“River Islands”: The Ultimate Bad Idea for Residential Development

Bruce Frohman
Bruce Frohman

Listeners to Bay Area radio stations frequently hear advertisements for a massive Lathrop residential project called “River Islands.” The advertisements tout home construction by a group of award-winning homebuilders on secluded islands in the San Joaquin River Delta. The ads go on to boast six restaurants to serve residents, one new fire station and a new police station, as well as a plethora of recreational activities.

Ads rarely live up to the hype. River Islands promoters don’t  mention any of the drawbacks to the project. Why would they? With home prices ranging from $600 thousand to $2 million, money is to be made by the sellers. The project is reminiscent of Florida swampland sales of the last century.

Location, Location, Location

Every real estate sales agent knows that the number one factor in deciding where to purchase a home is the location. Sometimes, buyers are not so smart, especially when slick advertising ramps up buyer enthusiasm with misleading promises.

River Islands is located in remote Lathrop, three miles west of Manteca, west of Interstate 5, on islands within the San Joaquin River Delta. The land is surrounded on all sides by the main channels of the San Joaquin River, protected by manmade levees.

The land was previously prime farm land on the world’s richest soil. In 1997, much of the surrounding area was inundated in the great flood of that year. River Islands is only as safe and secure as the maintenance of the levees and the ability of upstream dams to prevent floods.

This year, the San Joaquin River has been running close to flood stage continuously since February due to heavy rains and snowfall in the Sierra Nevada. The River Islands development appears vulnerable to any surge of water on the river that exceeds flood control capacity.

In recent years, urban planners have been critical about developments that are built in flood plains, especially when building can be done on higher ground. Farm land preservation advocates are equally displeased about urban development on prime farm land given food production limitations versus population growth.

California Legislators have discussed passing legislation prohibiting urban development in flood plains, but pro-development lobbyists have been able to kill any restrictive proposal.

Remote Location

Beyond the risk that the river creates, the remote location from job centers and shopping is a drawback.

River Islands has no supermarket or shopping within the project. The nearest major store is a Target next to Interstate 5. Residents will need to drive east of I-5 for groceries and other essentials beyond what Target offers, unless the private sector adds new commercial centers. (A comment from a reader points out there is a new Sprouts Market in the same center as the Target store. ed.)

The advertising for River Islands says that six restaurants are waiting to serve residents. When one hears the advertising, one pictures waterfront fine dining establishments with lush views of nature.

The nearest restaurant is In-N-Out Burger and that is outside of the development near the Target Store. According to a sales representative within the project, the other five dining establishments are also outside of River Islands. One needs a phone directory to find them. The Town of Lathrop, population 38,000, is not known for fine dining. (One commenter below states there is a nearby restaurant with waterfront dining. ed.)

Police and Fire Stations

To enhance the feeling of security, the developers built a Manteca-Lathrop Fire District station and a Lathrop Police Department building within the River Islands project. Before acquisition, a wise buyer should check staffing levels and response times. Given the hard times that cities face, they don’t always have adequate funds for staffing.

Infrastructure Issues

One of the biggest challenges of any major development constructed in a rural area is adequate infrastructure: schools, water, sewer and roads.  Within River Islands, the infrastructure is new and appears adequate to serve the population.

The main worry appears in connecting residents to the outside world. Interstate 5 thru Lathrop has become chronically congested during rush hour. Interchanges were constructed years ago to handle low volumes of traffic.

Residents who want to go into Manteca find State Route 120 jammed for much of the day, especially on weekends and rush hours.

Residents wanting to go to Tracy can take a two-lane farm road at the west end of the development. Given the number of homes being built, commuters to the Bay Area will choose to clog the backroad rather than sit in stopped traffic on I-205.


The big selling point for River Islands is recreational opportunities in the Delta. Boating is among the chief attractions. Delta cruising is different from open bay and ocean cruising.  The river is surrounded by levees. A cruiser does not have much to see other than the side of a levee.

