MODESTO -- The tide has turned against Gerry Kamilos and his West Park brainchild.
Five years of a tenuous partnership unraveled Tuesday when a majority of Stanislaus County leaders said they will look for someone else to create a logistics nerve center near Crows Landing, 17 miles southwest of Modesto.
County supervisors did not formally show Kamilos the door, but it's clear that most are ready to try a new horse. Or at least shop around for one.
They're expected next Tuesday to make it official.
The cited reason is Kamilos' failure to make a $2.75 million deposit six weeks ago. He had agreed in June to cough it up because that seemed the surest way to win another crucial time extension on studies he promised three years ago but are nowhere near finished.
Kamilos envisions 13,000 jobs and international trade made possible by a rail link from the former naval air base to the Port of Oakland. Trucks and airplanes could get a piece of the action, he says.
Officials in June demanded that Kamilos show them the money not just to cover study costs, but to reassure that he or his unnamed investors really do have deep pockets. That came out as project manager Keith Boggs, a county assistant chief executive, framed Tuesday night's discussion at the Board of Supervisors' meeting.
The demand was meant "to demonstrate (Kamilos') solvency, in light of the ongoing fiscal distraction," Boggs revealed.
Critics will say it worked in reverse by exposing West Park's apparently shallow pockets, although few would have predicted, from Kamilos' words in June, that he would miss the deposit deadline. He repeatedly assured supervisors then that they would get their studies by Jan. 31 and sounded as if the $2.75 million was no big deal.
Speculation has swirled in the six weeks since the breach, partly fueled by Kamilos' repeated promises that the money was on its way. But when given the chance to explain himself Tuesday night, Kamilos ignored any mention of the deposit.
His odd presentation no PowerPoint, no fawning consultants in tow suggests that Kamilos had counted noses among the Board of Supervisors and concluded he was on his way out. Perhaps he can't afford to pay another expert to make more promises, one supervisor mused after the meeting.
With little left to lose, Kamilos dropped the contrition that might be expected of someone owing $2.75 million; instead, he demanded that the county give him more time for the studies.
"I really look at this as a partnership meeting," Kamilos told supervisors, as if dozens of opponents were not in the audience behind him. "I felt it was important that we have this straight, one-on-one discussion on coming up with a solution."
It was either gutsy or desperate, but it didn't go over well.
Supervisors Vito Chiesa and Bill O'Brien, who previously supported Kamilos, jumped ship.
They joined Jim DeMartini, who has blasted West Park at every opportunity, while Dick Monteith remained alone behind Kamilos. Terry Withrow sat this one out to avoid a conflict after buying a legal expert's advice with his own money; he confirmed Wednesday that he won't vote on future items regarding the air base because his wife has part ownership of land nearby.
But high-stakes jockeying can get messy and confusing. The three leaders wanting to test the water for someone other than Kamilos had different ideas on how to go about it.
"There are other development companies out there interested in this job," DeMartini said. His motion to sack Kamilos was seconded by Chiesa, but O'Brien surprised some by joining Monteith in voting "no," and the 2-2 tie killed the motion.
O'Brien, it turned out, favored another strategy, although similar: he wanted apples-to-apples bids from others. "I want to know if there is someone else out there," he said. "Jim says there is. No one has ever called me. That's what I want to find out."
But such comparisons probably aren't realistic, because no one else controls 1,300 acres adjacent to the county's 1,528-acre airfield, as Kamilos does. Other bids probably would focus on developing the base and would not generate enough profit to match Kamilos' pledges; new sewer and water services for townsfolk in nearby Crows Landing could cost $18 million alone.
DeMartini returned O'Brien's snub, questioning "whether it's going to be rushed through so that nobody else but Kamilos could apply.
I don't want to see this rigged so no one else has time to submit a bid."
O'Brien eventually withdrew his idea. Previously, no supervisor would second Monteith's motion to give Kamilos more time for studies and to set a new deposit deadline for today.
"I think a lot of us have different ideas on what we want to see happen," O'Brien said, summing up the evening's frustration.
In the end, the four voting supervisors agreed to continue the debate next week, giving Boggs time to develop options on seeking bids. He said Wednesday that he will draft a process with a suggested time line likely to stretch several months.
Meanwhile, Kamilos' exclusive negotiating rights remain intact, but probably only for a week. Supervisors didn't say whether they'll let him talk next week.
"I'm actually sad today, sad that I'm making this decision," Chiesa said, describing an internal struggle to let West Park go. "But this is what I prefer to open it up as fast as we can."
The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meets 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 email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.