A look in the rearview mirror at 2017
This year was one of excitement on multiple fronts: whether tragedies or victories, controversies or solidarity, 2017 has been a year of isolated incidents of awe and of (hopefully) lasting improvements. Headlines that have grabbed the entire country's attention have made their way to northern Marion County, which has seen its share of unique challenges and successes this year.
Here's a look back at 2017.
Weathering the weather
The year started out with an unusual blow to the Willamette Valley — the crippling blow of wintry weather, that is. The blast of wintry weather in January (and even before that in December 2016) coaxed enough inclement weather days out of local school districts to warrant an elongated school year in June.
Oct. 12 saw another rare occurrence coming from the mid-Willamette skies: a tornado that touched down at Aurora State Airport. Luckily, damage was limited to two overturned airplanes and some downed power lines, and no one was injured.
And this month there was the largest reminder in years that the Big One could hit at any time, as a 4.0 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter in Scotts Mills rattled the valley. No damage was reported.
But the largest event by far to hit Oregon's skies this year was the solar eclipse of Aug. 21. Marion County sat in the path of totality, meaning that the moon completely covered the sun over Woodburn for about 1 minute, 16 seconds. As a result, thousands of tourists descended on the area, congesting highways and forcing local government agencies to make advanced preparations.
Explosion of growth
Throughout 2017, the city of Woodburn has laid the groundwork for what some city staff have called an upcoming tidal wave of development.
The city is expecting more than a thousand new residential units to be added to the city over the coming years, and several large industrial properties are expected to be developed, too.
The surge in development is rooted in a number of causes, namely an improved housing market, the city's newly expanded Urban Growth Boundary, the recently redesigned Interstate 5 interchange, and housing and land shortages in nearby Portland and Salem.
In November, the Woodburn City Council approved the annexation and development applications for Woodland Crossing, the 300-unit apartment complex in west Woodburn that drew outcry from neighboring residents who fear it will increase traffic in their neighborhood.
And in November, Woodburn city staff received a development application for the Smith Creek residential development, which comprises 819 dwelling units, made up of a mix of multi-family, single-family and row house homes. The property is located south of Woodburn Estates and Golf.
Boones Crossing, the planned unit development of single-family homes located in south Woodburn just east of Boones Ferry Road, is likely to see progress soon. Phase 1 and 2 of the development were built years ago, but the remaining four phases of the development remain unbuilt. A statutory development agreement approved by the city in December 2016 settled some disputes over the remaining phases, and construction could begin anytime.
In addition, the city annexed a 108-acre industrial property into the city, nicknamed the Specht property, in December. That property will house up to 2 million square feet of industrial space.
As far as tangible change in 2017, downtown Woodburn saw improvements to various buildings, starting with the Woodburn Historical Museum renovation and reopening in June, thanks to a grant. More renovations are on the way, as the adjoining Bungalow Theater received a $100,000 matching grant from Oregon Heritage in May.
In addition, Metropolis Marketplace, formerly known as the Association Building, opened its doors in September.
The marketplace, purchased from the city in April 2016 by Hythum Ismail and Robby Truong, is home to food and drink vendors — including a coffee shop, an Asian fusion restaurant, and a smoothie and snack restaurant — and provides a temporary home to artisan and craft vendors. The owners are still working on developing a 5,000-square-foot event center on the second floor.
The mural on the south wall of the Woodburn Independent office was completed in the summer by muralist Hector H. Hernandez. The colorful mural, which displays symbols of the city's history and culture, has quickly become a landmark of the city's downtown.
The city's alleyway beautification project, which updated the alleys between Grant and Hayes streets in downtown Woodburn, was also completed this summer.
Downtown also has new public restrooms located adjacent to the Woodburn Public Library (Hubbard's downtown also saw new restrooms in its Rivenes Park this year).
Outside of downtown, families were ecstatic to see the opening of Centennial Park's splash pad and rain garden in June, made possible in part through a state parks and recreation grant.
