Drama over Stanislaus County's high-value vision for thousands of jobs with respectable wages resumes Tuesday as leaders consider whether to fire their master developer, scrap his 5-year-old West Park plan and start over.
The mood of one decision maker who previously gave West Park the benefit of the doubt may have shifted. And another county supervisor with a dim view of the project, who abstained from the last vote, may change course and participate this time.
Both bits of news could bode ill for West Park, whose investors already are in political hot water with the five supervisors for breaking a promise and a signed contract to deliver a $2.75 million deposit more than five weeks ago.
At risk is developer Gerry Kamilos' hope for an inland port at a former naval air base near Crows Landing, with a rail link to the Port of Oakland and Asian shipping. He thinks an industrial complex on and around the base could produce 13,000 decent-wage jobs.
His selection in 2007 ended an unprecedented political war, complete with organized citizens groups, stealth propaganda campaigns, video hit pieces and heated rhetoric from elected officials.
Friday, Kamilos said his investors are reluctant to wire the deposit without assurance that they would get it back if supervisors cut West Park loose Tuesday.
County Counsel John Doering's office prepared a draft agreement, but it would require approval of those same supervisors, so that scenario seems moot.
"It's very tough," Kamilos said of the stalemate.
Supervisor Vito Chiesa, whose favorable swing vote on time extensions kept West Park alive in March 2011 and again in June, said he will reserve judgment until the end of Tuesday's high-stakes hearing. However, he said: "It's going to be tough to go forward for me. I never want to close myself in, but I'm disheartened. A contract's a contract, and (Kamilos) has had plenty of leeway."
Supervisor Terry Withrow recused himself before the key June vote, to avoid a possible conflict because his wife is a part owner of land near the base. But he recently hired a legal expert to review all pertinent facts and hopes to resume voting Tuesday.
"I feel like I've been benched and I'm trying everything I can to get back in the game," said Withrow, who previously frowned on West Park.
Three votes against would cancel the county's exclusive negotiating relationship with Kamilos. His most vehement critic, Supervisor Jim DeMartini, gladly would provide one of those votes.
The Bee was unable on Thursday and Friday to reach Supervisor Bill O'Brien, also considered a swing vote, or Supervisor Dick Monteith, who has been Kamilos' most solid supporter.
Supervisors in June swallowed Kamilos' $2.75 million carrot, figuring they could keep the money and show him the door if West Park fails to produce key documents, including environmental assessments, by Jan. 31. At that June vote, no one predicted that the money would not arrive as promised by July 10.
"The whole team understands," Kamilos said then. "We know if we don't meet that deadline, this entity and our team will no longer be able to proceed and you would seek other alternatives; we understand that."
He noted that investors already had spent $6.5 million on studies and to defend a lawsuit.
When July 10 came and went, Kamilos blamed last-minute exit negotiations with bankrupt financier Lehman Brothers. As days and weeks went by, he said assembling approval from a new, unnamed source proved more complicated than expected.
County officials declared a breach of contract the day after the July 10 deadline and scheduled Tuesday's vote, not knowing whether the money would arrive or not.
Even if Kamilos never had political capital with DeMartini, the supervisor said it should be spent with his colleagues by now.
"This project has been going nowhere for a long time," DeMartini said. "In the last two years, virtually nothing has been done. This board has to realize that this guy does not have the ability to do the project and we should start over again. I don't see how we could come to any other conclusion."
One of West Park's most ardent supporters, the Stanislaus Workforce Alliance, remains committed to the goal of a jobs-rich hub on the West Side, Chief Executive Officer Bill Bassitt said. But even he was "just sitting here, waiting to hear if anything will happen," he said Thursday.
Requesting new bids from other developers, drawn by the West Side's proximity to Highway 5 trucking and the Bay Area, and perhaps the base's small air strip, remains an option. But Bassitt said it's doubtful another would be ambitious enough to embrace West Park's rail component with its possibilities for international imports and exports.
"That's the magic connection," Bassitt said, envisioning a transition from logistics to manufacturing "an entirely different dimension," he said.
"Whatever happens, happens and we'll go from there," Bassitt said.
Tuesday's meeting of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors starts at 6:30 p.m. in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
On the Net: www.crowsbizpark.biz
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390.
1943: The first airplane lands at the U.S. Naval Auxiliary Air Station near Crows Landing. More than 2,400 people work here at the height of World War II.
1991: Pilots train for combat during the Persian Gulf War.
1999: President Bill Clinton signs a bill giving the station to Stanislaus County.
2007: A 3-2 majority of county supervisors chooses PCCP West Park and Gerry Kamilos to develop a 4,560-acre industrial complex around the base with a rail link to the Port of Oakland.
2010: Appellate justices side against the city of Patterson in a two-year lawsuit challenging a lack of environmental plans for West Park.
March 2011: Kamilos downsizes his proposal to 2,800 acres. On a 3-2 vote, he wins a 15-month extension to produce key studies; some supervisors warn him not to seek another.
June 19, 2012: Kamilos pledges a "good faith" deposit of $2.75 million. Citing a conflict, Supervisor Terry Withrow recuses himself and the others vote 3-1 to grant a seven-month extension.
August: Five weeks after the deposit deadline, the money still has not arrived. Supervisors are scheduled Tuesday to consider terminating their relationship with Kamilos because of the contract breach.