River Islands goes from zero to 5,500 people in 5½ years
BY DENNIS WYATT
It took Lathrop 115 years to reach 5,500 residents after a post office was established in 1871.
Compare that to River Islands — a planned community of 10,800 homes within Lathrop. River Islands is now home to roughly 5,500 people just 5 and a half years since the first home was sold in June of 2014.
River Islands as of the end of 2019, has sold just over 2,000 homes with 1,800 having closed escrow. It is the largest planned community ever undertaken in the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
If River Islands were a standalone community Manteca and Tracy would be the only cities in the 209 encompassing San Joaquin, Stanislaus, and Merced, Calaveras, Tuolumne, and Mariposa counties that have built more new housing units on an annual basis for the last four years.
Cambay Group — the developers of the 4,800-acre planned community — are preparing an amendment to the project as approved to allow the creation of three “smart villages” — a transit village and two San Jose inspired Santana Row-style high density mixed developments where living, dining, shopping and play is all within walking distance. One will be at the town square with sweeping open space connecting to the San Joaquin River. The second would be at River Islands’ other retail area planned in the same area where River Islands High will break ground in 2020 along with a joint use community performing arts center.
If approved it would bring the number of housing units envisioned to 14,000. That would support a population in excess of 40,000. That’s almost half of Manteca’s 85,000 population, while it is about three times larger than Ripon that today has 15,677 residents.
There are a lot of design features that are luring new residents. They include:
• Universal river access via a linear park along the edge of 14 miles of the San Joaquin River and delta habitat. That’s in addition to 400 acres of lakes within River Islands.
• A park of some type within a quarter of a mile of every home in River Islands.
• Service by an independent district that will provide electricity at rates ultimately 25 percent below what PG&E charges. The Lathrop Irrigation District currently offers rates 15 percent below PG&E rates.
• Water sensors built into front yard landscaping.
• Public schools designed with cutting edge 21st century education in mind, including one campus that was up and running well in advance of the first home even being sold — a rarity in California. They are now moving forward with construction of a second elementary school plus a high school. River Islands High is expected to open by 2022-2023.
• A plan to make River Islands the Central Valley’s first transit community as Cambay Group is working on a plan that would put a Valley Link station adjacent to the development’s employment center on a proposed route that would ultimately connect to the BART station in Pleasanton-Dublin.
• A plan to finance future maintenance costs for the community that caps all taxes at 1.8 percent of a property’s value. That includes the base one percent property tax that is collected on all California homes now. The cap contrasts with other nearby developments where Mello-Roos taxes have risen to 3 percent of value and more as property values declined.
• An in-place purple pipe system will use river water and treated wastewater to irrigate common landscaping — most of which is low water use — and parks. Given the water table and proximity of the river it fairly quickly cycles itself back to the river.
• A marketing director is in place not to sell homes but to organize community activities ranging from Fourth of July celebrations complete with parades to farmers markets.
That’s the short list of things River Islands — a development 28 years in the making — offers potential residents.
Streets are being kept narrow to de-emphasize vehicles and slow traffic down. And instead of deploying traffic signals, most intersections where traffic volume is higher will have roundabouts.
No sidewalks abut streets. Instead there are landscaped mow strips between the curb and sidewalks.
Long-term upkeep and maintaining standards aren’t being left to chance. Areas that traditionally are neglected in a neighborhood such as corners and other spots are not sold with lots. Instead they are kept in control of the community for common area maintenance and upkeep.
Adequate water for the development of the entire project has been secured. The entire community has the highest level of flood protection possible — levees designed to withstand a 200-year event. They are the most secure levees of their type in the nation.