Woodburn Station also was built up, opening Chipotle and Starbucks in the spring, followed by Nancy's Burgers in December.
Down the road in Gervais, Dollar General opened its doors on Douglas Avenue this month, marking it as one of dozens of new locations for the national chain.
In September, MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility unveiled six new housing units, which were designed to create what Oregon Youth Authority officials call "normative environments," spaces that don't feel punitive and provide a sense of normalcy to the youths they house. The new units, which cost $25.6 million, were opened simultaneous to the consolidation of MacLaren with Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility in Salem. As of Sept. 1, all of the youth, staff and programs from Hillcrest have been relocated to MacLaren. Hillcrest is now closed.
And projects funded by the Woodburn School District's $65 million capital improvement bond saw progress in 2017.
Over the summer, the district finished the roofing projects at Heritage Elementary School and Valor Middle School, and completed the fire restoration project at the high school.
The district broke ground on the new Success High School campus in November. The campus, situated behind the Woodburn School District office and just north of Highway 214, is scheduled to be completed by September 2018, in time for the new school year. Originally scheduled to be completed in 2017, construction was held back because the site did not meet the city's access requirements.
At Washington Elementary School, construction of a two-story addition is underway. Exterior walls have been installed, the roofing system is nearly done, excavation for the new gym foundation is complete, and roofing has been installed on the play structure. Construction projects at the school are scheduled to be completed in August 2018.
Up the road at North Marion, the district prepares to upgrade and expand school facilities (having purchased neighboring properties) and improve school safety after voters passed the $42.2 million bond proposed by the school district in November.
The bond proposal includes the replacement and expansion of the nearly 70-year-old high school academic wings and renovating the vocational technology building. In addition, projects funded by the bond include traffic flow improvements, routine maintenance projects and security upgrades districtwide.
Taking a stand and taking the initiative
On the positive end of the scale was how individuals and organizations in the area stepped up and showed support for important causes in 2017.
For starters, in May, the Woodburn School Board saw its first contested race in a decade, and once election results came in, the body became Oregon's first-ever elected Latino majority school board with the election of Laura Isiordia, Gustavo Gutierrez-Gomez and newcomer Anthony Medina.
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the nation's 45th president struck fear among those in Woodburn's immigrant community, with word of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in the area. While this perceived shift was unsettling and terrifying for many, what also came about as a result was a unified stand across the Latino community to empower those who felt unsafe. As a result, many locals participated in marches, both in and out of Woodburn, and even took part in a Day Without Immigrants in February.
That boycott, a response to Trump's immigration agenda and its focus on increased enforcement of immigration law, a sealed southern border and a more difficult path to U.S. residency, encouraged all immigrants — including undocumented people, legal residents and naturalized citizens — to not go to work, to not open their businesses, to not buy anything in stores or online, to not eat at restaurants and to not attend school to show the impact immigrants have on everyday American life.
The Woodburn City Council also adopted a resolution of inclusivity in May. The resolution didn't take as strong of a stand on the immigration issue as giving the city sanctuary status, which typically declare a city's unwillingness to cooperate with ICE, but it showed that the Woodburn Police Department wouldn't change how it enforces laws and that all residents are welcome to access city services.
Stepping forward to make a difference was not limited to supporting the immigrant community. Woodburn as a whole stepped up to support outfitting every Woodburn Police Department cruiser with an automated external defibrillator to help save lives. The Woodburn Independent initiated the fundraising, but Woodburn Proud eagerly took on the challenge, donating $5,000 and being a clearinghouse for other donations. The fundraising was so successful that the WPD surpassed its goal and was able to outfit AEDs in each vehicle of its entire fleet.
The face of multiple public agencies in northern Marion County have changed significantly in 2017, from police and fire chiefs to mayors, school boards and administrators.
