STANISLAUS COUNTY — Stanislaus County leaders should not put their aspirations for Crows Landing Naval Air Field on the back burner. But they need to mix a little more realism in with their high expectations in seeking someone who will transform the property south of Patterson from two decommissioned runways and surrounding fields into a major jobs center.
It was disappointing but not terribly surprising that the county received no proposals from developers willing to put up $2.75 million up front, prove their financial stability and meet other demands in a request for proposals that seemed to emphasize the county's plight as much as or more than the former base's great potential.
For instance, the county still wants the base developer to provide water to the nearby town of Crows Landing. Would that be beneficial to the town's residents and the county? Yes. Should the obligation be forced on the air base developer? Maybe not.
And the county wants a multimillion-dollar deposit, even though the basic studies were expected to cost less than a million dollars. It looked like an overreach, tied to supervisors' frustration with Gerry Kamilos, with whom they severed ties last year.
We still believe that the Crows Landing property holds great promise, viewed realistically. It is a mile from Interstate 5, but not as close as the Patterson business parks that have done so well.
Greater deterrents, we suspect, are Stanislaus County's lingering challenges that outside developers can quickly spot, such as our relatively low education level and the poor, albeit improved, air quality.
Only two developers submitted proposals in the first go round, which occurred in 2006 when the economy was robust and no one anticipated a real estate crash that would hit. There was another advantage during that era. Development of the Crows Landing air field was championed by a strong local politician then-Supervisor Jeff Grover.
With a lack of progress at Crows Landing and no one leading the political charge for the West Side project, attention has turned to potential for economic development elsewhere, most notably along Highway 99, in Turlock and along Kiernan Avenue, the east-west corridor at the heart of the dispute over whether Salida should be annexed to Modesto.
Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents the West Side, thinks that the air base plan should be set aside until the economy improves. We disagree. Projects of this size take years to materialize and shelving it will only push its development back even further.
Vito Chiesa, who is taking his turn as chairman of the Board of Supervisors, has put forth a bold plan to reduce gangs and improve education and the economy. He is soliciting community involvement in an effort that will take decades, not just years, to achieve.
Development of the Crows Landing base needs to be part of this larger initiative. Its strongest attributes have not changed since the county acquired the property in 2004. It's a large parcel of undeveloped land in a strategic location. The county needs to be open to innovative proposals from the private sector for how it can be used to generate jobs.