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California lawmakers take closer look at secretive land purchases near Travis AFB

California lawmakers take closer look at secretive land purchases near Travis AFB
California lawmakers take closer look at secretive land purchases near Travis AFB 02:10

SACRAMENTO — There are new efforts underway at the California State Capitol to stop agricultural land from being bought up by big businesses. It comes after the discovery that a wealthy investor group has been purchasing thousands of acres of farmland near Travis Air Force Base.

New rules could put an end to these types of land grabs.

"Phones in my office have been ringing off the hook," said Senator Bill Dodd, who represents communities around the airbase. He added, "It is job one to protect the land around there from encroachment on that airport."

Since 2018, a group known as Flannery Associates has bought up more than 50,000 acres of farmland nearby.

"Flannery associates has now surrounded three sides, 75% of Travis Air Force Base," said California Representative John Garamendi.

Now, news reports have unveiled some of the group's wealthy investors.

"The names are very prominent in Silicon Valley," Dodd said.

They include venture capital billionaires and even the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.

"Flannery Associates is using secrecy, bullying and mobster tactics to force generational farm families to sell," Garamendi said.

That's prompting lawmakers to consider new efforts to prevent these types of anonymous land grabs.

"What happens if a hostile actor purchases the land and we don't know what they want to use that land for," said Senator Melissa Hurtado, who represents Bakersfield.

So what proposals are being considered to protect farmland? Ideas include more disclosure of agricultural land purchases, prohibiting foreign ownership of farms, and new tax credits and conservation easements to help growers.

"This will help keep agriculture land in production while preserving the rural ag economy," Garamendi said.

A survey indicates Flannery is considering a futuristic new city on the farmland, but others say that threatens the future of the airbase.

"Travis AFB cannot operate surrounded by skyscrapers, wind turbines, tract homes or other kinds of development right up to the fence line," Garamendi said. "No military base can."

Work is also being done at the federal level to pay money to farmers near military bases to conserve their property strictly for agricultural uses.

That program has already preserved more than 7,000 acres around Beale Air Force Base in Yuba County. 

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