West Park may face new delay as developer seeks 6 more months

gstapley@modbee.comMay 1, 2012 

— The developer of a future industrial complex near Crows Landing will ask Stanislaus County leaders for six more months to complete key documents, despite stern warnings last year that further delay could be a deal-breaker.

Gerry Kamilos narrowly won a 15-month extension for West Park in March 2011 by a 3-2 vote of the county Board of Supervisors, with two of three supporters telling him not to bother asking for more time this year.

"I'm willing to give this extension for 15 months, but I will not — I'll go on record right now — I will not extend that," Supervisor Vito Chiesa said last year when casting the tie-breaking vote.

Keith Boggs, who oversees West Park progress for the county, confirmed that Kamilos finished briefing the five supervisors Tuesday and said Kamilos will publicly pitch an extension in a meeting tentatively scheduled for June 19.

He needs more time to finish a series of studies, including a key environmental impact report, supervisors said. Most seemed disappointed Tuesday but said they will withhold judgment until next month's vote.

Kamilos had spent $5 million as of last year's vote, and presumably much more by now. He blamed previous delays on a lawsuit that took 22 months to resolve.

Boggs' report in June will contain an option for terminating the county's exclusive negotiating rights with Kamilos, Boggs said. Supervisors on Tuesday seemed upset at another delay, but some doubted whether another developer could quickly assemble a rival project.

Kamilos hopes to give valley growers more Pacific Rim export opportunities by running local produce on short-haul trains to the Port of Oakland. Asian imports could come the other way, unloading onto trucks at an inland port on the former naval air base in western Stanislaus County.

Five years ago, West Park planned to sprawl across 4,800 acres. Just before last year's extension, Kamilos scaled down the project to 2,800 acres, reduced anticipated train traffic and added a huge solar farm component to generate cash required for industrial infrastructure.

Greater resistance to extension

He also stepped up efforts to win over critics, holding a series of town hall chats and meeting regularly with West Side officials and other groups.

Last year, Chiesa wasn't the only one to predict that Kamilos would have trouble complying with this year's deadline.

"Fifteen months from now, I think if you ask for an extension, that's going to be a little harder to approve," Supervisor Bill O'Brien said at the time.

He recalled the moment Tuesday, saying, "We told him that was it." Asked if he is concerned about the ongoing delay, O'Brien said, " 'Concerned' would be an understatement."

O'Brien had joined Chiesa and Supervisor Dick Monteith to approve the extension last year, outvoting Supervisors Jim DeMartini and Terry Withrow.

Withrow said Tuesday: "I don't know if (Kamilos) has got it all together. He just doesn't have everything he said he would have in the 15 months we gave him. He's not there."

Decision may depend on progress

DeMartini, West Park's most vocal detractor on the board, represents the West Side and sides with project opponents. He said, "I've never been opposed to a project. I just want to be sure the builder we've got is capable of building something suitable for the area. I've always had my doubts that (Kamilos) has the ability to actually build the project."

Monteith, Kamilos' one solid supporter last year, said Tuesday he still believes in the West Park plan and a delay shouldn't mean much in the end. Kamilos has promised to bring 17,000 decent-paying jobs.

"I think he has got things pretty well in hand," Monteith said. "I think his request is reasonable. If the other board members disagree, I would ask them why we shouldn't go with it if he's making progress?"

Supervisors on Tuesday said they will carefully consider all factors.

"We'll have to weigh the pros and cons and all options," O'Brien said.

Chiesa acknowledged his hard-line warning last year and softened his stance a bit.

"I've got an open mind and I need to see what's deliverable," Chiesa said. "I have to listen to what he's going to say. I know what my comments were and I have to see what he can offer and make a decision based on that.

"If he's just asking for more time, that's not going to work for me," Chiesa continued. "If something comes with it, I'll have to listen to it."

Withrow said, "We'll have to see how it goes. The saga continues."

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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