Port of Oakland backs West Park proposal

The Port of Oakland does support Stanislaus County's application for a short haul rail project connecting to the proposed PCCP West Park LLC inland port -- and not everyone hates the project.

Those two conclusions came from testimony at Wednesday's California Transportation Commission meeting in Sacramento. The commission was discussing the $3 billion Trade Corridor Improvement Funds program and the 79 projects that are recommended for funding statewide. A vote on the grant funds is expected this morning.

One of those projects is the controversial West Park proposal to build a 4,800-acre industrial and business park on and around the county's 1,527-acre Crows Landing Air Facility. The project is anchored by the short haul rail proposal and inland port, and county and West Park officials applied for $26 million in state funds to build it.

The commission staff has recommended a $22.4 million grant. The amount was pared because the staff didn't like the county's use of 170 acres of the air facility as part of its matching funds. That means West Park will have to come up with the entire $22.4 million in matching funds.

The project has drawn opposition from virtually all the governmental and public agencies on the county's West Side. The opposition centers on the size of the project, and the disruption the added trains would cause in the city of Patterson.

Representatives from Patterson have been coming to commission hearings and meetings to testify against the short haul rail project, but they did not testify Wednesday. No one spoke against the project at the meeting, which was attended by developer Gerry Kamilos and various county officials.

"I'm confused," said transportation Commissioner Bob Alvarado. "Everybody hates it except the owner, and none of these issues get resolved."

Commission Executive Director John Barna replied that the project is similar to three air facilities in Southern California that have been converted to intermodal transportation facilities.

"I don't support the statement that everyone hates it," Barna said.

Rick Robinson, Stanislaus County chief executive officer, told the commission that the air facility was the county's chief economic development project and noted the county's high unemployment rate and jobs-to-housing imbalance.

"We view this as a creative approach," Robinson said. "We appreciate your support."

Though West Park is a private developer, Robinson told the commission that Stanislaus County was the applicant. "We are in the driver's seat of this development," he said.

Projects must start before 2014

The commission is requiring that all projects approved in the process begin construction by Dec. 31, 2013. West Park officials have indicated the project would begin construction in 2010, and the first trains would be operational in 2012.

Transportation Commissioner Phillip Tagami commented that he had heard the "spurious comment" that the Port of Oakland did not support the short haul rail proposal. He asked Omar Benjamin, the port's executive director, to clear up the matter.

Benjamin replied, "We are in support of the (Altamont) Corridor projects in general and in specific."

The Stanislaus short haul rail proposal is part of a package of projects in Northern California supported by a coalition of governments and agencies.

Today's vote won't get the applicants the money, however, commission Chairman John Chalker said. They will need to go through environmental reviews and approvals by various agencies and will need to work out agreements with the railroads involved, Chalker said.

The rail agreements will be due in summer or fall, the commission indicated. The rail agreements may be wrapped into one negotiation for all the projects, which include grade separations in Southern California, heightening the rail tunnels over the Donner Pass and others.

The big railroads don't want to negotiate each of the agreements separately, said D.J. Smith, a transportation consultant working for West Park.

Today's commission meeting to consider the transportation corridor applications will be at 11 a.m in the first floor auditorium at 1416 Ninth St., Sacramento.

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

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