A stealth campaign by Silicon Valley elites with a dream of turning a swath of California farmland into a new age city has ranchers who live here challenging their tactics and their motives.
The project first surfaced when a mysterious buyer started snapping up parcels of land in this rural outback between San Francisco and Sacramento.
The buyer, first revealed by The New York Times in August, turned out to be a secretive outfit called Flannery Associates, the brainchild of a former Goldman Sachs wunderkind, Jan Sramek.
Flannery Associates said on its recently launched website that it has acquired more than 50,000 acres (20,200 hectares) of land for its California Forever project, whose backers include LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman, Steve Jobs’s widow Laurene Powell Jobs and star tech investor Marc Andreessen.
According to court documents, the tycoons have already shelled out more than $800 million to fulfill their vision of building a city in the middle of nowhere.
“This doesn’t just happen at Burning Man one night, doing some mushrooms,” Solano County property owner John Sweeney told AFP while standing on a lot surrounded by land bought by Flannery.
The group started covertly buying parcels in Solano County between the city of Fairfield and Travis Air Force Base about five years ago, according to residents interviewed by AFP.
Cassandra Dana said the first unsolicited offer she got from Flannery to buy her ranch came in 2018, and she’s been called relentlessly in subsequent years.
“It’s at the point of when they do call and they say who they are, I basically just hang up,” Dana said of Flannery.
“They’ve actually reached out to my oldest daughter and asked her… to sell it from underneath me.”
Neighbors in the tight-knit community have been targeted with a gamut of tactics, according to Sweeney.
He said he was contacted five years ago on behalf of a group purportedly interested in buying his property to preserve it for agriculture.
“They pulled all sorts of different tricks,” Sweeney said.
“It was pretty underhanded in general.”
According to the project’s website, the new city would host the “agriculture and green energy industries that sustainably feed and power our state, strong middle-class communities and our nation’s busiest Air Force base.”
Nestled between Sacramento, the California Delta, San Francisco and Napa Valley, it “would include a variety of land uses: a new community, but also solar farms and open space, including both agriculture and habitat conservation.”
The road ahead however will not be easy for this tech-age, utopian project.
Flannery has filed a half-billion-dollar lawsuit against some land owners in federal court, accusing them of conspiring to get higher prices for their properties.
“Their lawsuit makes it sound like there were some big meetings where people were talking about how to screw Flannery,” said Sweeney.
“Well, no. Everyone just knew that if you waited longer, you’d get more money; that’s logical.”
Flannery declined an interview for this story, with a spokesperson telling AFP that the company might have a response in several months.
– Dream or delusion? –
Fairfield Mayor Catherine Moy told AFP her community just learned a few weeks ago of the campaign to buy up nearby agricultural land.
“We’re trying to find out everything we can,” Moy said.
Flannery has bought land around the air force base, which is a main transport hub for supplies headed to Ukraine and other parts of the world, according to Moy.
“At this point, I’m opposing it. Anything that threatens Travis Air Force Base threatens my city and the country.”
For now, that land is occupied by livestock, wind turbines and farmers and ranchers who have long been in harmony with the base, Moy said.
“This proposed city situation, it just breaks my heart because it’s gonna ruin all of our rural area,” Dana said as she tended to a small herd of goats.
“It’s just open land and it’s beautiful.”
Moy said she has written a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom expressing concerns.
Newsom, for his part, said earlier this month that the California Forever project, after its exposure by US media, was a surprise to him as well, and that he planned to meet with a representative from the group.
And while the project’s website presents a heady vision, there are no details concerning things such as concrete plans for where the new city would get its water supply.
“The ‘Forever,’ or as we call it, the ‘Never Project,’ would change the countryside into, I guess, a modern San Francisco,” property owner Sweeney mused.
UAE sought to use COP28 to advance oil deals: report
The United Arab Emirates planned to exploit meetings with foreign governments arranged due to its COP28 hosting role to strike fossil fuel deals, according to leaked documents obtained by the BBC.
The leaked briefing notes, obtained by journalists at the Centre for Climate Reporting (CCR) working alongside the British broadcaster, were prepared by the UAE’s COP28 team for summit president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber ahead of meetings with foreign governments between July and October this year.
Leaked “talking points” prepared for a meeting with China said that ADNOC, the UAE’s state oil company, was “willing to jointly evaluate international LNG (liquefied natural gas) opportunities” in Mozambique, Canada and Australia.
Briefing notes prepared for meetings with Colombia, Germany and Egypt suggested that ADNOC “stands ready” to support each country develop fossil fuel projects.
The documents showed the UAE prepared talking points for meetings with 20 countries, including the United States, UK and Germany, on commercial opportunities for state renewable energy company Masdar.
COP28 president Al Jaber is also CEO of ADNOC and Masdar.
A COP28 spokesperson told AFP that the documents cited by the BBC “are inaccurate and were not used by COP28 in meetings. It is extremely disappointing to see the BBC use unverified documents in their reporting.”
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body responsible for the COP28 summit, which starts on Thursday, told the BBC that the “cardinal principle” for hosts was “the obligation of impartiality”.
