West Park developer wins more time for project

gstapley@modbee.comJune 19, 2012 

Developer Gerry Kamilos bought more time Tuesday for West Park, his vision of a huge industrial complex near Crows Landing.

Despite their impatience after more than five years of waiting, a 3-1 majority of Stanislaus County supervisors voted to grant West Park seven more months in the hope that the project eventually will produce 13,000 jobs with decent wages.

Kamilos wants to establish an inland port on a former naval air base to receive Asian imports on rail cars from the Port of Oakland, with valley produce heading the other way.

Kamilos must produce a draft environmental impact report and financial feasibility study by Jan. 31 or risk losing most of a $2.75 million deposit.

"He's helping us solve (an unemployment) problem. I take my hat off to him," Supervisor Dick Monteith said.

"Seven months, when we're talking about a 20-year program? What have we got to lose?" Mon-teith continued. "I happen to believe he'll come through."

Supervisor Bill O'Brien said either Kamilos would come through, or the county would have his money – enough to start over with another developer.

Casting the deciding vote, Supervisor Vito Chiesa said, "I just have to believe it's better going forward."

The hearing got off to a surprising start when Supervisor Terry Withrow, who has not supported West Park in previous votes, left the room, saying a potential conflict of interest would prevent him from voting. Inlaws own property around Kamilos' proposal, Withrow said.

Supervisor Jim DeMartini continued strong criticism. He called West Park "a fraud, a lousy project; it's never going to produce any jobs. It's time for us to start over again."

Kamilos said, "We are very serious about getting this project completed."

Several consultants accompanied him, all saying they're eager to keep going and assuring that key documents could be done by a Jan. 31 deadline. Kamilos provided a $1 million deposit Monday and pledged a total of $2.75 million by July 10, most of which he would lose if his team fails to meet the deadline.

Supporters included a commissioner with the Port of Oakland, which had not been particularly vocal in the five years since West Park won exclusive negotiating rights.

"We think this project has great value for your community, the state of California, our port and international trade," Port Commissioner Victor Uno said.

"Doesn't everyone want employment opportunities?" said Bill Bassitt, chief executive officer of the Stanislaus Workforce Alliance. He said an extension should be easy to grant – either Kamilos comes through, or the county has his money to start over.

But DeMartini grilled Kamilos at length, noting lawsuits and questioning whether his predictions on rail demand and jobs are realistic.

"How can you tell me you'll create 17,000 (jobs) unless you have an army of people with squeegees cleaning off solar panels?" DeMartini said.

Kamilos said a lot of answers would come with an environmental impact report, which his team would finish if supervisors granted him the seven-month extension.

Several West Side residents said they have little faith in Kamilos or West Park.

"He has not performed in any aspect," said Kenny Buehner of Patterson.

"Kamilos is responsible for not doing what he promised 15 years ago," said Melvin Clemmer of Patterson, a former supporter who lost patience. "He is solely responsible for loss of trust in the project."

Others praised Kamilos for his vision and commitment.

"You must have some tough skin to constantly come before this board to be ridiculed by DeMartini. Hang in there," said Laroy McDonald of Newman.

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