They could end the county’s contract with West Park developer Gerry Kamilos and seek other options for developing the former naval airbase, or they could allow Kamilos to proceed with the project, waiving a breach of contract after he failed to provide a required $2.75 million deposit for project studies.
But supervisors, who apparently were not in a “straightforward” mood Tuesday evening, chose neither route, unanimously agreeing to postpone their decision on Kamilos’ fate for one more week after three separate motions on how to proceed failed at the dais.
“I’ll be back next Tuesday and see where things go,” Kamilos said Tuesday, after heading out of the county supervisors chambers following the meeting.
While most supervisors, with the exception of Dick Monteith, indicated they wanted to open up development of the 1,528-acre former Crows Landing naval airfield to others as they seek to turn it into an economic engine for the county, they had mixed ideas about how to do that.
Chairman Bill O’Brien cast a deciding 2-2 “no” vote simply to end the county’s contract with Kamilos and seek other alternatives, when proposed by Supervisor Jim DeMartini. Supervisor Vito Chiesa agreed to DeMartini’s motion, while Monteith dissented.
Supervisor Terry Withrow recused himself from voting on West Park because his wife has partial ownership of some property near the Crows Landing Air Facility. While Withrow has consulted with an attorney who specializes in conflict of interest issues, that attorney did not have enough information to give him the OK to vote Tuesday, Withrow said.
Meanwhile, Monteith failed to get any support for a motion of his own after he proposed to give Kamilos until Thursday, Aug. 23 to produce the remaining $2.75 million of his deposit and to give him until April 30 to complete an environmental impact report for the project.
O’Brien also did not get any votes for a motion to have the county create a formal request for proposal for new developers that would ensure that whoever developed the airfield would meet the same requirements as West Park. While most supervisors seemed open to O'Brien's idea, they wanted more time for review.
“One problem I have is doing this on the fly,” Chiesa said, though he added “I like where we’re going.”
County staff and supervisors alike spent a bit of time wrangling about what O’Brien’s proposal would actually entail. Boggs said he would work with planning staff to come up with a more detailed description of the county’s requirements for West Park by next week’s meeting.
DeMartini wanted to make sure that the county’s Request for Development proposals would not be written in such a way that only West Park would qualify.
Similarly, Boggs noted that West Park’s 2,930-acre proposed footprint was much larger than the 1,528-acre Crows Landing Air Facility that is mostly owned by the county. The reason is that a good chunk of West Park’s proposed site sits on private land that is now controlled by Kamilos.
Chiesa said he wanted to make sure that the process for finding a new developer would be fair to all.
O’Brien said he wanted a new Request for Proposal to contain the same infrastructure and financing requirements that Kamilos had agreed to keep. At the same time, he clarified that he did not think the county should require the project to contain an inland rail hub for the Port of Oakland — a key component of the West Park proposal — though he said he liked that aspect of Kamilos’ project.
“What I’m trying to do is open it up to anyone who is willing to do the project, but I’m not interested in watering (the project) down,” O’Brien said.
However, Monteith, a continual staunch supporter of West Park, said he felt that by removing the project’s rail component as a requirement, that the project would automatically be watered down.
In addition to containing a 157-acre “inland port” where goods would be shipped to and from the Port of Oakland by rail, Kamilos’ proposal includes a 250-acre solar energy facility, an airport and various other distribution centers and manufacturing firms. Kamilos’ most recent figures indicated the project could provide up to 13,000 permanent jobs.
Supervisors twice granted Kamilos extensions when he missed key deadlines for his project’s environmental impact report, once in March 2011 and again in June. He promised in June to have the report completed by Jan. 31, offering the promised $2.75 million deposit for environmental studies and an airport land use study by July 10 as an incentive.
While $1 million was placed on deposit in a private account, the county never received any of the money.
Kamilos told supervisors Tuesday that he could not feasibly meet a Jan. 31 deadline for the project’s environmental impact report and expected that a more reasonable timeline would be in late April. He said after the meeting that investors had not yet deposited money for the project studies because of the tight deadline for environmental studies and a lack of confirmation that they would get their money back if the county opted to choose another developer.
While Kamilos continued to maintain that a downturn in the economy and a 2008 environmental lawsuit from the city of Patterson caused delays in the project during the meeting, he also said he did not want to offer excuses.
“I really look at this evening as a partnership meeting, so to speak,” he said. “I didn’t bring consultants … I didn’t advocate for people to come out and speak in favor of the project. I thought it was important to have a straight one-on-one conversation this evening about coming up with a solution.”
Indeed, Tuesday’s meeting was far more sparsely attended than past meetings dealing with West Park, and only six members of the public spoke. In the past, more than a dozen county residents would speak up about the project.
Those who did talk were mostly critical of the project. Those included Patterson residents Mel and Mary Clemmer, who both said they were fans of West Park at first but became critical after Kamilos continually missed deadlines.
“The emperor has no clothes on,” Mel Clemmer declared. “Once I too wanted to see the wonderful clothes, and so I did. But it doesn’t matter how much you want to see the wonderful clothes. This emperor is naked.”
Other speakers, including Modesto blogger Emerson Drake and former Modesto mayor and radio show host Carmen Sabatino, were equally critical, with Drake urging supervisors, “Don’t drink any more of that KoolAid.”
The heavy criticism prompted Modesto Chamber of Commerce CEO Cecil Russell to urge audience members to be more respectful regardless of the outcome of Tuesday’s meeting.
“I would suggest to the audience that if in fact we lose this development, I hope that in the future if anyone comes to this county with jobs, that he doesn’t get ridiculed and doesn’t get run out of town, but is welcomed,” he said.
Ron Swift, president of the watchdog group West Side-Patterson Affiliates for Community and Environment, urged supervisors to allow an adequate amount of time to complete the project’s environmental impact report, regardless of what they decided.
Supervisors will convene once again during their regular meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 28 to vote on next steps.
• Jonathan Partridge can be reached at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.