Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa cast the deciding vote after reminding Kamilos that if he failed to meet January project deadlines, he could lose out on most of the $2.75 million he pledged to put on deposit with the county to complete environmental documents and help develop the airport.
“If you don’t succeed, you’ll have to look yourself in the mirror,” Chiesa told Kamilos before his vote.
Kamilos has proposed building a 2,930-acre industrial park on and around the 1,528-acre former Crows Landing naval airfield between Fink and Marshall roads south of Patterson.
The project would include a 250-acre solar facility and a 157-acre “inland port,” where two trains each day would carry goods to and from the Port of Oakland.
Most recent figures from Kamilos indicate that the project would provide 13,000 permanent jobs and 3,000 temporary construction jobs, a vast reduction from his initial plans to create 37,000 jobs on 4,800 acres.
Kamilos, who received board approval in 2007 to negotiate exclusively
with the county to develop the former airbase, told supervisors individually in April that he needed more time to work on environmental plans.
Supervisors had approved a 15-month project extension in March 2011.
At that time, Chiesa said he would not approve another project extension if Kamilos asked for one later, and Supervisor Bill O’Brien said it would be hard for him to do so. Supervisor Jim DeMartini and others continually reminded them of those words Tuesday.
DeMartini, a critic of West Park, grilled Kamilos early on and cast the lone dissenting vote. He said the county should seek a new project developer, saying that Kamilos lacked industrial development experience.
“We’ve been limping along for the past five years, and it’s time to pull the plug and start over again,” DeMartini said.
Supervisor Terry Withrow, who previously voted against extending an agreement with Kamilos, recused himself because of a potential conflict of interest involving in-laws who owned property near the project site.
Modesto rancher Bill Lyons, who was Withrow’s opponent in the supervisor race in 2010, e-mailed the Modesto Bee about the potential conflict earlier in the day Tuesday, Withrow said after the meeting. However, Lyons later told both Withrow and DeMartini that he had nothing to do with the email, which was sent from a firstname.lastname@example.org.
Supervisor Dick Monteith, a project advocate, described Kamilos as a visionary and said he had made financial commitments that few other developers would be willing to make.
“I take my hat off to him,” Monteith said.
The board’s decision followed more than four hours of discussion and deliberation and
comments from 18 members of the public.
Residents speak out
The majority of speakers from the West Side were critical of the project, including former project supporters Mel and Mary Clemmer of Patterson. The Clemmers said they were willing to advocate an extension for Kamilos in March 2011, but Kamilos was taking too long and had lost their trust.
Mary Clemmer said she wanted supervisors to make good on promises to hold Kamilos’ feet to the fire:
“Ladies and gentlemen, that fire is here.”
Patterson Fire Department Chief Steve Hall was the only representative from the city of Patterson to speak at the meeting, as it was scheduled at the same time as the Patterson City Council meeting.
He discussed concerns about West Park-bound trains blocking emergency service vehicles and increased traffic and collisions related to the industrial park, and he said he wanted assurance that potential problems would be resolved.
Most project advocates, including several economic development promoters and trade union officials, said West Park would mean more jobs for the county’s workers.
Victor Uno of the Port of Oakland commission spoke in favor of the project, telling supervisors that port officials saw short-haul rail as useful for moving cargo containers. Kamilos also had a letter of support from Union Pacific railroad, which would work with the project similarly.
Bill Bassitt, the CEO of the Alliance, an agency that promotes economic development within Stanislaus County, said the vote should be an easy decision for supervisors. He noted that under the proposed agreement,
which supervisors ultimately approved, the county could keep and use $2.375 million of the $2.75 million that Kamilos would put on deposit if he failed to meet his deadline.
Kamilos is required to have cash deposits in place by July 10. An investor placed $1 million on deposit Monday, June 18, according to Keith Boggs, the county’s assistant executive officer.
Bassitt’s reasoning swayed Supervisor Bill O’Brien, who voted in favor of the extension.
“If we don’t like the project that much, we can take the money,” O’Brien said before announcing his vote.
However, Newman City Manager Michael Holland told supervisors he thought it was extremely unlikely they would refuse another extension in January if project studies were only 90 percent complete, for example, given the amount of time and expense they would have invested at that point. He advocated opposing the project extension.
“If you’re going to back out, now’s the time to back out of this business relationship,” Holland said.
Holland, who has a background in city planning, said the complete or nearly finished West Park studies, such as biological and cultural resource studies, were far easier to compile than studies on traffic and water and sewer uses, which were only a quarter complete.
Even Francine Dunn, a consultant who will help Kamilos compile the final environmental document for West Park, said the schedule was aggressive, though she also said it could be done.
“I think we’re going to have to lock ourselves up and complete it in a couple of days — do things that are not so traditional,” she told the board.
Under the agreement approved Tuesday, the West Park team must have a draft environmental impact report and a draft specific plan ready by Jan. 31 and have documents prepared for the county staff to review by December.
Kamilos said much of the work on those documents had been done in studies he conducted when his plans had a larger, 4,800-acre footprint.
He also said he was acquiring funding for the project following challenges related to the 2008 collapse of the project’s previous backer, Lehman Bros.
While the investment firm dumped most of its commitments in the bankruptcy process, it retained West Park, preventing Kamilos from seeking funding alternatives but also preventing the project from being funded by the bankrupt company, according to a staff report written by Boggs.
Lehman has since evolved into a legacy management company, in which the remaining creditors will become shareholders. A buyout plan was negotiated in May, and Kamilos’s company will serve as the managing financial partner for West Park, along with new capital partners in the future.
Kamilos told supervisors he had spent $6.5 million on the project, including $3.8 million on environmental studies and $430,000 on a 22-month legal challenge initiated by the city of Patterson. He also faced lawsuits from contractors demanding payment on various projects, including West Park, though he said he was working out those issues.
Kamilos said he was serious about the project and was committed to seeing it through.
“Age wrinkles the skin, but quitting wrinkles the soul,” Kamilos said, slightly varying a quotation of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. “We’re here to say we’re not quitting.”
• Contact Jonathan Partridge at 892-6187, ext. 26, or email@example.com.