Perhaps the most unprecedented shift in leadership happened in Hubbard, whose newly elected mayor, along with two of its city councilors, resigned early this fall, following a resident-led recall campaign that was started, in part, because of the city's decision to consider contracting police services with Marion County amid a police chief search. That idea was dismissed in July, but the damage was done and Mayor Thia Estes resigned in September, with Councilor Brad Williams and Shannon Schmidt resigning less than a week later. This left the five-member council (which includes the mayor) with a minority of seats filled. The two remaining councilors appointed Charles Rostocil as the new mayor, and community members Michelle Luna and James Audritsh as councilors.
And the city moved forward with its police chief search, swearing in Dave Rash, who came from the Milwaukie Police Department earlier this month.
Mount Angel and Woodburn also have new chiefs in town: Mike Healy's retirement from the Mount Angel Police Department made way for St. Paul resident and Sherwood Police Capt. Mark Daniel to take over as chief earlier this month, and Paul Iverson's retirement from Woodburn Fire District made way for Portland Fire & Rescue's Joe Budge to step up to the plate as the new chief in October.
Though Hubbard is dealing with a brand-new council, Woodburn only has one fresh face on its council, as Juan Serratos was appointed in July to take the Ward I vacancy left by Melinda Veliz, who resigned in May for personal reasons, about six months after being elected.
The local education scene is constantly evolving, and its leadership is evidence of that. North Marion superintendent Boyd Keyser retired in June, making way for longtime Woodburn resident Ginger Redlinger to step into the role in time for the district's bond election campaign. Along with Redlinger, the North Marion administrative team changed this year to include Ron Holyoke as the new athletic director, Julie Jackson as the new director of special programs, Allison Hunt as elementary director of teaching and learning, and Tami Badinger as middle school director of teaching and learning.
Woodburn School District's administrative team transformed for the 2017-18 school year as well, as longtime principal Irene Novichihin retired and Victor Vergara moved to Washington state.
WeBSS principal Eric Swenson moved to the district office, where he leads the after-school programs and Family University and is developing a teacher cadet program. As a result, longtime WeBSS teacher Greg Baisch has joined Sherilynn Rawson as co-principal of Heritage, which also has a new assistant principal in Teresa Alfaro. And former teacher and North Marion administrator Desiree Kiesel took over for Baisch at WACA. Vergara was replaced by Juan Larios, whose Washington Elementary School principal position was filled by newcomer Alfredo Belanger. His assistant principal is Claudia Kis, who has been the district's mentor for new teachers for many years.
While Woodburn's school board gained its first-ever Latino majority in the May election, the Gervais School Board lost its Latino majority in favor of almost completely new faces, as longtime members Maria Caballeros and Molly McCargar were ousted. Voters elected Henry Bustamante (who had already been serving on the board), Michael Jirges (who was elected after being appointed just months before), and newcomers Debbie Sullivan, Jenny Jones and Lorraine Martin.
Gervais also has a fresh team of administrators this year, with longtime teachers Ken Stott and Bob Martin serving as Gervais High School principal and assistant principal, respectively, after the departure of Mike Solem and Kim Kellison. Sylvia Garcia is back at the helm of Sam Brown Academy, and her post at Gervais Middle School has been filled by Creighton Helms.
Sexual misconduct exposed
An Associated Press poll found that the top news story of 2017 was the wave of sexual misconduct allegations by men in power and that national trend reared its ugly head in Woodburn, too.
Not only were there seemingly countless arrests and court cases dealing with sex abuse from private residents, but two Woodburn police officers made headlines in the summer for criminal charges related to illicit sexual behavior.
Detective Timothy Cobos, a Woodburn K-9 detective and patrol officer since 2006, pleaded guilty July 25 to official misconduct after an investigation revealed he engaged in consensual sex while on duty — including inside his patrol car — on multiple occasions. Cobos is no longer an officer — he resigned soon before his guilty plea, and he filed his decertification with the Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training. He was sentenced to 18 months of bench probation and 40 hours of community service.
