The board’s decision came after about a dozen West Side residents spoke in opposition to Kamilos' plans, which have changed drastically in recent months to include about half the acreage and half the jobs contained in his original design, as well as fewer trains and a solar farm.
Supervisor Vito Chiesa, who cast the deciding 3-2 vote in favor of extending the agreement with Kamilos, warned the developer that he must prove that the project is financially viable and do a better job of communicating with West Side residents if he hopes to continue with the county.
“I have to say that if we go forward with the 15-month extension, you have your work cut out for you because (West Side residents) are going to be important in the decision making up here,” Chiesa said.
Kamilos hopes to develop Crows Landing’s former naval airbase into a 2,800-acre industrial park with the prospect of creating 14,000 to 17,000 jobs after it is built out in 30 years. His plans recently have grown to include an 850-acre solar farm run by La Jolla-based Spinnaker Energy that could generate up to 150 megawatts.
Other updates to Kamilos’ plans entail two trains traveling to and from the Port of Oakland to the inland port each day, rather than six trains that were initially anticipated. The project also has shrunk substantially from Kamilos' initial 4,800-acre proposal. In addition, he has received letters of support within the past month from the Port of Oakland and the Union Pacific railroad, which previously had not been the case.
Despite recent project changes, about 15 representatives from opposition group WS-PACE.org attended Tuesday’s meeting, continuing to advocate that the project remain within the confines of the former 1,528-acre Crows Landing naval airbase as the county initially requested. They also complained of possible impacts that trains and truck traffic would have on the West Side and requested more specific project details, even as they expressed doubt about West Park’s potential.
“These uncertain years are not the time to go ahead with such an unproven speculative project,” WS-PACE.org vice president and Patterson resident Claude Delphia said.
Newman’s Mayor Ed Katen and City Manager Michael Holland joined Patterson City Council members Annette Smith and Larry Buehner and former City Attorney George Logan in the chorus of opposition.
Smith said she initially only intended to ask supervisors to hold off on voting on the project extension. However, she ultimately decided to ask the county to start searching for a new developer after learning that West Park representatives had recently approached business groups based in Modesto and Turlock about supporting their project but had not communicated with West Side leaders.
“I find it very disturbing that Mr. Kamilos has made the time to go see the Turlock Chamber of Commerce, the Modesto Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance and any other group beside the agencies on the West Side, who were very vocal during the last go-round with him with regards to the impacts of his project,” Smith said.
Representatives from all of those groups and several other Modesto and Turlock business representatives spoke in favor of West Park during the meeting, saying that it would provide the county with sorely needed jobs, particularly amidst unemployment rates hovering in the 20 percent range.
Supervisors who voted against the project will have to look their constituents in the eye and say they had done away with the prospect of 17,000 jobs, said Bill Bassitt, CEO of the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance.
“I think in some respects this could be the easiest decision you’ve ever made,” he told the board. “On one hand, you have a decision that could lead to 17,000 direct jobs. On the other hand, you have a process that leaves you with a derelict abandoned airport.”
Patterson resident Mary Clemmer, the only West Side resident to speak in favor of the project, stressed that the delays facing Kamilos’ project were not his fault and requested that he be granted an extension. She also took umbrage with project criticisms by Supervisor Jim DeMartini, saying that he did not speak on her behalf when he claimed to represent West Side residents.
DeMartini grilled Kamilos during the meeting about how he would finance West Park and about tasks related to his project that were left incomplete during the past four years, such as completing an environmental impact report. He expressed skepticism that the developer would find success with a solar project, and he questioned him about some of his other business ventures that had not been built after several years of planning.
“We should not give him a 15-month extension,” DeMartini said. “He has not lived up to his promises.”
Supervisor Terry Withrow was less pointed, but he expressed several concerns. Those included a lack of information on the revised project and Kamilos’ dependence on bond money and tax increment financing, given that state officials have discussed eliminating redevelopment funds.
“I think the easy thing to do here is go another 15 months,” Withrow said. “But I think the hard decision and in my opinion the right decision is to end our relationship, to end this venture up to this point with West Park and put this up again for proposal.”
Supervisor Dick Monteith came to Kamilos’ defense, however. Not even the county knows whether redevelopment funds will be in place, so he questioned how Kamilos could predict what would happen, he said. He also gave kudos to Kamilos for sticking with the project despite the current economic difficulties and other challenges, adding that he still believes in West Park.
“This actually could be one of the greatest anti-pollution programs in the state of California,” Monteith said, describing how the inland port aims to eliminate truck trips between the Port of Oakland and the Central Valley.
Both Monteith and Supervisor Bill O’Brien took issue with critics who said the county would be better off with another proposal for the airfield presented by Dallas-based Hillwood in 2006. O’Brien read off a few recent newspaper headlines about Hillwood, indicating that some of the company’s business parks had experienced major problems as of late.
“That just goes to show this economy is affecting everybody,” O’Brien said.
Despite voting for the project extension, both O’Brien and Chiesa said they would not approve another extension 15 months from now. Kamilos plans to complete an environmental impact report, a specific plan and a new draft development agreement in that time frame.
Kamilos said after Tuesday’s meeting that he plans to spend a lot of time on the West Side in the upcoming months, starting with informal gatherings with Newman and Patterson leaders, school district officials, and representatives from the West Stanislaus County Fire Protection and Del Puerto Water districts.
“We want to make sure that everyone who observes this whole process can see that we are making a real strong, good-faith effort to communicate with the West Side agencies and the stakeholders and that we have communication that’s very fluid and very transparent,” Kamilos said.
He defended his development record, saying that some of the Sacramento-area projects that DeMartini attacked were delayed by circumstances outside his control. For instance, his 2,000-acre Sacramento-based Metro Air Park project already has about $100 million in infrastructure in place but was delayed because the project area is surrounded by levies that were temporarily decertified by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said. He also reiterated to supervisors that a lawsuit by the city of Patterson and the economic downturn have caused West Park’s delays.
Patterson City Manager Rod Butler noted after Tuesday’s meeting that Kamilos had contacted the city the previous day about wanting to meet with its leaders.
Kamilos plans to meet with both Butler and Smith on Friday, Smith said. She hopes that he will eventually meet with Newman and Patterson leaders and representatives from various West Side agencies on a monthly basis.
While most longtime critics remained skeptical of Kamilos’ plans this week, Supervisor Withrow appeared to hold out hope that the project could succeed despite his reservations.
“I hope you prove me wrong,” Withrow told West Park consultant Mike Lynch, shaking his hand as he exited the supervisors chambers Tuesday.
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187 or firstname.lastname@example.org.