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Top 10 news stories of 2013

It’s quite evident the city of Lake Oswego is a major news player in the community, as seen by our top 10 news stories of 2013.

The city government had a hand in at least half of those stories, although there were plenty of other newsmakers in the mix. A political pendulum swung into city hall in 2013, resulting in a more conservative approach from the council than in previous years. How that will play out in 2014 should be interesting to watch.

A bright spot in the year’s top news included voters’ decision to continue providing extra financial support to the Lake Oswego School District. And while three local girls made headlines when they were seriously hurt in a car accident in November, all had been released from the hospital by the end of the year.

Here’s a closer look at the top 10 news stories of 2013:

by: VERN UYETAKE - Workers used a 70-foot drill to dig into the ground near Lake Oswegos water treatment plant in West Linn when testing the soil solidity to expand the facility, now undergoing construction.

Water projects:

Our coverage in the Review included at least 16 stories dealing with water issues on the front page during 2013. They dealt with a wide range of subjects related to Lake Oswego’s partnership with Tigard to expand and share drinking water infrastructure. Articles included Lake Oswego’s offer of $5 million to West Linn for allowing a bigger water pipeline to go through that city, where Lake Oswego also plans to rebuild its treatment plant. Other stories dealt with West Linn citizens displeased by the financial offer and by the expansion of the facility in West Linn. Costs to Lake Oswego and Tigard residents in the form of increased rates for the expanded water project also were prominent, as were nuts-and-bolts stories on the progress of the revamped line from the Clackamas River, under the Willamette River, through Mary S. Young State Park and West Linn, into Lake Oswego and, eventually, to Tigard. One story that may please Lake Oswego residents ran in the Review Dec. 19, when it was announced that Tigard will buy a larger share of water and shoulder more of the costs of the projects, meaning projected water rate hikes for Lake Oswegans won’t be as steep as once projected.

by: VERN UYETAKE - The future of the West End Building remains unclear. The city council inked a deal in 2013 to sell the underused property on Kruse Way, but the agreement hinged on a zone change, which a city board shot down late in the year.

The WEB:

Breaking from the direction of previous councils, the city announced in September its intent to sell the West End Building, which had been purchased for $20 million in 2006. Long a flashpoint for criticism for those who felt the former Safeco building was symbolic of out-of-control spending, the council surprised some in September by announcing plans to sell the facility for $16.5 million to the Kensington Investment Group, which is based in the San Francisco area but has an Oregon office in Sherwood. The council voted 6-1 to authorize the city manager to sign the sales agreement and negotiate another deal to lease back the building until the city figures out where to relocate parks and recreation and water project staffers now working out of the WEB. Throwing a bit of a monkey wrench into the plan was the Lake Oswego Planning Commission, which in November rejected a proposed zone change considered crucial to selling the building. At least five stories about the WEB appeared in the Review last year.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Gene Wizer in the summer announced the closure of his market on what is commonly known as the Wizer block between First and Second streets, Evergreen Road and A Avenue in downtown Lake Oswego. The block is now the site of a planned mixed-use development that will likely continue to generate controversy in the coming year.

Urban renewal:

Early in the year, one of the first major moves of a newly elected city council was to repeal plans for redeveloping the Foothills area, which sits between the Willamette River and downtown Lake Oswego, using financing from urban renewal.

In addition, if you pay attention to the Review’s Opinion section, you likely have a sense for the controversy building around another downtown urban renewal effort: the Wizer block, or Block 137. In August, Gene Wizer announced that, after 65 years, the downtown fixture started by his father would close, and it was shuttered within weeks. Lake Oswego’s urban renewal agency (LORA) then voted to foot up to $6 million of the bill for the estimated $92.6 million makeover transforming the Wizer property downtown into a new residential and retail development. As envisioned, the still-emerging redevelopment plans would see more than 200 high-end apartments or condos in a trio of four- to five-story buildings. Also planned is about 28,000 square feet of retail space along A Avenue and First Street, a public walkway connecting First and Second streets and underground parking for tenants and shoppers. While some Review letter writers have endorsed the plan, a number of others have found fault with its size, height and look and with the LORA board, made up of city councilors, for its role. The Lake Oswego Development Review Commission is scheduled to take up the proposal soon. The Review ran at least eight stories about Wizer’s property in 2013.