For those who don’t own a boat, a park and trail exists with no trees. Maybe trees will be planted and provide shade in years to come.

A Retirement Community?

River Islands is composed primarily of two story houses with at least four bedrooms and over 3000 square feet.  The average retired couple needs a home on a single story and two bedrooms at most. They need shopping nearby.  They need a hospital nearby, not way over in Manteca or up I-5 in French Camp.

Amazingly, a large number of homes have already been built. Driving through, one has difficulty determining how many have been sold and occupied. In California, any home that is built will eventually be occupied, regardless of how poor the location.

One fact is definitely true: no affordable housing is being built for the average wage earner living in the Lathrop area. Instead, the River Islands and other projects are designed solely for Bay Area transplants. River Islands is another project that has prostituted Central Valley resources for the financial benefit of a select few. Those who bought in will be left holding the bag when sales have been completed.


Bruce Frohman
Bruce Frohman
Bruce Frohman served on the Modesto City Council from 1999-2003. He believes the best way to build a better community is to have an informed citizenry.
Comments should be no more than 350 words. Comments may be edited for correctness, clarity, and civility.


  1. The big item not mentioned is the fact there are only 2 roads in and out of the development. Should the levee breach how do they plan on evacuating that many residents?

    • Three roads, not two. And a 4th way out that is not a public road, but I would use it in an emergency situation.

  2. Mr. Frohman, After readying your article, there are a lot of misconceptions that you are stating. For instance, the number of restaurants in the area. You are correct that there is not 6 in the development yet, but there is a restaurant called the Boathouse that gives us a look over the water dining. In-N-Out is not the closet restaurant. Sprouts grocery was just built in the same location as Target, so we don’t have to travel up I-5 to get groceries. As far as traffic goes, how long have you lived in California. Everywhere you go there is traffic in California. Maybe before you write another article, you need to get out and explore a little more to make sure you have all of the facts. Thanks…

    • Thank you for the comments and corrections Mr. Crowe. We have noted your corrections in parentheses in the article. We appreciate your help. ed.

  3. I moved to River Islands in 2018. I lived in Union City and Hayward most of my life. River Islands is located between Manteca and Tracy with all of the shops I need. In Hayward and Union City, I had to drive to Fremont for shopping. What’s the difference? I’ve never lived in a community where people are so willing to help other residents in need. The assumption that all residents are well off is not correct. We have wonderful parks for children and dogs, beautiful lakes, quiet neighborhoods; it’s a relaxing environment in which to live.
    The drainage systems were expertly crafted and the rains ran through the systems as they were meant to do.

    We all live in uncertain times with climate change. How many homes are built on the fault line? This poses just as bad a threat as floods and wild fires. Let’s work to change things for the better not slam a community because of its success.





  4. You bash River Islands without having the real facts. First, it is a development within the City of Lathrop. Lathrop passed a sales tax before River Islands began building which helps pay for fire and police services. River Islands had to build sewer facilities. When Lathrop High opened the sewer system there didn’t have enough flow to run it. Sewer capacity is not an issue. There are several schools there which are part of the Banta school district, not the overcrowded Manteca Unified District. The levies are super levies and are actually double levies. If the outer levie were to break then the second levie would then retain the water and protect the development from flooding. They are at the 300 year flood plain height, not the typical 100 year height around Manteca and other areas.
    You obviously are mad about something, but stories like this are likely to end up with you in front of a judge for delivering false information
    I have lived here for 40 years. No traffic lights and very few stop signs. No outlet stores, no fast food places and no grocery stores.

    • Mr. Hilson: Thank you for the comment. Mr. Frohman points out that infrastructure, including sewers, seems adequate. That would seem to mean he agrees with you that “Sewer capacity is not an issue.” If you see errors in the story, please point them out and we will correct them as soon as possible. Thank you again. ed.

    • 100 flood year limits are a joke nowadays ,
      We think more like 1000-year flood levels are going to be needed.
      check your elevation above sea level folks… sitting well here in Salida at 70 feet.

