County wants a face-to-face with Oakland over rail plan

Stanislaus County leaders hope to meet soon with the Port of Oakland in an effort to get plans for a short-haul rail center at Crows Landing back on track.

County leaders were surprised last week after two port officials said the international trade center wasn't interested in the project, a key element in the PCCP West Park plan to develop the old naval air station.

Since December, the Stanislaus Council of Governments has had the short-haul rail proposal on its wish list of state bond projects, and lists the Port of Oakland, along with developer fees, as a possible source of matching funds.

The port officials called West Park's plans premature, saying a number of long-haul rail problems needed to be resolved first.

Former port maritime director Wilson Lacy, in a telephone interview Monday, said he was an advocate for West Park's short-haul rail plan.

Lacy, who said he left the port in March and now is maritime director for the Port of Humboldt Bay in Eureka, said he still believes in short-haul rail and thinks a hub at Crows Landing makes sense.

He added, however, that it could be a hard sell to port officials.

"I don't think it can happen for at least 10 years," Lacy said. "It's not going to be easy. The port has higher priorities. (Short-haul rail) may be on the list, but it's not one, two or three on that list."

During his three years at the port, Lacy said he had some differences of opinion with other port leaders.

Lacy said he supported enhancing rail operations rather than improvements favoring truck traffic in and out of port facilities.

West Park, led by developer Gerry Kamilos, and the county are halfway through a yearlong negotiating process on plans that also would locate a business and industrial park on 4,800 acres in and around the former air base.

The Kamilos proposal depends on receiving $52 million in state bond money to cover start-up costs.

But without the short-haul rail hub, which would serve the port, the future of the West Park project is uncertain.

"I assume we will have a meeting with them in short order," Stanislaus County Supervisor Dick Monteith said Monday.

Monteith, a supporter of West Park's plans, is a member of an ad hoc committee negotiating with Kamilos.

"It would be wise for us to have that conversation," Monteith said. "It would be a beginning point to get some of this straightened out."

County Chief Executive Officer Rick Robinson said no date has been set for such a meeting but agreed it's a good idea.

"We are as interested in learning the facts as anybody," Robinson said. "We certainly want to have as much information as possible as we go forward."

The West Park proposal has been controversial from the beginning.

West Side residents have criticized the size of the Crows Landing project and the idea of running more trains through nearby Patterson.

A county steering committee, made up of mostly West Side residents, had recom-mended the county choose West Park rival Hillwood Properties, a Texas-based com-pany headed by Ross Perot Jr.

Instead, supervisors chose West Park on a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Jim DeMartini and Bill O'Brien dissenting.

Last week, a Hillwood official told The Bee the company still was interested in developing the Crows Landing site, should the West Park plan fail.

Bee staff writer Michael G. Mooney can be reached at mmooney@modbee.com or 578-2384.

Bee staff writer Tim Moran can be reached at tmoran@modbee.com or 578-2349.