Changes in county leadership could threaten Gerry Kamilos' vision for a huge West Side industrial complex.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover has been Kamilos' champion for the West Park proposal to expand a former Navy airbase into a jobs-rich, 4,800-acre business hub. But Grover will step aside at year's end, and his heir apparent, former state Agriculture Secretary Bill Lyons, was stunned at the polls June 8 by political novice Terry Withrow.
And Withrow had few nice things to say about West Park on the campaign trail. He said the project provided him inspiration to run, calling it "a perfect example of what's wrong with the system" and "smoke and mirrors for new houses."
The Board of Supervisors' 2007 agreement to negotiate exclusively with Kamilos was referred to as among the mostly hotly contested issues ever to surface in Stanislaus County. Elected leaders in nearby Patterson and Newman joined widespread West Side opposition to West Park, which beat out a more modest proposal by Ross Perot Jr.
Angry at Kamilos' plans for railcars heading to the Port of Oakland, Patterson sued, challenging a lack of environmental studies in a 2008 vote, but Kamilos prevailed in appellate court in March. Kamilos said his team continues to assemble studies and blamed the lawsuit for delaying his project by "as much as 18 to 20 months."
Supervisor Jim DeMartini, who represents the West Side, has been hypercritical of West Park from the beginning. But his minority vote could easily be dismissed.
Withrow's triumph last month "changes things quite a bit," DeMartini said in a recent interview.
Often overlooked in the West Park landscape is Supervisor Vito Chiesa, elected two years ago -- after the board's initial handshake with Kamilos. Minor votes on West Park-related items since his election, such as a runway alignment, haven't fully tested his views on the project, and he was lukewarm in a recent interview.
"I think the scope of the project was probably too ambitious to my liking," Chiesa said. "I'm not sure that was the right thing. Hopefully, when it comes up, I'll have a chance to mold it into a vision of what it should be."
If Chiesa and Withrow side with DeMartini, support from Supervisors Dick Mon- teith and Bill O'Brien would carry Kamilos no longer.
Monteith, who easily won re- election last month, defended West Park while stumping, saying the promise of jobs demands bold vision.
But O'Brien's resolve sounds less certain. He said Thursday he initially was impressed by Kamilos' development team, but will reserve judgment until Kamilos brings forth a formal proposal.
"Anybody who wants to develop out there will have to present us a very strong plan," O'Brien said. "If West Park is able to pull it off ... we'll see."
Chiesa and Grover questioned whether Withrow's apparent opposition could soften with perspective as a decision maker, as opposed to a candidate.
"You say a lot of things along the campaign trail to get you votes," Chiesa said.
Grover said, "Once he's in office and observes the nuances, my suspicion is he will change his opinion on some things. But he may never get to the point where he likes the idea of a healthy, vibrant business park on the West Side.
"If we don't do something different, we'll always be a dusty county beholden to just one industry (agriculture)," Grover continued. "My vision is to have multiple strong economic segments, with less frequent chances that they all go down at the same time."
Kamilos said he's waiting for the campaign dust to settle before lobbying Withrow. Kamilos seized on a comment Withrow made during the campaign, disfavoring any housing element to the West Park plan.
"We can absolutely assure him, we'll have all the approved policies and laws to ensure that there is no housing at all in the West Park project," Kamilos said. "We will solely focus on job creation and economic development."
Asked to respond, Withrow said, "He's right. I do need to look at all the information. We're concerned about (West Park), sure, but we've got to see all the information first."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.