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River Islands: If this is global warming then lets bring it on
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The destructive force of global warming is in our own backyard.
It is manifested in the end of California-style suburban sprawl, the use of non-potable water for landscaping a community lifestyle that eschews the car, reduced energy need and cost, solid platinum flood protection, cutting edge public education, the framework to further reduce crime, and a viable blueprint to restore riparian ecological systems.
If this is global warming, bring it on.
River Islands at Lathrop was supposed to be ground zero for global warming by now. That was the gist of lawsuits filed against Cambay Group back at the dawn of the century as militant environmental perfectionists kept throwing the proverbial kitchen sink right down to the plumbing at the planned 10,800-home community. Arguing that a residential development — the first to meet a series of state-imposed standards for projects of 500 homes or more that was  aimed at sharpening planning and reducing the drain on resources — on its own was going to raise the sea level without a shred of scientific proof got the suit bounced out of court. It was also the final straw leading to an extreme rarity — a developer being able to prove it was the obvious victim of serial litigation aimed to intimidate and burden them with high legal costs in a bid to get them to abandon their project. Normally such litigation dubbed SLAPP suits — strategic lawsuits against public participation — is hard to prove. But given the mountain of lawsuits filed against the project long after Cambay Group not just met but exceeded all legal planning and development obligations made it a breeze for the courts.
If the River Islands saga unfolded in the make believe world of Bedford Falls, Cambay Group’s foes would have been doing their best to cast Alan Chapman — the principal behind the England-based firm — as the heartless money grabbing Mr. Potter. The test of time, though, has proven the role of George Bailey would be more appropriate for Chapman.
Chapman and his team dealt with state and federal bureaucracy more equipped to fold, spindle and mutilate when it comes to flood control and water issues than to encourage a workable solution. They did do by finding creative loopholes not to sidestep requirements but to put in place various measures that bureaucrats have long held as the desired goal but then deployed spike strip after spike strike to make the journey through the permitting process so treacherous almost nobody could persevere. It is how River Islands, as an example, put in place 300-foot wide levees — arguably among the best river flood control in the nation — with absolutely no disturbance to the river or existing riparian ecological systems. Whether the state allows River Islands to implement its unprecedented plan to restore riverside ecological systems to what they were before man developed the Delta has yet to be seen.
George Bailey aka Alan Chapman not only wrote the $12 million check to match state funds for the community’s first school that opened as a highly praised charter school but when petty politics threw 550 students to the curb he didn’t hesitate spending another $8 million to provide the River Islands Technology Academy a new home in record time.
Chapman and his partners represent entrepreneurs that give free enterprise a good name.
Yes, they are in the business to make money.
But they also believe in the greater good. Much like George Bailey of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life”, the goal of making a profit is mutual with building a livable and affordable community for families.
Given the 25 plus years and easily in excess of $200 million in upfront costs without yet making a profit, Cambay Group can never be accused of being a firm that is looking for a quick buck.
Instead it is a company run by people who believe they are part of something bigger.
In the case of River Islands, it is creating a highly livable inter-connected community.
It is the anti-sprawl development. It has small lots in neighborhoods that are not only clustered around functional open space but are connected to travel corridors built around narrower streets designed not only to slow speed but make walking and bicycling conducive. And better yet, distances to desirable destinations — manmade lakes, nearly 9 miles of planned greenbelt parks overlooking the San Joaquin River and associated cuts, the future town center, an employment center, and school sites — are such that it will reduce greenhouse gasses by reducing auto use.
The future of the Northern San Joaquin Valley — if not California — is being built at River Islands.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.