  5. As with any major development catering to the affluent, everything needed will be built eventually. Someone will eventually build an urgent care center to serve River Islands. A Sprouts just opened after several years of housing construction. Certainly, folks should enjoy where they live and undoubtedly many do.

    I did not find the restaurant with a view, so please provide its name and address so that outsiders can try it. The salesman I spoke to did not know of it.

    Given the prices of homes within the project, one has to either be affluent or deeply in debt to afford one. The homes within the project are more expensive than most other neighborhoods of Lathrop and surrounding communities. To assert that buyers are not affluent is not an accurate statement.

    To justify a project that adds congestion based on the fact that other parts of the state have congestion is illogical. Improved road Infrastructure on the surrounding interstates should have been built before the big project.

    The fact that a sales tax was passed to enable the construction of River Islands means that the project has been subsidized in part by the rest of the community. New growth should always pay its own way.

    I regret the offense that my observations have caused residents of the project. However, I stand by my thesis that less has been delivered than what has been promised to homebuyers in the radio advertising and that the location of the entire project in a flood plain was unwise. Ultimately, the homebuyers decide whether they received what they expected. However, for those living outside of River Islands, is the added crowding and congestion a benefit or a burden?

    • boathouseriverisland.com
      The boathouse.
      980 Lakeside Dr
      Lathrop, CA 95330

      It’s a great casual little restaurant. Maybe you should visit before you slam it. I don’t think it takes “mom eyes” to find it.

      I have friends who both live out there and teach at their schools. They are all quite happy with the development. I live in Manteca and my nearest restaurant and shopping is a farther distance than what they experience. Not everyone wants to have those things in their backyard, but within 5 miles is reasonable. They aren’t in a food desert or anything.

      • Are you talking about the old Riverboat restaurant and bar out on the levee River road it sits on the water out by where the Spindrift restaurant n bar use to be b4 it closed down several years ago?

    • Not sure what sales tax you are referring too. Measure C was passed but not a penny goes to fund the development of River Islands. Please do your research before making inaccurate statements.

  6. Rome was not built in a day. River islands community is in the process of becoming what has been promised. The residents in the community are friendly and supportive of each other and their culture. Having lived in the Bay Area for nearly two decades and recently moved into this community, I am very happy to be part of the first ones to call this place home. Traffic congestion is real and I am hoping that this will be resolved eventually. I would rather be where I am able to enjoy my time and life and make friends with the growing community than be in a community where my neighbors don’t even know me or want to know me

    • The traffic will never change. Its always been this way. The transplants make it worse than it already is/was. So now that your here, I really don’t see it getting any better. Besides that, our prices catering to the transplants, makes it worse also.

  7. well I agree and disagree with parts of the article in the comments. Be here in 15 years and thanks to river island in my $175,000 home purchase back in 2010 is now worth over 700,000 that part I appreciate however, I don’t appreciate the two car accidents weekly at Mckee in River Island, the increased traffic so much so that I can no longer keep my windows open after 9 PM and allow cars that come down river island speeding well over the posted speed limit truly afraid of the fire department if they have to answer a call hope that the revive and Police Dept. is assisting Lathrop Police Dept. because in the last three years they’ve been super Duper busy . I do agree with the fact that they are catering to the people with six-figure salary that can work from home definitely not affordable apartments as well too small too much as far as the levees I don’t have four hours to speak about that for those that came within the last seven years drive around my hope is that they will build two separate areas with roundabouts in the middle of Mckee and river island to slow people down. Otherwise it would be on the soles of those who died at that intersection in though I don’t stick around enough for the accidents to see if someone is actually passed later , I hope that they have not … this was voice text so hopefully it reads well but I will say that Target is the only affordable place to shop because sprouts is very expensive and elite, but it does cater to the bay area San Jose, Hayward individuals just one girls humble opinion after 15 years plus it’s OK to agree to disagree remember kindergarten please share be kind to one another and play nice

