By the end of Tuesday night’s Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors meeting, the fate of West Park was no more certain than it was on Tuesday morning.
Supervisors were unable to muster the three votes needed to approve any course of action for the beleaguered project, which would develop the former site of the Crows Landing Naval Air Station and 1,000 surrounding acres into a large industrial park and inland port.
The delay is just the latest in the project’s four-plus year history. Supervisors are expected to determine what to do with the development when West Park returns to their agenda on Aug. 29.
West Park’s myriad delays haven’t all been the fault of developer West Park Holdings LLC. The 2008 economic crash saw chief project financier Lehman Brothers file for bankruptcy, and a 2009 court challenge of the project by the City of Patterson took until 2011 for West Park to successfully defend.
But on June 19, supervisors granted what they then said was a final extension for the project. Developers had until January 2013 to complete all environmental impact documents, as required by state law. And developers were required to place a $2.75 million deposit with Stanislaus County – to pay for needed studies and as a sign of solvency – by July 10.
“Nine weeks have passed since that request for time extension,” Keith Boggs, assistant county CEO said. “The July 10 deadline has come and gone.”
On July 11, the county submitted a letter notifying the developers that they were in breach of contract, stating the agreement may be terminated. As of Tuesday, the deposit had still not been submitted.
Gerry Kamilos, managing member of West Park Holdings LLC, said Tuesday that such delays were typical of large projects. Kamilos said he remained committed to the project, but went on to request another extension, stating that it would take until the end of April to complete the needed environmental documents – a further three month extension.
“I felt it was important we have this straight, one-on-one meeting this evening, in hopes of coming up with a solution,” Kamilos said.
Supervisors remained undecided as how to solve the situation. Long-time project opponent Supervisor Jim DeMartini argued for showing Kamilos the door.
“We’ve had five years of problems,” DeMartini said. “This has just drug on and on. We have given this project every opportunity to make it. … He’s breached the contract and he’s out of there.”
Supervisor Vito Chiesa said that, though he believed Kamilos was committed to the project, the idea of granting another extension after Kamilos missed the July 10 deadline was not acceptable.
“I feel like this is déjà vu all over again,” Chiesa said.
Chiesa said he was “saddened” that the project would be cancelled, but thought that it was time to put out a request for proposals, seeking a new developer for the site.
DeMartini moved that the county terminate its agreement with West Park Holdings LLC, and Chiesa seconded the motion, but both Supervisor Dick Monteith and Board Chairman Bill O’Brien opposed. The motion failed, with the fifth member of the board, Supervisor Terry Withrow, unable to participate due to a potential conflict of interest, as his relatives owns land near the planned project.
Monteith, long an ardent supporter of West Park and its inland port concept, which would connect to the Port of Oakland via rail and provide a new location to load and unload containers for international shipping, said he understood why people were upset with the delays.
But Monteith said the West Park project would provide Stanislaus County with a unique feature, something which would draw businesses to relocate. He suggested granting Kamilos the EIR deadline extension and offering just 48 hours to deposit the $2.75 million; if Kamilos failed, he said the county would cut ties permanently.
“We have people who are angry,” Monteith said. “We have people who feel that they have been given the runaround. We have people who are disappointed. I’m disappointed… But what is wrong with giving 48 hours?”
Monteith’s motion to grant the 48 hour extension failed for lack of a second.
Then it was O’Brien’s turn to suggest a motion. O’Brien suggested the contract be terminated and that a request for proposals be issued.
But O’Brien insisted that any new developer be required to meet the exact same requirements the board asked of Kamilos. That would include a $2.75 million deposit, $8 million in sewer improvements for Crows Landing, developing an airport, and building 1.5 million square feet of spec buildings on-site, plus myriad other requirements.
“Is there anybody else out there that’s willing to come out and do this project?” O’Brien asked. “But I’m not willing to water it down.… Are there other people out there as committed as this gentleman here?”
To DeMartini, who claims he has spoken with several developers interested in the project, that proposal sounded like an undercover way to grant Kamilos an extension.
If the deadline is set too soon, Kamilos may be the only one able to submit a bid. Or if the requirements are too firm, the additional infrastructure requirements may not pencil out for other developers who must use just the 1,528 acre footprint of the former base; Kamilos plans to develop 1,000-plus additional adjacent acres which he controls.
“I just can’t vote for that, we need to start completely over again,” DeMartini said. “I don’t want to see this thing rigged so no one else has time to submit a bid.”
O’Brien refused to “water down” the project requirements to appease those developing the reduced footprint of base alone.
And with that, the Supervisors were at a standstill.
Sensing that no progress would be made, with DeMartini and Chiesa in favor of a wide-open proposal process, O’Brien in search of only specific proposals, and Monteith in support of retaining West Park, Chiesa moved to table discussion until the Aug. 29 meeting.
“Negotiating in here isn’t going to work right now,” Chiesa said.