BY DENNIS WYATT
River Islands is setting a new standard for living, working, and playing in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
It is not simply reshaping Stewart Tract — the southeastern most islands in the vast San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta — into a planned community of 11,000 homes.
They are breaking the mold in terms of planned community standards in Northern California. And they are doing so by making adjustments as they roll out the basic development master plan.
The latest change is a decision to add a regulation lighted high school baseball field at the base of the Bradshaw Crossing bridge across the San Joaquin River. The goal is to have the field ready by fall and to match the amenity standard in terms of seating and such that you can find at the nearby Big League Dreams sports complex in Manteca.
Next door to it is where Cambay Group plans to break ground soon for a six-field soccer complex River Islands has entered into a partnership with John Doyle who is the director of the coaching staff for the highly-regarded Mustang Soccer League that’s based in Danville and is known for their elite club play.
Doyle’s storied playing history includes the Olympics, historic firsts for the United States in the World Cup, and a distinguished Major Soccer League career that included five years as the San Jose Earthquakes team captain as well as a stint as general manager. He will be bringing the Mustang program to River Islands. When it is up and running, it will be open to youth players throughout the area.
The sports complexes are part of a dual approach Cambay Group is using in developing recreation facilities. Some of it will be overseen by Lathrop Park and Recreation while some will be under the umbrella of River Islands. The arrangement allows for maximum flexibility. The soccer fields, as an example will be replaced by retail that expected for years down the road.
Neither was in the original plan per se for River Islands but they underscore how Cambay Group is dedicated to constantly looking for ways to modify development of the planned community on 4,800 acres. It also underscores their effort to have River Islands serve as a major catalyst for the 209 region to set new standards for community development.
The 18-mile greenbelt park that will ring the development was always part of the plan. But as development started, River Islands opted to go a step farther. They decided to add bridges across the three major streets that ultimately would have interrupted the trail with one already in place where traffic crosses the San Joaquin River at Bradshaw Crossing.
That means when the development is completed, you will be able to travel the entire 18-mile green belt loop with River Islands on one side and the waters of the San Joaquin River, Old River, and Paradise Cut on the other side in a continuous path that will never cross a street.
For urban green belts that is a first. There is no greenbelt in the Bay Area that can make that claim. Even the highly popular 23-mile American River Parkway in Sacramento is chopped up with several crossings for vehicles although they are, for the most part low key when it comes to traffic volume.
Like the American River Parkway and the extensive web of similar trails around the Bay Area, the River Islands greenbelt is open to anyone. It will have the highest degree of public access for taking in the San Joaquin River anywhere along the 366-mile waterway — that is California’s second longest river — except for where it flows through national forest in the upper reaches of the Sierra.
Unlike the American Parkway and trails in the Bay Area, not a penny of the work to make the access possible will be on the public’s dime although they will benefit from it.
The greenbelt will be further enhanced by a recent decision to build extensions of the 300-foot wide super levees that have set the platinum standard for flood protection in California, back further behind existing older levees. When final federal clearance is given, the older levees will be knocked down and soil spread back toward the new levee. This will create an elevated bench that will allow for the restoration of habit that was virtually wiped out when levees were put in place more than 150 years ago.
At the same time it will increase additional areas for water to go during high river flows to enhance flood protection for upstream neighbors of River Islands.