Just two days after Cobos pleaded guilty, another Woodburn officer, Dan Kerbs, 29, was arrested by Tigard police for child sex abuse, sodomy and online corruption of a child. Kerbs, who had been hired as a Woodburn police officer in 2015, was placed on unpaid administrative leave soon after the indictment. He pleaded not guilty in August and is scheduled to go to trial in February 2018.
Following Kerbs' arrest, Woodburn police Chief Jim Ferraris said the department will reflect on its processes as a result of the two cases.
"It's healthy for any organization to undergo continuous process improvement and ask questions: What happened, why did it happen, what can we do to prevent it from happening again," Ferraris said at the time. "That's a process I like to undertake for any significant event."
Traumatic headlines rocked the Woodburn area in 2017, especially during the first week of the year when the five members of the Kroeker family were found dead in their burnt rural Hubbard home in what was later determined to be a murder-suicide.
The tragedy continues for the family of Woodburn resident Cynthia Martinez, who disappeared in July after asking a stranger for a ride home from a Keizer bar. The 26-year-old mother of four hasn't been seen since, and neither has the person she was last seen with, Jaime Alvarez-Olivera.
Gervais' Kenny Kalugin, 37, was found murdered in North Salem Nov. 10. Three suspects — Jose Barboza Manzo, Vanessa Garcia-Beiza and Zachary Urton — have been arrested in connection with his death.
It might sound cliche to say 2017 was a banner year for local sports, but it certainly was for several young athletes.
For starters, Kennedy's Bishop Mitchell concluded his high school athletic career this spring by winning individual titles at the 2A state track and field championships in the 200-meter dash, the triple jump and the long jump, where he tied the 2A state meet record with a mark of 22-05.05. He was denied a fourth title in the 100-meter dash by 0.006 seconds, but he still went on to be named 2A Male Athlete of the Meet after setting a school record with 38 individual points at the state meet. Mitchell is now at Portland State University, where he redshirted with the football team his freshman year after a stellar career with Kennedy, during which he finished seventh in Oregon career touchdowns (74) and 12th in career rushing yards (4,807), and set six school records.
Brothers Lane and Russel Stigall continued the family wrestling legacy at North Marion High School after adding two more state titles to the trophy case in February. Lane won his third straight championship to conclude his career with the Huskies, while Russel picked up his first title, joining his father, Ford, and three older brothers who have combined to give North Marion eight state championship wins.
The Woodburn Bulldogs cemented themselves as a 5A soccer dynasty after winning their fifth state championship in eight years after rallying for a 2-1 win over Corvallis in the finals in November. Having qualified for eight consecutive semifinals at the 5A level, the Woodburn boys will look to extend their legacy at the 4A classification next year when the team bumps down after the reclassification ruling in October.
North Marion sophomore Emily Scanlan shocked more than a few spectators in May when she came up with the performance of a lifetime at the 4A state track and field championships. Seeded sixth heading into the finals of the 100-meter hurdles, Scanlan pulled out the perfect run at the perfect time, setting a new personal best by more than three-quarters of a second to claim the state championship in the event.
The Trojans volleyball team closed out the fall season with an incredible stretch, winning 20 of its final 22 games over a six-week period to place third at the 2A State Championship tournament — the best finish in the history of the program.
The Buckaroos put up a memorable season at St. Paul, cruising through the regular season with a perfect record led by the state's top 2A offense and defense. That made the ending all the more tragic, when the Bucks were stunned in the semifinals by the league rival Santiam Wolverines — a team they had beaten by 26 points in September — by a field goal as time expired to send St. Paul home.
The North Marion girls soccer team may have been eliminated from the state playoffs early, but that doesn't erase the team's regular season success. Led by Conference Player of the Year Mar Verastegui, the team posted a 13-win season and went undefeated in their conference en route to being ranked No. 1 in the state for the first time in program history.