Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini is half of the negotiating team working out a master development agreement with PCCP West Park LLC developer Gerry Kamilos.
He also is the project's most vocal critic, attending public meetings to castigate it and Kamilos. DeMartini has contended in public meetings that the project has no chance of getting the state funding it needs and has accused the West Park team of being less than forthright in describing parts of the project.
Those seemingly contradictory roles led Doug Sweetland, the Stanislaus Economic Development and Workforce Alliance economic development director, to tell DeMartini at a recent public meeting that he was "abusing his position."
"I've had difficulty understanding how someone can negotiate in good faith on one side and on the other hand come out totally against it," Sweetland said. "How can he keep an open mind in terms of negotiation?"
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DeMartini said Friday he was entitled to voice his opinion and called Sweetland's comments "over the line and out of place." Senators and congressmen frequently speak their minds on issues, he said. "I don't know why the Board of Supervisors are held to different standards."
The West Park project would transform 4,800 acres of farmland and a vacant airfield into a business park and inland port, connected to the Port of Oakland with a short-haul rail system.
Kamilos won the right to negotiate with the county on a master development agreement for the ambitious project and is halfway through that process. DeMar-tini, who voted against the West Park proposal, and Supervisor Dick Monteith, who voted for it, are on the negotiating committee.
Monteith said DeMartini was entitled to express his opinions, but added, "He does have a tendency to make comments attacking rather than addressing issues."
The Board of Supervisors backed the West Park proposal on a 3-2 vote, Monteith said, and the committee's job is to make the best of that proposal.
"It's like fighting the Civil War all over again," he said of DeMartini's attacks on the West Park proposal. "The decision has been made by the board. He can make objections, but stop the attacks. ... It doesn't accomplish anything."
DeMartini said Monteith has sent a letter to the California Air Resources Board endorsing the West Park proposal and has accepted campaign contributions from Kamilos.
"I didn't see Sweetland ob- ject to that," DeMartini said. "There's a double standard from the alliance on this."
The county counsel's office is looking at the issue of whether DeMartini's two roles in the process are contradictory, assistant county counsel John Doering said.
"The county as a whole is negotiating in good faith. We are looking into some questions of perceived bias by Supervisor DeMartini," Doering said. "We don't have a conclusion on that yet."
The issue hinges on how the Board of Supervisors' vote on West Park, which will occur sometime next year, is defined, Doering said.
Nature of vote makes difference
In legal-speak, if that vote is deemed to be "quasi-judicial," then DeMartini would have to recuse himself from the final vote on the project. If it is deemed to be "legislative" then his comments in opposition are a normal part of the political process.
DeMartini found himself on the wrong side of that line ear-lier this year on a vote to divide a large ranch into 80-acre parcels. He attended a planning commission meeting to speak in opposition to the parcel split and then had to recuse himself from the vote when it came before the Board of Supervisors.
Doering explained that the parcel split was a quasi- judicial vote because it con- cerned an indi- vidual's land- use entitlement.
The West Park vote will decide whether the county should proceed with a plan fleshed out in committee negotiations.
"We don't think that decision is quasi-judicial, we think it is legislative," Doering said, which would give DeMartini the right to speak his mind on it and still vote.
The acrimony puts county staff in an awkward position. They have to work at moving the West Park proposal forward because the county board endorsed it and pay attention to DeMartini's objections.
"He is skeptical of the project, and he is asking a lot of questions," Doering said. "He believes the community deserves answers to these hard questions.
"He poses them as a conclusion. He may state it as a position, but he is asking a question," Doering said. "The county staff deals with those as questions, and we discuss it with the West Park team and get answers."
Many on the West Side are wary of the project, Doering said, and DeMartini is assuring that their concerns are addressed.
"The West Park team has been responsive in making the proj-ect work for the county, the community and the Board of Super- visors," Doering added.
Kamilos said Thursday he and his team are focused on working out the master development agreement and don't want to get sidetracked with other issues.
But the question may come up again at Wednesday's Stanislaus Council of Governments Policy Board meeting.
The policy board will consider endorsing West Park's application for state bond money for the short-haul railroad, and DeMartini vows to be there to oppose it.
The StanCOG policy board will meet at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the basement chambers at 1010 10th St., Modesto.
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.