MODESTO -- There comes a point in virtually every substantial project where so much time, energy and money has been invested that it's impossible to turn back.
That point seems to be a moving target in Stanislaus County.
Once again, the supervisors gave developer Gerry Kamilos more time one more week to get his West Park industrial plan and financing in place to turn the old Crows Landing Naval Air Station into a booming economic engine. And, by a 2-2 vote with conflicted Terry Withrow sitting it out, they granted the extension without getting so much as a dime of the $2.75 million Kamilos defaulted on last month, unwilling to punt even though five years has passed and the developer is still possibly years away from turning the first shovelful of dirt. Or not.
In 2007, they chose Kamilos' vision for developing the land over that of a company run by Ross Perot Jr.
Kamilos brought grand plans indeed: a rail link to the Port of Oakland being the anchor of the $358 million project. The availability of the airfield, built during World War II to train Navy pilots and most recently used by NASA. Most important to a region mired with a pathetic economy and rampant unemployment, his plan includes the promise of 13,000 jobs.
The supervisors entrusted Kamilos with the exclusive right, giving him five years to negotiate the minefields of environmental reviews and local opposition.
As the deadline passed in June, Kamilos coaxed a seven-month extension to finish his environmental review. He even promised to pay $2.57 million, mostly nonrefundable, into an account that would pay the environmental consultants for their work. Because he'd reportedly stiffed contractors in previous projects, this was supposed to encourage them to do business with him on West Park and thus speed it along. That's hardly reassuring.
So no one was shocked when Kamilos didn't pay up July 10 despite repeated "the check's almost in the mail"-type promises. Then he wanted guarantees that his investors would get their money back if the supervisors axed his plan and fired him.
Really, if a developer is pitching a $358 million project and has to haggle over a $2.57 million payment chump change in the bigger picture it makes you wonder if he really has the financial clout to see the project to fruition.
Tuesday, Kamilos' best and last remaining hope was that the board would look at the amount of time invested in the project and the jobs it could bring and begrudgingly give him yet another one-more-chance chance.
They did, even though that point the one where too much money and time had been invested to turn back really applies only to Kamilos, not the county. After all, he claims he's spent $6 million of other people's money on West Park.
The county? It's invested five years and some staff time. It got the naval air base for free, signed over as part of the disposal of military property.
So the supervisors really didn't need to show any more patience especially since Kamilos' actions suggest there will be more stalling and hedging down the road.
While Supervisor Dick Monteith remained passionately in Kamilos' camp, Supervisor Jim DeMartini, Kamilos' nemesis, stopped just short of committing him to solitary confinement at Devil's Island. Pragmatic Vito Chiesa, who recognized West Park's possibilities, said it was time to move on.
With Withrow abstaining, board Chairman Bill O'Brien cast the deciding vote to keep Kamilos and his project on life support.
Granted, by punting on Kamilos, the development of the old airstrip would return to the starting line.
The board could have opted to reopen the project for new proposals, and a spokesman from Hillwood Perot Jr.'s company told me recently it again would be interested.
Or, the supervisors could have changed course entirely by opting to sell the land outright and letting private enterprise develop it at its own pace. The only restrictions involve continued access to the airfield for NASA and some language involving any remaining hazmat cleanup issues.
Instead, that point of no return proved elusive once again.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, @jeffjardine57 on Twitter or at (209) 578-2383.