Stanislaus County cuts ties with Kamilos, West Park

gstapley@modbee.comAugust 28, 2012 

— Stanislaus County leaders formally cut ties Tuesday with West Park developer Gerry Kamilos in a landmark 3-1 vote and will seek proposals from other potential partners.

Kamilos, whose investors spent $6.5 million in the five years before county supervisors lost patience with slow progress, said his team likely will remain in the running to transform a former naval air base into a logistics hub.

The majority of supervisors last week indicated that they would fire Kamilos but needed time to review options on courting someone else. This week's vote ends five years of exclusive negotiating rights, and perhaps Kamilos' vision of bringing 13,000 jobs to a county suffering with chronic unemployment.

Kamilos, based in Sacramento, had proposed a rail link to the Port of Oakland and Asian shipping, complementing the base's air strip and proximity to Interstate 5 trucking. Many West Side groups assailed the rail idea and showed little trust in Kamilos. A lawsuit brought by Patterson leaders caused a 22-month delay.

"We want to see ideas" from other developers, Supervisor Vito Chiesa said Tuesday.

He and Supervisors Bill O'Brien and Jim DeMartini agreed to say goodbye to Kamilos and start a bid process that could land a new partner in about six months. Supervisor Dick Monteith, West Park's strongest supporter, did not comment and voted "no."

Supervisor Terry Withrow abstained, as he has in recent votes on the issue, to avoid a conflict of interest related to his wife's part-ownership of land near the base.

Tuesday's debate lacked the emotional struggle that led to last week's parting of the ways, triggered by West Park's failure to submit a $2.75 million deposit by July 10. The money was meant to verify West Park's deep pockets and to cover the costs of state-mandated studies, although county staff acknowledged that the studies likely could be had for less than $1 million.

This week's discussion centered on an approach to soliciting new bids. O'Brien insisted that the county set requirements as close as possible to those placed on West Park, while DeMartini feared scaring off potential bidders.

DeMartini favored asking county staff, instead of a developer, to shepherd studies, which would include a key environmental impact report. That process could have taken more time but might have lured more proposals. He also liked a staff recommendation to require a bank letter of credit instead of a cash deposit.

O'Brien insisted on apples-to-apples comparisons. He lowered his demand for a deposit to $2 million — still much more than expected to cover studies on the naval station's 1,528 acres, compared with Kamilos' total of 2,900 acres with options on adjacent land. DeMartini eventually agreed.

A new partner would have to promise a multimillion-dollar upgrade of a sewer system in the town of Crows Landing, as well as a firehouse on the base — just as in Kamilos' previous contract, O'Brien said. A rail component will be optional, as it was when Kamilos won out over Ross Perot Jr.'s Hillwood proposal in 2007.

Kamilos on Tuesday asked for another chance and rescinded last week's demand for extending a deadline on key studies to April 30 instead of Jan. 31.

"I'm here to tell you we are ready, willing and able to (finish) the EIR in six months," he said. Supervisors essentially brushed him aside.

After the meeting, Kamilos said he can't imagine another developer promising environmental studies that soon. Lessons learned will help both sides in new negotiations, he predicted.

"I'm looking at this as a way to realign and recalibrate the landscape and relationships," Kamilos said, "and come back with a refreshed plan and team and still be able to get the EIR complete in six months."

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

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