Our View: A fresh approach on the Crows Landing air field

November 2, 2013 

Stanislaus County took possession of most of the Crows Landing Naval Air Field in 2004 and almost 10 years later it remains what it was then – a place of great potential for business, industry and the thing our county needs most: good-paying jobs.

So far, however, despite all the promise, no industrial park has gotten off the ground. The 1,500-acre facility is partially in crops and gets used as a training site for law enforcement and for occasional special events.

In 2006, only two firm proposals came in when the county sought a master developer, and the winner of that competition, Gerry Kamilos, was unable to carry out his vision for West Park, an inland port and transportation hub that was touted with the possibility of offering 13,000 jobs.

The county cut its ties with Kamilos last year and invited proposals from other developers. None came in.

So in June, the county decided to take a new approach: Instead of seeking a well-heeled developer willing to pay upfront for a costly environmental review, the county would finance the big-picture study itself, at a cost of about $615,000. Eventually, when development goes in at the 1,500-acre base, the cost of the studies will be recouped.

In mid-October, the Board of Supervisors approved a contract with AECOM Technical Services, a Sacramento firm, to prepare the big-picture environmental review and to identify appropriate business and industrial uses for the property, uses that are compatible with having a general aviation airport nearby.

In contrast to the high-profile board discussions every step of the way over the West Park project, this contract flew under the radar. It was approved as a routine consent agenda items, with no public or board comment.

We fully understand county staff’s desire to start fresh on the Crows Landing discussion, and we think it’s useful to take a whole new approach. But we also want to see this be a fully transparent discussion, open to the the many people with an interest in the property, whether because they live or farm nearby or because they share the almost universal concern about our county’s need for more jobs.

Although Kamilos tried to meet with a lot of people, his early conversations did not include enough time with city of Patterson leaders. We are pleased to see that AECOM recognizes the need for close consultation with Patterson, whose lawsuit against West Park was one of its many obstacles.

The contract calls for up to 10 public meetings about the airfield over the next 22 months, culminating by July 31, 2015, with a completed environmental review and a master plan for sewer, water, traffic and necessities.

One meeting was held Thursday involving some local brokers and representatives from Caltrans’ aeronautics division. The larger public meetings are likely to be next spring. No dates have been set.

This new approach is appealing in a couple of ways: It doesn’t involve a specific developer but rather a more generalized discussion of what uses will and won’t work at the airfield. And second, it could open the door for several midsized developers to come in with proposals rather than waiting for a megadeveloper to tackle it all.

Previously, there seemed to be the expectation that one supersized developer would transform the base and, at the same time, pay for all sorts of other improvements, such as nearby roads and the water and sewer in the nearby unincorporated town of Crows Landing. In the wake of the Great Recession, that’s not a likely prospect.

We still believe that the airfield holds great promise. It’s a large parcel of undeveloped land in a strategic location. We look forward to a very inclusive and public discussion about how it can be used to benefit all of Stanislaus County.

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