It’s worth noting a separate redevelopment effort generated more positive reactions in 2013. At the end of the year, the city finally pushed ahead with the first major project aiming to spur revitalization of the Lake Grove business area, another urban renewal district. The first phase of rebuilding Boones Ferry Road, now undergoing engineering and design, should take shape in the coming year.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Bill Korach chats with Audrey Monroe, chairwoman of the school levy campaign, which saw success in the November election.

School levy, finances:

Support remained strong for the Lake Oswego School District. About 78 percent of voters who weighed in during the Nov. 6 election approved the five-year local option levy for the Lake Oswego School District. The levy first was passed in May 2000 with a rate of $1.18 per $1,000 of assessed value and has brought in millions of dollars since then. The levy revenue accounted for almost 11 percent of the 2012-13 operating budget, according to the audited numbers. The levy is expected to generate enough to cover roughly 10 percent of the 2013-14 operating budget. Meanwhile, way back in April, Superintendent Bill Korach presented a new strategy for the school board with a goal of cutting costs. His plan included trimming 10.5 full-time positions to part-time jobs to try to avoid layoffs. As always, the Oregon Legislature plays a role in school funding. And, during a special session in October, lawmakers approved a “grand bargain” package, which includes a bill that would infuse $100 million directly into K-12 schools. At least five stories appeared on this topic.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Lake Oswego City Manager Scott Lazenby took the top city government post after some shuffling in the position over the past year.

City manager’s revolving door shuts:

Lake Oswego had three different people sit in the city manager’s chair during 2013. Interim city manager David Donaldson’s one-year contract to serve as the city’s chief executive was ended by a new council at its first official meeting last January to allow another interim city manager — Tom Coffee — to take the helm. Some councilors criticized the process by which the hiring decision was made. Although the meeting agenda noted the council would discuss a formal recruiting process for a permanent city manager, it did not mention concluding Donaldon’s temporary appointment early and hiring a new interim manager in his place. Upset by the proceedings, Councilor Jon Gustafson said to Mayor Kent Studebaker, “Let me try to speak very carefully and very sensitively: This is our first full regularly scheduled meeting, and there’s nothing more that I want than for our group to be highly functional and to have a good working relationship with each other. I’m really worried about that. ... it appears this decision to hire Mr. Coffee was done in secret. It was done without any public notice. It was done without an opportunity for any citizen involvement and without even informing the entire council.” Coffee continued in his interim role until Sandy’s Scott Lazenby was approved in June as the official new city manager. The Review had at least seven stories on this topic.

Murder cases (two of them):

It’s a fortunate fact that murders rarely happen in Lake Oswego. However, the trials for a pair of murder suspects have been slowly been working their way through the legal system, taking some top news stories of 2012 into 2013 and beyond.

Adrien Graham Wallace, accused of murdering his mother and nephew in Lake Oswego on June 4, 2012, has once again been found mentally capable of standing trial. Shortly before Christmas, a Clackamas County judge ruled that Wallace, 42, is able to assist in his own defense. Wallace faces charges of aggravated murder in the shooting deaths of his mother, Saundra Sue Wallace, 71, and his nephew, Nicolas Brian Juarez, 16. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. His trial is now scheduled to begin Jan. 27.

