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River Islands survives best intentions of government
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The revolution — or more accurately, the rebirth of sound urban planning — will start bearing fruit this year.

Sometime this summer the foundation will be poured for the first of 11,000 homes on the 4,800-acre Stewart Tract.

The project, dubbed River Islands at Lathrop, is also a testimonial to Allan Chapman and the rest of Cambay Group. The investors have demonstrated patience that rivals Job’s.

River Islands has battled bureaucratic red tape that would strangle Godzilla. They’ve been sued for everything imaginable including the potential to trigger massive global warming that would raise the seas an inch.

And it is all because they did what environmentalists and planners have been demanding for years. They not only completely planned 4,800 acres but they also secured water and have set the stage for environmental enhancements that the Sierra Club should have been giving them an award for instead of trying to sue them into oblivion.

So what evil hath Cambay Group brought to the Northern San Joaquin Valley?

•The private concern - and not the state or federal government - resolved perennial flooding on Stewart Tract by funding and creating super levees that are 300 feet wide. They did it not with the government’s approval but by outsmarting them. They built a parallel levee and then connected it with existing levees. A smart move considering they had spent nearly a decade just trying to secure only a fraction of the permits.

•Neighborhoods and streets are laid out in such a manner that they center around schools, parks, and other gathering spots that one can walk or bicycle to from one’s home with ease.

•The town center calls for a Santana Row type of sensibility, with shops and restaurants on the bottom floor and housing above.

•There is a town square that offers sweeping views of the San Joaquin River.

•Plans are in place to enhance the river side of levees to restore natural vegetation. The San Joaquin River, as it flows today from high in the Sierra to the Bay - is nothing more than a waterway with earthen walls sprinkled with giant rocks on each side after its waters spill out of Millerton Lake northeast of Fresno.

•There will be universal river side access for the public free of charge not only along the San Joaquin but also Paradise Cut and the Old San Joaquin River that help complete the watery circle around Stewart Tract.

•River Islands will actually have the first school for 650 students ready to go before the first house is sold.

•After consulting with South San Joaquin Irrigation District, they have set up the Lathrop Irrigation District, which will provide future homeowners, merchants and employers with electricity at rates 25 percent below what PG&E charges.

•Large interior lakes have been designed with gravel to percolate run-off back into the ground while filtering impurities.

•It is designed to provide a major employment center within walking, bicycling and even paddle boat distance of virtually every home that is built.

•Each home will be assessed fees designed to provide incentives to help lure employers to River Islands.

•They advanced millions to Lathrop to help invest in older parts of town in a bid to avoid future balkanization that could easily happen in a town dissected into three parts by a major interstate and a river.

It has taken River Islands 23 years and well over $150 million upfront to do it right. Aside from a cooperative City of Lathrop, River Islands has fought state and federal agencies every step of the way.

Fight may not be an appropriate word, as the bureaucrats sincerely believe they are doing their job, but how they go about their jobs at times impedes quality planning instead of encouraging it.

So in spite of government, all of the things the government says they want to see in a community are taking shape at River Islands at Lathrop.

And it’s all being done on the private sector’s dime.


This column is the opinion of managing 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.