October 4, 2023

With regards to our state’s agricultural preservation and our nation’s safety, realizing who owns and controls land is essential.

In simply 5 quick years, a mysterious company known as Flannery Associates, primarily based out of Delaware – the place firms don’t must disclose their house owners or officers – has spent practically $1 billion buying 52,000 acres in Solano County, changing into the biggest landowner within the county. This contains vital agricultural land, open areas and, most concerningly, land encircling Travis Air Drive Base, the biggest hub for our Air Mobility Command.

But, regardless of the dimensions, strategic location and potential danger of those acquisitions, we all know surprisingly little about Flannery Associates. Who’re they? Do they characterize overseas pursuits? What are their intentions for this land?

We’ve got some troubling clues. As a state water high quality regulator, I helped put in place stringent monitoring and enforcement requirements for the controversial utility of biosolids – handled human waste – on farmland in Solano (produce grown on biosolids land can’t be offered as natural). Flannery now owns the location. It purchased websites beforehand used for animal testing and navy functions with poisonous pink flags.

With Flannery shrouded in secrecy and its house owners shielded from legal responsibility, who will shield the groundwater, neighboring farms and cities, and the setting?

Stakeholders within the Delta are at all times suspicious of Owens Valley-style secret land grabs that gobble up valuable water rights and threaten agriculture, habitat and ingesting water. Flannery gained’t be capable to overrun the various Delta parcels it purchased with sprawling growth. However it’s securing an increasing number of water rights with these purchases. And it has acquired all the left financial institution of the slough connecting 500,000 residents in Napa and Solano counties to their main water provide, which was already some of the weak water high quality segments of the State Water Mission.

It isn’t simply water safety, both. Flannery now owns key parts of the regional power grid, too.

Buying and assembling a number of parcels of land is just not, by itself, problematic. It’s important to financial growth. What’s completely different right here is the chance, magnified by the secrecy.

County officers have been working for years to unveil these buyers. On the federal degree, Rep. Mike Thompson and Rep. John Garamendi requested the Committee of International Funding in the US to analyze, and Thompson launched bipartisan laws to strengthen land protections round nationwide safety websites, important infrastructure and farmland.

California can step up, too. The State Water Sources Management Board might be directed to look extra intently at water rights acquired by overseas restricted legal responsibility firms. The state may restrict the issuance of permits for emergent-risk actions to overseas firms in situations the place it’s not possible to find out who’s accountable for offering compensation, restore or remediation the place acceptable.

Because the state critiques carbon sequestration tasks, it ought to pay particular consideration to any such landowner. Flannery is contemplating a enterprise with a multinational industrial fuel firm, for instance.

The state may additionally slim overseas LLC eligibility for Williamson Act agricultural land tax incentives.

Flannery should come clear. You can not turn out to be the biggest landowner in a county and quietly purchase up lands so intently tied to our navy, meals, water and power safety and never count on requires primary transparency.

As a substitute, the company has sued the households who’ve owned the land for generations and ducked primary questions from the general public and native businesses. The state has the instruments to get solutions.

Christopher Cabaldon is the previous mayor of West Sacramento and a previous member of Delta Safety Fee and Central Valley Regional Water High quality Management Board. He’s at present working for the District 3 seat within the state Senate. He wrote this for CalMatters.