Climate campaigners have raised concerns about the influence of fossil fuel interests at the talks in Dubai, noting Jaber’s role as head of an oil company.
In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Jaber defended the large presence of heavy emitting industries including the oil and gas sector.
“Everyone needs to be part of this process and everyone needs to be held responsible and everyone needs to be held accountable,” he said.
COP28, which will be held until December 12, is due to be attended by 167 world leaders, including King Charles III and Pope Francis.
Alberta proposes more open definition of software engineer in new bill
Tech companies and the APEGA feud as the Alberta government prioritizes tech growth
Software engineers build technical programs — but not unless they’re regulated and certified. At least, that has been the stance of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta (APEGA).
Tech companies in Alberta like Neo Financial and Helcim recently petitioned to Premier Danielle Smith for a more open interpretation of the job title “software engineer,” as they were faced with lawsuits over job ad verbiage from the APEGA.
It seems the government listened.
Fast forward to November 2023? The Government of Alberta has proposed changes to legislation, specifically the Engineering and Geoscience Professions Act, to open up the legal definition of software engineer, as many tech companies use the title without actually seeking a professional engineer’s professional designation or certification.
The proposed changes fall under the new Bill 7, which has generated approval from the tech industry:
“This is an important development for the innovation sector in the province and will give companies and their employees the freedom to use titles that have long been universally accepted in the tech industry.”
- Sam Pillar, Chief Executive, Jobber
However, the APEGA sees the initiative as a threat to public safety:
“Title protection is vital to preserving public safety and maintaining high standards of practice and ethics.”
- Jay Nagendran, Registrar, APEGA
Sure, tech companies could retitle job descriptions to “software developer” instead; however, studies show that these job ads receive significantly less applicants and interest than those titled with “software engineer.” The main goal? Supporting the tech industry in attracting and retaining top talent.
Experts predict similar issues will arise in the ever-evolving tech industry. For example, growing popularity of generative AI like Chat-GPT will create a demand for “prompt engineers” — see the dilemma? The legislative changes (if passed) are thought to foster tech company growth, improve the economy, and reduce red tape.
Learn more about the proposed bill here.
Veronica Ott is a freelance writer and digital marketer with a specialization in finance and business. As a CPA with experience in the industry, she’s able to provide unique insight into various monetary, financial and economic topics. When Veronica isn’t writing, you can find her watching the latest films!
Nissan accelerates UK electric car production
Japanese auto giant Nissan announced Friday it would invest up to £2 billion in UK electric car manufacturing, which the government touted as a sign of confidence in the sector.
Nissan said it will produce electric models of two best-selling cars, Juke and Qashqai, at its facility in Sunderland, northeast England, which is its biggest factory in Europe, building on UK net zero plans to switch away from dirty fossil-fuel vehicles.
The carmaker will plough £1.12 billion ($1.4 billion) into its UK operations and wider supply chain for research and development and manufacturing of the two new models, it added in a statement.
That will also spark further investment in infrastructure projects and the supply chain, including another electric car battery factory, bringing total investment to as much as £2 billion ($2.5 billion).
Nissan’s investment will support its UK workforce of 7,000 employees — and 30,000 jobs in the nation’s broader supply chain.
– Carbon neutrality plans –
“Exciting, electric vehicles are at the heart of our plans to achieve carbon neutrality,” said Nissan President and CEO Makoto Uchida.
“With electric versions of our core European models on the way, we are accelerating towards a new era for Nissan, for industry and for our customers.”
Uchida declared in September that there was “no going back” on the group’s electrification plans as it aims for 98 percent of European sales to be electric vehicles by 2027.
The news comes as Britain looks to take a leading role in the production of electric cars as companies and governments shift away from high-polluting automobiles.
The UK government confirmed Friday that it has awarded £15 million of funding towards a collaborative R&D project for zero-emission vehicles led by Nissan.
“Nissan’s investment is a massive vote of confidence in the UK’s automotive industry, which already contributes a massive £71 billion a year to our economy,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who will attend a formal announcement at the site later on Friday.
“This venture will no doubt secure Sunderland’s future as the UK’s Silicon Valley for electric vehicle innovation and manufacturing.
“Making the UK the best place to do business is at the heart of our economic plan.”
Finance minister Jeremy Hunt pledged Wednesday in his budget update to invest £4.5 billion in strategic sectors including the auto industry.
– Net zero targets –
However, earlier this year Sunak softened policies aimed at reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050, delaying a ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars by five years to 2035.
That still means however that the country’s largely foreign-owned car manufacturing sector must switch to producing fully-electric vehicles.
Nissan had previously warned that a no-deal Brexit would threaten the Sunderland site, but committed to its future after the government agreed a trade deal.
Yet the nation’s car industry has warned that automakers will soon face a damaging 10-percent hike in customs duties on electric cars crossing the Channel.
Britain left the European Union in 2021 after clinching a last-gasp free trade agreement which removed tariffs on cars.
But under the deal, from January 1, 2024, at least 45 percent of the value of car parts must originate from Britain or the European Union to be exempt from customs duties.
That hits electric carmakers because their batteries often originate from China, despite UK efforts to establish production.
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