  8. The worst thing people will not realize that they have to pay approx. $800 every month for Mella Roose tax. It would be $240,000 over 30 years to district for school,Police Station and other stuff that most of the people will not use. So Avg 600K for home, interest payments(30 years approx 450K ), property taxes(180K), mella roose tax(240K), commute cost, maintainance,HOA.
    Basically you are working for district to pay their salaries:))))))

  9. Bruce, reading your article, I had to laugh. Do you live in California? Doesn’t matter were you go there is traffic. I am a transplant from the bay area and am blessed to own a home in this quiet beautiful neighborhood. Maybe, talk to the locals before writing a crappy article like this one. Just saying

  10. I recently moved here. It’s not easy but it is nice to have a comfortable and friendly place to lay your head and wake up. It has its up and downs like everywhere else. Capitalism in America should be illegal. America should be renamed the land of deceit and corruption.

  11. I would encourage people of all income level and education.Study the true history of the central valley importance of resources and opportunity.Many of land speculators,are literally gambling with peoples lives and livelihood just to make a buck.$$$,,, …Only very few make out in the end.Greed unfortunately is the name of the game.I hope these developers would come to their ,senses,I witnessed Hurricane Katrina first hand.Pray for spiritual discernment …….

  12. Good evening, I am not one that generally leaves comments. However after ready the article and reading the responses Erick might be on to something. I am from the central valley and commute to the bay for work, so I see this community often and yes this year with all of the rain can see that the homes are under the water/the levy is their only hope to not being flooded. Also you stated that these homes were built for bay area transplants, if you notice the responses almost all from bay area transplants angry and defensive! You stating your opinion from a commercial that you hear selling this community to bay area people who have no problem paying the price for these homes that are literally under water for that steep price. From Tracy-Manteca has been catered to bay area people wanting to get more home for their money(which is understandable) however that is raising the cost of living for the valley residents. I believe someone wrote they bought a house a 15 years ago for 175,000. What has changed in this development for the price to go through the roof(not taking about infatuation). Simply attracting people in the bay area. Anyway, that was simply my take on the article. I will have to stop by the island and take the scenic route and see what I find. Those that live in the community, hopefully I will see that pleasant island that everyone in the comments are talking about!
    Great article…

  13. Wow. Not sure whom the salesman you spoke to was (oddly enough you didn’t name him so I’m wondering if you even physically visited a neighborhood and talked to someone?) but whoever he is should get educated fast for not knowing the name of The Boathouse. You can’t not if you live or work there. It’s a main gathering place for people who live in River Islands, which from my personal experience actually having spent a ton of time there, is a community that truly embodies what the word community means. Residents I’ve personally met enjoy living there and consider it a respite from the congested, overpriced and crime ridden East Bay many at RI escaped from.

    I understand everyone is entitled to an opinion, but opinions published as news stories slandering entire communities should maybe have a few facts behind them? Those were lacking in abundance in this article. Oh, and maybe you should actually visit the place before you write about it? Just a thought.

  14. I agree with some things because for one, we have nothing to really offer to our feature residents. No club house, failed golf course, baseball fields that make no sense and one restaurant (some will say is great but we haven’t had a good run everytime we walk in there) seems to cater to the regulars and makes you wait awhile before even welcoming you. I would say yes, I agree with some that it is a beautiful place to be in but the broken promises and no entertainment is not really ideal for such an expensive place to live in. It is getting there to bay prices which idk why because we have 1 restaurant to offer and 50 baseball fields. Overall, I’ve lived in Lathrop for over 30 years and moved here to this side because I thought we would get more the last 3 years I’ve been in RI. I do wish I kept my old house in old lathrop because I would move back in a heart beat. Don’t get me wrong it’s beautiful but really has nothing to offer as of yet. Can’t even get anything approved for your front yard. Mulch is RIs pride and joy. I wish for more but I gave up awhile ago.

    • Thank you, S,

      It appears you have the voice of reason. The truth wins out. You said it all…

      All those residents pilng into one single restaurant

      I see people have their defenses up. Have to guard the market value, huh?

      Sad, you cannot get your old house back. I get you!

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