Stanislaus supervisors vote on project that could bring 15,000 jobs. What’s next?

The former military airfield in Crows Landing, Calif. is pictured in October of this year. The 1,500 acre plot used in World War II and for later military functions is now planned for development.
The former military airfield in Crows Landing, Calif. is pictured in October of this year. The 1,500 acre plot used in World War II and for later military functions is now planned for development.

Stanislaus County supervisors approved a rezone Tuesday for the latest game plan for reusing the former military airfield near Crows Landing.

The county must now contend with a lawsuit filed by Patterson last week, which challenges the environmental studies on the Crows Landing Industrial Business Park, and deal with other 11th-hour issues raised by the city. County leaders hope to find a developer for the 1,528-acre project next year.

Supervisor Terry Withrow, whose wife has a small interest in nearby property, abstained from Tuesday’s 3-0 vote on the reuse project. Supervisor Kristin Olsen was absent.

The former Navy airfield south of Patterson would be developed with manufacturing plants, distribution centers and a public airport for light jets and other private aircraft. The county’s plan was designed to make fewer waves with Patterson-area residents than the previous West Park project, which was proposed for the same site and scuttled in 2012.

But the 30-year development plan would generate up to 15,000 jobs and create demand for a hard-to-predict number of homes in Patterson and Newman. The county has hoped that Patterson will provide wastewater treatment and possible water service for the airport and business park, but has not come to terms with the city.

In a lawsuit Thursday, the city claimed the environmental studies failed to address impacts to city utilities, groundwater, roads, intersections and schools. Monday evening, a letter from Patterson’s legal counsel said the county’s assessment of water supply for the complex is deficient.

“The groundwater basin that will serve the project is in overdraft and buildout of the project, as the final EIR noted, will cause additional drawdown of the basin,” wrote Attorney Kerry Fuller of Churchwell White law firm of Sacramento, which provides legal services for Patterson. “This leads to uncertainty that the basin will be able to provide the water necessary to serve the project.”

County staff members stressed Tuesday that all of those issues were adequately addressed in the environmental analysis.

Jim DeMartini, Board of Supervisors chairman, restated his belief that Patterson has an ulterior motive for raising the boatload of issues. In a letter earlier this year, the city proposed that the county endorse a 1,200-acre annexation in northwest Patterson in exchange for city support for the Crows Landing business park.

DeMarini said it’s not clear what is proposed in the Patterson annexation and the county can’t responsibly give blanket support for it. Patterson officials did not speak at Tuesday’s hearing or come up with a response to DeMartini’s comments.

In other correspondence, the superintendent of Patterson Joint Unified School District said city officials did not contact the school district before inserting claims in the lawsuit about growth-inducing impacts on schools. According to the city’s lawsuit, a prospective workforce of 15,000 translates into a 34,000 population increase, including 9,300 school-age children.

The school districts, with a combined enrollment of 8,500 today, will need to double their classroom facilities, the city’s lawsuit suggests. Patterson Superintendent Philip Alfano told DeMartini in an email Friday the school board has not taken a position on the Crows Landing project.

“It is a great thing for the West Side,” Alfano said, noting the district has technical programs for students in logistics and truck driving. Alfano said school district enrollment has grown by 100 since the distribution centers in Patterson were built near Interstate 5. “I have not seen any research on this potential impact.”

County staff members said last week they were setting up meetings with Patterson officials to work on resolving the issues.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Newman City Manager Michael Holland urged the board to make sure that impacts on roads and other services are mitigated and the city is not adversely affected.

Community activist Miguel Donoso wanted to see a guarantee that local residents are hired for 10 to 15 percent of jobs at the Crows Landing complex.