The city of Patterson wants to take Stanislaus County to court over a chicken and egg question: Should the county have approved a memorandum of understanding with West Park LLC developer Gerry Kamilos before doing an environmental impact report?
Patterson officials think the environmental report comes first; the county disagrees.
The county approved the agreement with Kamilos on April 22. It concerns the proposed 4,800-acre West Park business and industrial park southeast of Patterson, a project vigorously opposed by Patterson officials.
The West Park plan includes a short-haul rail link between the Port of Oakland and the Crows Landing Air Facility that forms the core of the development. Patterson city officials say the additional trains will disrupt traffic, including emergency vehicles, in the city, and increase air pollution.
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The agreement spells out the terms and conditions West Park will have to meet in working out a more formal and detailed agreement with the county and its redevelopment agency. West Park submitted several engineering reports before the April 22 agreement, covering such topics as traffic, water and sewer, drainage, and the economic viability of the short-haul rail proposal.
But the environmental impact report is a requirement of the California Environmental Quality Act, and is a far more detailed analysis of the project, what environmental problems it might pose and how those problems might be alleviated. The West Park impact report is expected to take up to two years.
The Patterson lawsuit, which City Attorney George Logan said would be filed this week, contends that the report should have been done before the memorandum of understanding was approved. At issue is whether the memorandum is a binding decision to proceed with the development.
"The document they signed puts the county on a clear and straight path to a 5,000-acre development," Logan said.
Stanislaus County Counsel John Doering disagreed. "The MOU is a nonbinding agreement and does not lead to anything binding until an EIR is completed and certified," Doering said.
The Patterson City Council decided to proceed with the lawsuit in a closed session Friday. But a meeting with Kamilos and county officials Monday seems to have softened some city officials' stance.
At Monday's meeting, Kamilos presented a new proposal to alleviate traffic problems posed by the short-haul trains. Instead of building a rail overpass at Las Palmas Avenue near downtown Patterson, Kamilos suggested a trenched underpass for Las Palmas Avenue.
"The concept looks good; it's probably workable," Patterson Mayor Becky Campo said Monday. But she said the rest of the council needs to analyze the concept and consider it at the May 20 council meeting.
The lawsuit, she said, is a way of getting the attention of the Board of Supervisors.
"We really felt we were being ignored on this issue, and this was the only way to get the board's attention," Campo said. "We hope during the process we can still come to an agreement."
Councilwoman Annette Smith also said the underpass concept was a positive step.
"Gerry has put some effort in presenting a possible solution for one of the forefront issues for Patterson," Smith said. "I think Gerry has responded to our concern."
The concept had no technical data, however, Smith said, just drawings and a photograph of a similar underpass in Pleasanton.
And the council wants assurances from the Board of Supervisors that environmental issues raised by the development will be addressed, Smith said.
The lawsuit can be pulled back if an agreement is reached, Campo said. The decision to file the lawsuit was not an easy one, she said. "We want to maintain good relations with the county. This doesn't affect any other projects we have with the county."
Kamilos said Monday the city doesn't have to file the lawsuit until May 22, which would give the council time to consider his underpass proposal at the May 20 meeting.
"We will continue our dialogue, and hopefully we can keep everyone at the table," Kamilos said. "I'm very encouraged by our meeting this morning. All parties seemed to be trying to achieve a very cooperative atmosphere."
Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2349.