It’s back to the drawing board for the former site of the Crows Landing Naval Air Station, as Stanislaus County Supervisors voted Tuesday to terminate a development agreement with West Park Holdings, LLC, and seek new project proposals.
Supervisors voted 3-1 in favor of starting the process over, soliciting new proposals for the 1,527-acre site, and showing West Park the door.
Supervisor Dick Monteith, the only staunch supporter of West Park remaining on the board, did not speak on Tuesday but cast the lone opposing vote. Supervisor Terry Withrow, an opponent of the development, was forced to recuse himself from the vote as his in-laws own land adjacent to the planned development.
The vote puts an end to the beleaguered West Park project, which planned to develop the former base and 1,000 surrounding acres into a large industrial park and inland port, connected to the Port of Oakland via short-haul rail.
The development had been plagued by the loss of chief financier Lehman Brothers, a 2009 court challenge by the City of Patterson, and, most recently, a failure to meet county-imposed deadlines. But on June 19, supervisors granted what they then termed a final extension for the project until January 2013, requiring a $2.75 million deposit with Stanislaus County– to pay for needed studies and as a sign of solvency – by July 10.
West Park Holdings failed to make that July 10 deposit, and on Aug. 21 asked for a further extension to an April 2013 deadline. Supervisors considered rejecting the West Park proposal on Aug. 21, but were unable to come to a consensus and delayed the vote until Tuesday to obtain additional information from county staff regarding options to move forward without West Park.
Three options were proposed: To terminate the agreement and have county staff prepare needed environmental documents, proceeding with the current vision; to send the project back out for new proposals, while requiring developers to meet the same standards as West Park was held to; or, to waive the breach of contract and to proceed with West Park.
“(Option 3) isn't even an option,” longtime West Park opponent Supervisor Jim DeMartini said. “We shouldn't even consider this. West Park is in breach of contract and nothing has really gone on for two years. It's time to wipe the slate clean and start over.”
West Park Holdings, LLC, managing member Gerry Kamilos attempted to defend the project, emphasizing the visionary nature of the inland port concept, the tremendous amounts of work already done, and his group’s ability to complete the project faster than looking for new proposals would allow.
“We are ready, willing, and able to complete the (environmental process) in six months,” Kamilos said.
Starting the process over, from requests for proposals to finalized environmental documents, is estimated to take approximately two years, assuming no legal challenges occur. A bid document will be completed in 60 days, with potential developers having 120 after that to indicate their interest in the site.
Despite the potential delay, supervisors had tired of a five-year relationship with West Park which saw no environmental documents completed. That, coupled with the missed $2.75 million payment, was too much for supervisors to endure.
But Supervisor Bill O’Brien wanted to make sure that any new proposals could be compared “apples-to-apples” with West Park, and required any new developer to meet the same criteria that West Park faced.
“Today we're going to vote to terminate an agreement, because a request we made was not met,” O’Brien said. “If we were to change that request for someone else and make it lesser, I just don't think that's fair.”
Identical to the terms of West Park’s development, any new developer will be required to develop an on-site airport, construct water and sewer infrastructure for the community of Crows Landing, build new fire stations, buy fire trucks, and subsidize fire employee staffing. The rail component of the West Park proposal will be mentioned in bid documents, but will be optional.
Additionally, any developer will be required to construct 345,000 square feet of spec buildings in the first year, plus an additional 345,000 square feet of spec buildings in the next 24-48 months. That’s less than the 1 million square feet asked of West Park, but proportionally reflects the smaller footprint of developing only on the Crows Landing Naval Air Station’s acreage; West Park’s proposal called for developing additional privately held land.
The developer will also be required to deposit $2 million to pay for environmental studies. Initial plans called for any new developer to also deposit $750,000 to pay for airport improvements, but that funding will now be required only after the environmental process is completed, after supervisors compromised.
But even matching the $2 million deposit, required of West Park to show solvency, was a point of contention among supervisors. O’Brien, who argued for the high standard, was shocked to learn that the true cost of completing the environmental review was likely between $500,000 and $1 million for the smaller footprint, well short of what was asked of West Park.
“We wouldn't be at this juncture if we had asked for what it was actually going to cost,” O’Brien said.
Though the county has terminated its agreement with West Park, Tuesday might not be the last time Stanislaus County hears from Kamilos. The vote on Tuesday does not preclude West Park Holdings – farther along than any other developer, despite the delays – from submitting a proposal in the new process.
“Whatever you decide, we’re prepared to proceed,” Kamilos said, prior to the vote.