nearly $1 billion to acquire over 52,000 acres of land in Solano County. The purchases make Flannery the largest landowner in the county. Some of the land is directly adjacent to Travis Air Force Base.
“Literally three sides of that base are totally controlled by the Flannery group,” Congressman John Garamendi, 8th District, told SFGATE in an interview. “Who are these people?”
Referring to her legislation, Hurtado said in the press release, “Both bills would have increased transparency on agricultural land transactions, enhanced our understanding on the present status of foreign ownership of agricultural land, and put Californians in control of their food supply chain by preventing foreign governments from purchasing agricultural land.”
Hurtado also took aim at hedge funds that have acquired land in California and other western states.
“An investment group strategically obscuring its ownership, giving conflicting accounts on its intentions near sensitive military sites, and refusing to engage with local community leaders deserves greater scrutiny in advance of its agricultural land purchase,” she said.
Governor Newsom vetoed SB 1084 in 2022. SB 224 died in the Senate Appropriations Committee this legislative session.
FLANNERY AND ASSOCIATES LLC
Very little is known about Flannery. As a registered company in Delaware, it is not required to disclose information, including information about its business partners or the nature of its business.
In the Wall Street Journal piece, a lawyer representing Flannery said 97% of the company’s invested capital comes from American investors with the rest coming from British and Irish investors. The lawyer said the company is controlled by U.S. nationals.
In a June 21 letter sent by Flannery to the US Agriculture Department and made available to the press, the company addressed concerns by Garamendi and others that it was a front for a foreign business. According to the letter, “No foreign person…or group of foreign persons holds any significant interest or substantial control over Flannery, either now or at the time of any land purchase made by Flannery.”
From what was gathered in various reports, Flannery’s land-grab called into question if there is existing oversight to prevent companies from acquiring property near military installations. Last year, the Fufeng Group, a Chinese company, attempted to purchase 300 acres of farmland near Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
However, the Grand Forks City Commission blocked the sale after the Air Force raised security concerns, as the base is home to the 319th Reconnaissance Wing and is a key drone operations facility.