Meanwhile, in June, a Clackamas County judge ruled that Erik Meiser, accused of murdering Fritz Hayes, 57, with a knife and machete, was mentally fit for trial. Judge Eve Miller said that proceedings were no longer suspended, as prosecutors had met their burden of proof in showing Meiser understands how the court system functions, will cooperate with his attorneys and is able to consider the consequences of potential defense strategies. Meiser, 38, is accused of attacking Hayes at his Atwater Road home Sept. 17, 2012. Meiser’s trial is scheduled for 2014. Together, the Review had about 10 stories on the proceedings from these two murders.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Sarah Howell receives a hug from her mother, Carolyn Wiecks, as congratulations for running a strong campaign at an election night party in May. Howell was among those who won election to the Lake Oswego School Board in 2013.

School election:

Two new members joined the Lake Oswego School Board while a third board member was re-elected Nov. 6. First-time members were Sarah Howell and Liz Hartman; re-elected was John Wendland. After serving two years in a row instead of the usual year as chairman, Wendland now is back as one of the regular board members, while Patti Zebrowski is the chairwoman. The board faces a number of substantial issues, including working on the budget, dealing with possible sales of school property and the focus on the search for a new superintendent upon Bill Korach’s retirement next year. We had about five stories on this topic.

Mike Kehoe’s council seat taken by Lauren Hughes:

In August, Lake Oswego City Councilor Mike Kehoe resigned from his post to move with his family to the San Diego area. The move reportedly stemmed from his youngest child’s future education plans. Jack Kehoe, then just embarking on his junior year of high school, hopes to secure residency in California to give him a leg up when applying to the state’s top marine biology programs in two years. After a contentious, deadlocked vote by remaining councilors in which Audrey Monroe and Lauren Hughes tied 3-3 in their quest to replace Kehoe, a second vote was held in September. Councilor Skip O’Neill changed his position on Monroe, giving Hughes the fourth vote she needed to secure the open seat. The reversal drew accusations of coercion and corruption. O’Neill then declined to comment on his change of heart and said he didn’t know when he’d be ready to address that topic to the public.

However, addressing the accusations about coercion, O’Neill said, “There are people in Lake Oswego willing to go to new lows. And there are some that can walk with their heads high and others that can’t.”

Councilor Donna Jordan chose not to vote at all the second time around, saying, “There were some very big city, big league politics, some very strong-armed movements in order to try to persuade at least four members of the council to vote for one particular candidate. I am abstaining ... because I do not believe the process has been open and transparent as this council had portrayed itself to be when it was elected.” We had about six stories on the two councilors.

Former police officers lose certifications:

Two former Lake Oswego police officers lost their law enforcement certifications following a discussion of their cases by the Oregon Department of Public Safety and Standards and Training’s Police Policy Committee. Both Martin Bradford and Joshua Day, who resigned separately in October 2012 following an internal investigation by the Lake Oswego Police Department, were accused of violating moral fitness standards by having sexual relationships with female co-workers. Both men wrote impassioned letters to the committee urging the panel to consider their perspectives and allow them to keep their certifications. In their letters, both men denied having actual sexual contact. The committee reviewed the charges on Aug. 15 and unanimously recommended to decertify them. The recommendation then went to the full board, which voted unanimously in October to strip the two of their credentials. That means they can no longer work as police officers anywhere in Oregon. The Review ran about five stories on this subject.

by: FILE PHOTO - Maddie Owens, left, and Katie Brauti offer up broad smiles. Along with Madison Focht, the teens were injured in a November car wreck in Lake Oswego.

Local teens injured in car wreck:

Three Lake Oswego High School girls were injured in a car crash Nov. 15 on Kerr Parkway after the school’s football game against Jesuit in Beaverton.

While two of the girls were treated and released from Oregon Health & Science University Hospital and have since returned to school, the third and most seriously injured, Katie Brauti, spent as long as a month at OHSU recovering. She was finally discharged from the hospital in December. The Review ran a couple of stories in print and additional versions on its website about the accident it provided updates about the girls’ conditions.

— Copy from stories by Kara Hansen and Jillian Daley was used in this story.



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