A mysterious investment company is buying up large tracts of land around a California Air Force base, raising questions about who is behind the firm — and its intentions — amid growing fears about Chinese businesses acquiring land near American military sites.
The investment firm Flannery Associates has bought around $800 million worth of land around Travis Air Force Base in northern California’s Solano County, which is midway between Sacramento and San Francisco.
Flannery Associates filed a lawsuit in May against a group of landowners, accusing the farmers of conspiring to inflate the value of the property — drawing further scrutiny from policymakers including Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.).
Since 2018, Flannery, registered as an agricultural company, has purchased more than 50,000 acres in Solano County, according to public records and detailed maps obtained by The Hill. The acquired property runs directly up to Travis Air Force Base.
Garamendi, a House Armed Services Committee member, told The Hill that he has been investigating the land acquisitions for nearly two years and has come up with few answers to his questions.
“We have no idea who they are,” Garamendi said. “Flannery Associates is opaque. We have no idea where the nearly $900 million dollars has come from. They bought well over 55,000 acres of land in the area and [the purchase] raises a major concern.”
The Hill could not immediately contact Flannery Associates for comment. The firm claims that 97 percent of its investors are U.S.-based, but Garamendi said there is no way to verify that claim.
The business registry address for the company is located at a packaging shop in a shopping center in Folsom, Calif., according to the business registrar for California.
Also concerning to Garamendi and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who is also looking into the shadowy company, is why the land is being purchased.
The land is dry farmland, good for agricultural grazing, but the approaching $1 billion price tag seems astronomically high and would take decades to turn a profit, according to Garamendi, who noted there are also wind turbines on the land.
The Air Force’s Foreign Investment Risk Review office is reviewing the land purchases from Flannery, according to Garamendi.
Garamendi also said the FBI and the Treasury Department launched inquiries into the decision about a month ago.
Garamendi alleges the lawsuit filed by the company against landowners is a “classic SLAPP suit specifically designed to force the landowners to lawyer up,” and ultimately rack up legal fees until they are exhausted and agree to sell.
Chinese businesses and affiliated entities own more than 300,000 acres of land across the U.S., and acquisitions near land bases have raised growing concerns in Washington and at the state level.
In the past few months, lawmakers in more than two dozen states have passed or considered legislation restricting Chinese purchases of U.S. farmland. And former President Trump has promised that he will ban Chinese investors from buying U.S. farmland and other critical infrastructure if he returns to the White House.
Earlier this year, the Air Force signaled it was opposed to a planned sale of farmland around North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base to the Chinese-owned firm Fufeng, citing a national security risk.
Shortly after, the local city council voted in February to halt the acquisition, putting a stop to the plan for Fufeng to build a corn mill in the area.
To address the larger problem, Garamendi said he included a provision in the annual defense bill to require military bases to pay closer attention to acquisitions near them.
Another provision would include the bases in a process that is overseen by the Treasury regarding foreign investments near a base.
Garamendi said he was particularly concerned about Travis Air Force Base because it was the “gateway to the Pacific.”
“A good portion of the munitions that are destined for Ukraine are brought to Travis,” Garamendi said. “It is the busiest transit airbase in the nation.”
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