Millions of dollars and thousands of potential jobs hang in the balance Tuesday night as Stanislaus County leaders decide whether to stick with their previously anointed West Park developer or cut ties and find someone else.
Some county supervisors clarified their positions Monday, but the outcome for developer Gerry Kamilos remains impossible to predict.
Supervisor Dick Monteith returned from vacation and declared himself as strongly in West Park's camp as ever, as long as Kamilos mends a badly tattered bridge by delivering a $2.75 million deposit.
But he appears to represent Kamilos' only sure bet, counterbalanced by Supervisor Jim DeMartini, the project's most passionate critic.
At the advice of another lawyer, likely DeMartini ally Supervisor Terry Withrow is expected to step aside again and not vote, he said Monday, so firing Kamilos would require the assent of both remaining supervisors.
Last week, Vito Chiesa seemed unhappy with Kamilos' repeated failure to perform, and board chairman Bill O'Brien echoed that Monday. Still, both said they'll see how things shake out at tonight's meeting before deciding how to vote.
At stake is 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 to Asian shipping. He thinks an industrial complex on and around the base could produce 13,000 decent-wage jobs.
But Kamilos has had trouble appeasing county officials, who are anxious for new jobs to help reverse chronic unemployment. They want results, including environmental studies required by state law that Kamilos initially promised by 2009.
"We've got to get our people back to work," O'Brien said Monday.
Last year, Kamilos narrowly won a 15-month extension. In June, he sought a seven-month extension and supervisors demanded he put his money where his mouth was, extracting a signed agreement that West Park investors wire the $2.75 million deposit by July 10.
The pledge proved to be "a significant inducement," says a report to the board for tonight's meeting, but the money never arrived.
Chiesa last week said the ongoing breach of contract leaves him "disheartened." O'Brien used the same word Monday.
Withrow had indicated that he might resume voting on West Park matters; he had recused himself from the June vote at the advice of county attorneys, to avoid a potential conflict because his wife owns a 12.5 percent interest in land near the base.
Saying he hoped to "get back in the game," Withrow hired an attorney formerly employed by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, the agency that regulates such conflicts, to review pertinent facts. As of late Sunday, the expert had not exhausted his review, but recommended that Withrow continue to abstain in the meantime, Withrow said Monday.
"It's very frustrating to be in this position," said Withrow, who described a back room where officials wait when not participating in certain votes but can watch things develop on a TV monitor.
"I'll yell at it or cheer, depending on which way it goes," he said.
Soon after West Park broke the deposit contract in July, Monteith took a wait-and-see approach. On Monday, he said, "I haven't lost my enthusiasm at all; in fact, I'm more enthusiastic than ever."
If Kamilos is shown the door, Monteith said, it's doubtful another bidder would retain the rail and shipping component that make West Park's vision unique, along with an airstrip and nearby Interstate 5 trucking. He said he will suggest giving Kamilos until Wednesday to come up with the money and a more realistic deadline than Jan. 31 to produce environmental documents.
"Let's get beyond anger and disappointment," Monteith said. "I believe the plan is a good plan."
A June report explores the idea of county staff commissioning key studies, instead of waiting for Kamilos; they could be used to lure a new master developer, the report says. But the documents might take 3½ years and cost up to $1.7 million, the report says.
Tuesday's meeting of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors begins at 6:30 in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.
On the Net: www.stancounty.com/bos/agenda/2012/Ag08-21-12.pdf.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2390. Real-time results of the West Park vote can be viewed on his live meeting blog at www.modbee.com.