Lathrop OKs River Islands
BY DAVID READ - TRACY PRESS - JANUARY 29, 2003
In a joint meeting of the Lathrop City Council and the Lathrop Planning Commission on Tuesday, both bodies approved the nearly dozen legal agreements and zoning changes necessary to allow the epic River Islands development to go forward, at least in Lathrop's eyes.
While this is a step forward to construction, River Islands developer, The Cambay Group, still needs to seek approval from both state and federal agencies regarding wetlands issues and the levee that makes River Islands, well, islands.
"It will be at least a year in the process for state and federal permits," River Islands project director Susan Dell'Osso said. "After that we need 18 months for architectural drawings. Our really, really best case is to begin construction at the end of 2004, finishing our first housing in 2005".
The planning commission voted 4-1 to approve the project. The Lathrop City Council voted unanimously for approval.
"This city isn't doing anything different that anybody else, "planning commissions chairman Bennie Gatto said. "In fact, we're doing it better. Why did it take 12 years, because we're doing it right."
River Islands is an 11,000 home development planned to be built on 5,000 acres of farmland northeast of Tracy. Planners envision a town center area with sufficient space for as many as 16,000 jobs, a golf course, fire stations, other civic necessities and plenty of other amenities.
The property lies at the meandering intersection of the Old, Middle and San Joaquin Rivers and is prone to frequent flooding.
Before construction begins, The Cambay Group plans to construct a massive levee system to reduce the likelihood of flooding to one potential flood per hundred years. Numerous state and federal agencies must approve this levee system before construction may begin, and it is one of the primary concerns of the project's opponents.
"Has no one addressed seepage," Tracy resident Guy Votaw asked the assembled board. "They (levees) don't break from running over, they break from seeping below. How can you make sure that this is safe with the water table there at only two or three feet?"
Votaw is worried that his home north of Tracy on Tracy Boulevard could be damaged or destroyed in any potential flood caused by a break in River Islands' levee system.
Along with the other agreements, the commission and council approved River Island's final environmental impact report. According to city environmental consultant Gary Jacob, public comments made during the report's comment period include concerns about flooding traffic and levees.
Jacob said that these impacts from development could effectively be managed. Moreover, the city of Lathrop does not waive its rights for further environmental review of the project.
Mother Lode Sierra Club chairman Eric Parfrey also addressed his concerns to the assembled board. The Sierra Club recently lost a legal challenge on appeal to the River Islands developers and owes Cambay a reimbursement of around $100,000 in legal fees.
"We will continue to oppose this project," Parfrey said. "This is not the right place to put 35,000 people, considering that in 1997 that island was under 10 feet of water for three months. But one of the most disturbing parts of this project is that the city is giving away its rights for further environmental review."
Dell'Osso and a team of other Cambay negotiators carefully worked out agreements with both the Tracy Unified and Banta Elementary school districts before Tuesday's vote. The school districts estimate that between 5,000 and 6,000 students will come from the development when it is completed.
The 300 students Banta Elementary School District will grow by 2,000 percent in the next 30 years.
According to the agreement with Banta, Cambay will build six elementary schools and two middle schools following a schedule based upon the number of students generated from River Islands. Banta is required to reimburse Cambay with all available state money for the school construction.
In the agreement with Tracy Unified, Cambay will construct a high school for students from the development once the high school student population reaches a certain figure. Before the point, high school students will use one of the middle schools that Cambay constructs for Banta.
The first 81 high school students from River Islands will be housed at Tracy High in portable classrooms provided by Cambay. The developer will also pay for transportation.