West Park gets a reprieve as Stanislaus supervisors put off decision for a week

gstapley@modbee.comAugust 21, 2012 

— The once-vaunted West Park plan for 13,000 jobs in a bustling industrial complex on Stanislaus County's West Side clung to life support late Tuesday, with county leaders leaning toward dumping their master developer but unsure how best to court others.

Instead of pleading for forgiveness over breaching an agreement to deposit $2.75 million six weeks ago, developer Gerry Kamilos further annoyed impatient county supervisors by requesting yet another extension for critical studies — from Jan. 31 to April 30.

"I'll be back next week," Kamilos told The Bee after Tuesday's meeting.

It's not clear if he will be granted another opportunity to win over supervisors at that time.

Some leaders urged him to reapply if they seek more applicants, but most seemed anxious to see what others might offer.

"We need to start over again, with a developer that has got industrial experience, has got financing and has support from the local community," said Supervisor Jim DeMartini, whose district includes the West Side.

"That's what we need and we deserve nothing less than that."

At one point in the meeting, DeMartini said of Kamilos, "He has breached the contract; he is outta there."

Kamilos had hoped to generate about 13,000 well-paying jobs with a business hub on and around a former naval air base at Crows Landing, with its airstrip and trucking from nearby Interstate 5. The plan included a rail link to the Port of Oakland and Asian shipping.

Supervisors Vito Chiesa and Bill O'Brien agreed to seek new bids, saying Kamilos had worn out his welcome with broken promises, despite grand intentions.

But they and the others did not agree on procedure, making a few motions that failed or died for lack of seconds.

"The problem I have is we're doing this on the fly," Chiesa said. "That just doesn't sit well with me."

Leaders might have ordered staff members to return in three months with options.

Chiesa asked that some be presented next week, acknowledging that it's a tall order.

Supervisor Dick Monteith stood alone in support of Kamilos, saying his rail component and potential for international trade is not likely to be replicated in other bids.

"There is no other place in the state of California that can provide that kind of service to businesses," Monteith said. "I think we have a very unique situation."

The other supervisors seemed ready to move on.

"We've stuck our neck out pretty far," O'Brien said, noting extensions grudgingly approved last year and again in June, not to mention Kamilos' demand Tuesday for a third.

O'Brien wants bids from others that supervisors could compare with the West Park vision, but that seems impossible because the county controls only the former base's 1,528 acres.

Kamilos proposes spreading onto nearby property, for which he holds options, for a total of about 2,800 acres.

It's doubtful that a smaller project could produce the profits needed for multimillion-dollar upgrades of sewer and water systems in the nearby town of Crows Landing, as Kamilos had promised, officials said.

At one point, a county administrator said staff could be ready to ask for bids in two months with a four-month window for offers, perhaps landing a new partner in six months.

DeMartini, West Park's most consistent detractor, said he's wary of a process that might favor West Park by requiring that competitors rush their bids.

Supervisor Terry Withrow, also critical of West Park in the past, did not participate to avoid a potential conflict of interest regarding his wife's part ownership of land near the base.

The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the basement chamber at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St., Modesto.

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

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