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People will remember 2017 for wild weather, political upheaval, big steps forward

FILE PHOTO - Tobias Read of Beaverton gets sworn in as Oregon Treasurer, as his family watches. A prominent Beaverton businessman was forcibly ousted from public life, and a Beaverton man won election to statewide office. Unemployment hit record lows and civil suits against a strip club hit record highs. The city saw a flurry of snowstorms and a triple-digit heat wave.

The news in 2017 ran the gamut from goofy to grim, with political shakeups, big changes in long-standing organizations and Beaverton residents making their voices heard.

FILE PHOTO - Four suspicious fires have destroyed unfinished homes in North Bethany this year. Two have been declared arson.

Read steps up, Jones steps down

There are only seven statewide-elected offices in Oregon, and Beaverton's Tobias Read was sworn in for one of them last January, becoming Oregon's State Treasurer.

In Oregon, the treasury is the central bank for state agencies, issues bonds and oversees the state's investment. The Beaverton Democrat and longtime member of the Legislature took the reins of Oregon's $90 billion investment portfolio. He also promised to be a bulwark for changes coming out of the President Donald Trump administration, saying, "We're likely to see shifts in Washington, D.C., in those agencies that protect investors from the kind of fraudulent activities we saw in the run-up to the Great Recession. Eroding those protections and transparency means increased risk for every Oregonian."

(Of the seven statewide offices, two now are held by Beaverton residents. Brad Avakian is the state labor commissioner. The other seats elected statewide are: Governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and both U.S. senators. One of Oregon's five members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Suzanne Bonamici, also comes from Beaverton.)FILE PHOTO - Kids took advantage of last winter's unusual snow storms in the region. Some school districts in Washington County lost an unprecedented nine days to storm closures.

If the year kicked off with that ascendancy, it ends with the abrupt resignations of prominent businessman Jerry Jones Jr. He'd long been a leader on City of Beaverton committees and the Beaverton Area Chamber of Commerce, and was twice elected to the board of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District.

But following allegations of sexual harassment of a woman who used to work for him, Jones resigned under pressure from the chamber and, one week later, also left his elected position at the parks board. He no longer serves on any city committees.

In other big changes: Beaverton, Tigard and Tualatin all saw new chiefs of police hired within a few months. This rare and coincidental change in top leadership included Tualatin Chief Bill Steele, Beaverton Chief Jim Monger and Tigard Chief Kathy McAlpine.

And Sen. Richard Devlin, a longtime regional leader from Washington County, left the legislature this November when Gov. Kate Brown appointed him to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, an interstate compact created by Congress to address the electrical energy production for Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana, along with fish-and-wildlife issues as related to energy production. Prior to this, Devlin served as the chief budget-writer in the Oregon Senate for seven years.

Big steps forward

The Rose Festival has been the pride-and-joy of Portland for decades but this year, for the first time ever, one of the first events of the season took place in Beaverton. The city hosted the Rose Festival Half Marathon at the end of May.

The City of Beaverton also went far afield, hiring two new leaders for the Beaverton Center for the Arts, which has not yet been built. Chris Ayzoukian, the new general manager, has been vice president for the L.A. Philharmonic and helped oversee the construction of Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles. Lani Faith, formerly director of resource development at Bridge Meadows intergenerational living community, took on the role of director of philanthropy for the Center for the Arts.

Tualatin Hills Park & Recreation District approved a new name — Mountain View Champions Park. It's the most inclusive park of its kind in the state. The 21.5-acre community park at Southwest 170th Avenue and Farmington Road in Aloha includes synthetic turf fields with lights, and a Champions Too field, Oregon's first sports field for athletes of all physical abilities.

Bridgeport Meadows opened in Beaverton this year. The multi-generational housing center intertwines services for senior citizens with foster children. Its first residents moved into their new homes in August.

And the Washington County Commission OK'd a $250,000 grant to complete a $7.7 million project to open a Virginia Garcia wellness clinic in Beaverton. The new Beaverton clinic will be triple the size of the current clinic, which opened in 2004, and will enable staff to serve 50 percent more patients than the 12,000 now seen annually. Two-thirds of those clients live in households under the federal poverty level, and nearly half are younger than 18.

