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BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE

River Islands defines the new South SJ County

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BRIDGE TO THE FUTURE

From left, River Islands project manager Susan Dell’Osso, Lathrop Councilman Steve Dresser, longtime Lathrop civic leader Benny Gatto and Linda Bradshaw cut the ribbon to the South Country’s futu...

DENNIS WYATT/The Bulletin/


POSTED July 14, 2017 1:24 a.m.

Bradshaw Crossing isn’t just a bridge.
It is a symbol of a new world.
Those who cross it will enter the future of not just Lathrop but Manteca and Tracy as well.
It is a bridge to South San Joaquin County 2.0.
Over 100 people were on hand Thursday to help dedicate the $17 million initial span connecting east and west Lathrop or, more specifically the planned community of River Islands at Lathrop with the rest of the City of Lathrop.
They were dedicating more than a bridge.
In more ways than one the bridge — as well as the 11,000-acre River Islands endeavor that Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal astutely noted is one of the largest planned communities ever in California — represents the new South San Joaquin County.
The area’s status as a bedroom community of the cradle of technology and The City built on 48 hills on the other side of the Altamont Pass where summers are cooler and the economy sizzling has long been established. But what is now happening are the three cities — Lathrop, Manteca, and Tracy — are on the cusp of starting to come into their own as legitimate communities of the greater Bay Area region.
The dynamics ate changing. Instead of the South San Joaquin County simply letting the growing tide of pay check rich, house poor Bay Area workers wash over the land generating tract homes that are a 21st century version of “ticky tacky” housing in Daly City south of San Francisco that inspired the song by “Little Boxes” by Malvino Reynolds in 1962, the move is on to build community livability.
The three cities are working ever so slowly not to change the perception many have of the valley — although that is happening — as much as they are striving to maximum valley-style living.
This is not the San Mateo coast, the Silicon Valley, the Napa Valley, the Amador Valley, or Dougherty Valley. This is the Northern San Joaquin whose mere utterance in a few years will conjure up a different lifestyle than it does in the minds of many who believe civilization ends once you crest I-580 and pass the 1,009-foot elevation sign and start dropping into the San Joaquin Valley.
And River Islands is the biggest game changer of all.
There are nearly 600 of what ultimately will be 11,000 families already living on the island.
Stewart Tract once grew pumpkins and watermelons as the southeastern most Delta island. Today is on the cusp of fulfilling a 28-year vision to do what many said could never be done:
uMake new neighborhoods livable instead of simply being walled off subdivisions.
uCreating universal river access to the San Joaquin River that has been a pipe dream for decades.
uEnhancing and restoring river environments.
uStrengthening flood protection.
uDeveloping an 18-mile parkway/greenbelt surrounding the island for the enjoyment of not just River Islands residents but everyone.
uCreating a 350-acre business park devoid of distribution centers and big trucks and instead developing one that is of the same research and development genre of Hacienda Business Park in Pleasanton. It is being made possible, in part, by a $5,000 fee that is collected at the escrow at the closing of each new home same to fund a $55 million enticement account in a bid to create 16,800 jobs.
And that may lead to River Islands having one of the first “transit center” developments in the Central Valley and the largest in Northern California.
There is a strong likelihood that a Altamont Corridor Express station will be built at River Islands to provide direct access to the future business park as well as the town center envisioned with Santa Row sensibilities — entertainment, dining, and shops below with possible condo living above — as well as apartments and a town square that overlooks the river.
River Islands also will have 990 elusive — at least for the region — executive style homes along the 18-mile greenbelt ringing the planned community — offering unique commanding views of the river, the Coastal Range, the Sierra, and the valley.
As far as valley living goes, takes a close look. All of River Islands has been planned “right” for families and quality living. The landscaping is lush not simply because it uses recycled water, but because the plants and trees are the type that thrive here and not west of the Altamont. Add walking paths, lakes, and touches such as the Boat House restaurant interspersed throughout neighborhoods as they take shape. Homes are not built on oversized lots yet thanks to placement and design you don’t get the feeling neighbors can pass “Grey Poupon” between second floor windows.
Perhaps most important, River Islands is not just talk.
Nearly 30 years of dedication to the River Islands vision and spending the gross national product of a small country to shepherd the project along in a casebook example of how powerfully effective delayed gratification can be in terms of what you can achieve and subsequently how well one can profit, Cambay Group has made it clear. They will succeed.
And to make that happen the first employee they added when home sales started was a staff member to coordinate community events to bring residents together.
Back in 1989 when Lathrop incorporated was the same time that Alan Chapman and Co. looked here for their next big thing. They were will into completing the massive 11,000-home Dougherty Valley Project in the shadows of Mt. Diablo. They overcame obstacle after obstacle.
River Islands isn’t just “the next project.” Instead, it has rewritten the book on how developers not just plan a real community but give it birth and nurture it.
Not many people outside of Lathrop gave the city much hope of thriving when it incorporated in 1989. It had no downtown. It had no high school. It’s image was gritty from the solid blue collar jobs it harbored at places like Libby Owens Ford Class, Simplot fertilizer, and Sharpe Army Depot to name a few. Manufacturing — and distribution — is still a strong and growing part of Lathrop that now includes names like Tesla and Ghirardelli Chocolate.
And the original dream of Gold Rush City — a planned community proposed to be built around several amusement parks inspired by a project in South Africa — was met almost with universal skepticism.
Perhaps nothing was more telling of the sentiment at the time when a defender of the Dougherty Valley — who happened to be on the development team — when he was quoted in 1994 in the San Francisco Chronicle trying to allay fears of the project’s neighbors in the East Bay by saying that it wasn’t going to look tacky “like Manteca.”
It was a slap at valley communities that stung. The Bay Area, for all practical purposes, could have been a foreign land. From the perspective of many in the Bay Area, the Northern San Joaquin Valley was the place where the Joad family ended up from The Grapes of Wrath and not people who enjoy civilized living.
Twenty-three years later, that is changing.
And it is doing so not by the Northern San Joaquin Valley being absorbed by the Bay Area — the barrier created by the Altamont Hills prevents that from happening. But it is happening because communities are building on the attributes that make living here pleasant.
The Northern San Joaquin Valley just like the Bay Area is not everyone’s cup of tea.
But thanks to efforts by developers like Cambay Group, the Northern San Joaquin Valley is more focused than ever at putting its best foot forward.
So go ahead and take a walk across Bradshaw Crossing. Pause at one of two observation points that jut out over the river and take in the San Joaquin. Scan the horizon.
There’s still a ways to go but thanks to Cambay Group’s patience and long-term commitment the work has been put in place for a shining example of growth done right, Northern San Joaquin Valley style, to rise on the island that is now joined at the hip with the rest of Lathrop thanks to the opening of Bradshaw Crossing.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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