Local impact, national stories

Other big news of the year happened throughout the country — not just here — but the news staff of The Times sought out the local impact. We conducted interviews and shot photos of so-called "Dreamers" — those whose parents brought them to the United States illegally when they were young, and who subsequently entered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

Staff journalists also brought you news from survivors of the Columbia Gorge wildfire and the Oct. 1 mass shooting in Las Vegas.

And our crew marched with women whose homes range from Aloha to Sherwood during the Jan. 21 Women's March, which drew an estimated 70,000 to 100,000 people to the streets of Portland. Anne Kuzminski, 77, of Tigard said she wasn't a protester by nature, but the election of Donald Trump changed that.

"I want the government to know that we are watching," Kuzminski said. "In great number."

Fire, water and other woes

The North Bethany neighborhood, north of Beaverton and within the Beaverton School District, was hit by four suspicious building fires between August and December. Two have been declared arson. All four destroyed unfinished houses in the same region. City, county and regional investigators — and even an arson dog from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — have attempted to track down the culprit or culprits. But so far, few clues have emerged.

And a dispute between the City of Beaverton and property owners left several apartment-dwellers on Southwest Allen Boulevard without water for well over a month. The residents includes several school children. The dispute has run for more than a decade, with ownership and responsibilities still hazy.

After years of legal wranglings, the saga of Stars Cabaret came to an end this year. The strip club had been accused of hiring — and sexually abusing — minors. In June, state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian of Beaverton announces a $1.25 million settlement for a then-13-year-old girl who suffered discrimination, harassment and abuse at the Beaverton club. That was followed in July by a $1 million civil suit for a second girl.

Snow, heat...

Robert Frost once told us that, "Some say the world will end in fire. Some say in ice." Both sides got to weigh in during 2017 as the community saw an almost unheard-of number of snow storms. Some local districts — which rarely see any snow days — lost up to nine days this year.

Then, in August, a prolonged heat wave hit the region with triple-digit temperatures hitting as high as 108 in Washington County. It was the region's longest heat wave since 2009.

...and winds of political change

This region has more political leadership than most parts of Oregon, with a wide array of chairmanships at the Legislature representing Washington County. And 2017 was a year of major legislative accomplishments. It will be remembered for a $5.3 billion package of transportation projects stretched over a decade and paid for through increases in the gas tax, registration fees and new taxes on payroll, new vehicle purchases and bicycles priced more than $200. And, for the first time in most people's memory, the topic of tolling on Interstates 5 and 205 are on the table this year. About a third of the I-5 region under consideration for tolls runs through Washington County.

The legislation include $22 million for design work on The Newberg-Dundee Bypass and Highway 99W, along with $44 million for Highway 217 southbound through Beaverton.

Local earmarks include: $2.4 million for Beaverton; $1.3 million for Tigard; $678,000 for Tualatin; and $13 million for Washington County.

Beaverton played host to transportation leaders from Oregon and Washington in September at a conference sponsored by the Westside Economic Alliance. Leaders from both states said the emphasis in the coming decade likely will be on maintaining existing transportation facilities; not expanding into new ones.

And on the topic of transportation, Washington County found out this winter that the long-anticipated light rail line connecting Portland to Tigard and Tualatin will be delayed. Instead of a vote in 2018, the issue will go to the ballot in 2020. Transportation leaders also outlined possible routes for the line, which could include ripping up the entirety of Barbur Boulevard, and two possible routes through the Tigard Triangle.

Local lawmakers also were in the thick of legislation that raised the minimum age to purchase or smoke tobacco products from 18 to 21. The Legislature OK'd a program to fund health care for virtually all of Oregon's low-income children, including children of undocumented immigrants. Lawmakers passed one of the most progressive reproductive rights laws in the nation.

And lawmakers raised the state's minimum wage in the first-of-its kind regional approach, separating Oregon into three regions with three minimum wages: one for the inner cities (including much of eastern Washington County); one for suburbs (including Western Washington County); and one for rural regions.

Locally, that meant minimum wage rose to $11.25 per hour in the first tier (a $1.50 increase); $10.25 per hour in the second tier (an increase of 50 cents).

The timing seemed right: The long, slow recovering from the Great Recession reached its peak this year with Washington County reaching near-historic unemployment rate of 3.1 percent. That's even lower than the 4 percent that economists often cite as "full employment."

By August, the county added 4,500 jobs, year over year. That month, Tigard and Hillsboro saw the lowest unemployment rate at 3.4 percent, followed by Beaverton, Tualatin and Sherwood at 3.5 percent.

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