10 years gone: Reflecting on a decade of change in Lake Oswego
In early 2019, a "10-year challenge" spread like wildfire across social media.
The premise was simple. Users posted two pictures of themselves: one from 2009 and another from 2019, along with a witty caption implying how well — or, in some humorous cases, how poorly — they'd evolved over the course of the decade. And of course, some chose to take the premise less seriously than others. One popular tweet, for example, included a garbage can (2009) and a garbage dumpster (2019).
What you are about to read is essentially Lake Oswego's "10-year challenge," albeit with far, far more words than a tweet, Facebook or Instagram post would allow. And if this city of ours were to simply post two before/after pictures of itself, the differences would be stark.
Aesthetically, Lake Oswego in 2020 looks much different than it did in 2010. Gone is the historic Wizer Block, and in its place is the gleaming, ever-evolving Windward complex. The foundation is being laid for a new City Hall building, and other significant developments like the Mercantile complex and Beacon Lake Oswego are taking shape by the day. The Lake Oswego School District, cash-strapped and pondering school closures at the beginning of the decade, is in the midst of a massive construction effort funded by a $187 million school bond. And a recently approved parks bond will fund largescale improvements across the city's public landscapes.
The character of the city has changed, too. New voices from a diverse array of backgrounds have found their footing, challenging the status quo at a local and even national level. Longstanding local businesses continue to see more challenges from companies based outside city limits — foremost among them online conglomerates like Amazon. Older residents can now attend lectures about responsible marijuana usage at the Adult Community Center, while younger Lake Oswegans have joined — and in many cases led — the fight against what they see as the existential threat of climate change.
And all along, there have been individual triumphs and tragedies — many, if not all, detailed in the pages of the Review.
It's been quite a decade, to say the least. So as we leap headfirst in the 2020s, join us in reflecting on the last 10 years.
A very special birthday
The decade kicked off with a bang, as Lake Oswego celebrated its centennial birthday in 2010. A yearlong celebration began Jan. 19, 2010, and two days later a "Lake Oswego Building Blocks" pictorial history was unveiled at the Lakewood Center for the Arts.
"A strong focus of what we're doing in the city is to enhance the quality of life in Lake Oswego, which to me, means providing opportunities for the community to come together and share in common goals and celebrate who we are," Kathy Kern-Schilling, special events coordinator for Lake Oswego, said in a message on the City's centennial website. "Our Centennial year-long celebration provides just that opportunity to reflect, appreciate and plan where we want to go as a community."
Events were hosted throughout the year and residents were also invited to share their most indelible memories from the city's history.
In the early years of the decade, the Lake Oswego School District was still reeling from the effects of the 2008 Great Recession. At a contentious public hearing in 2011, then-Superintendent Bill Korach said the recession, which began with drops in state revenue in late 2008, would be deeper and longer than anything the district had experienced. The district cut $3.7 million in 2010 by reorganizing junior high schedules, adding furlough days and cutting 16 teachers, as well as librarians, custodial, office and food services staff. Those changes came after the district, in 2009, trimmed $7.2 million by cutting 20 teachers — even though teachers also took a pay freeze that year. The district also made cuts to classified staff, reorganized special services, deferred textbook purchases, limited supply spending and increased athletic fees.
But even after all of that, Korach faced frustrated parents at that meeting in 2011 as the district considered an even more drastic move: closing schools.
Ultimately, the district opted to close Uplands and Bryant Elementary Schools. Students were redistributed to other schools, though both the Uplands and Bryant buildings remained in place through most of the decade. Uplands would later be used to house Oak Creek Elementary students while the latter school went through major bond-funded renovations, and Bryant wasn't demolished until 2019.
On the whole, the district was ultimately able to stabilize its financial situation and is now expanding and enhancing its offerings with help from a 2019 Learning Levy and the 2017 school bond.
Whose lake is this?
The question of whether Oswego Lake should remain private or be opened to the public went all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, and at decade's end the case remains unresolved.
The saga began in 2012, when the City passed an ordinance that prohibited the public from entering the lake or launching boats from city-owned waterfront parks such as Millennium Park Plaza. Portland attorney Mark Kramer and former Lake Oswego Planning Commissioner Todd Prager filed a lawsuit in response, and the suit also questioned a separate rule that restricted use of the Lake Oswego Swim Park to city residents.
Kramer and Prager argued that Oswego Lake is a public waterway under Oregon's Public Trust Doctrine and that the City's park restrictions — coupled with the fact that the rest of the lake perimeter is privately owned — create a de facto ban on public usage of a public waterway.
Both the Clackamas County Circuit Court and the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with the City, prompting appeals by Prager and Kramer that brought the case to Oregon's highest court for oral arguments in 2018.
It would be more than a year before the Supreme Court issued its ruling, in August 2019, which essentially split the difference and sent the matter ... back to the lower courts.
In a unanimous decision, the court found that "the public use doctrine does not grant plaintiffs a right to access the water from waterfront parks." However, the court also found that any rules interfering with the public's right to enter waterways held in trust by the state of Oregon must be "objectively reasonable." In turn, the court reversed and remanded the original judgement for one of the plaintiffs' three claims of relief to the lower courts.
Following the ruling, Kramer and Prager saw momentum turning in their favor — and victory on the distant horizon. The defendants, meanwhile, said they were prepared for a continued legal fight, even after the case was reviewed by the state's highest court.
The next steps are likely to take place in 2020.
A decade of development
It's hard to imagine now, as visitors line up at Salt & Straw, sit down to dinner at Bamboo Sushi or put their names down for apartments, but the future of the Wizer Block — where The Windward now stands as one of the centerpieces of Lake Oswego's downtown — was once very much in question.
Citizen action groups — specifically the Evergreen Neighborhood Association and Save Our Village — fought hard to stop developer Patrick Kessi's vision for mixed-use redevelopment on the Wizer Block, appealing at the Land Use Board of Appeals and eventually the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Those efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, however, as the Court of Appeals in 2015 voted to affirm LUBA's decision to allow the redevelopment to move forward. And so it was that Kessi's $93 million, 290,000-square-foot project — with 200 residential units and about 43,000 square feet of retail space at the corner of First Street and A Avenue — went forward.
After years of construction marked by the presence of two tower cranes looming over downtown, The Windward opened in the summer of 2018. Chuckie Pies and Salt & Straw were among the first retail tenants, and the complex has since added businesses like Bamboo Sushi, Stein Distillery and Domaine Serene.
Meanwhile, other significant projects that began in the 2010s will carry over into the next decade. The mixed-use Mercantile Village project — expected to be completed in 2021 — consists of 206 apartments, parking for over 550 cars and 50,000 square feet of destination retail, all sitting on over six acres at the primary intersection of Kruse Way and Boones Ferry Road in Lake Oswego. And the four-story Beacon Lake Oswego project by 10 Branch LLC at B Avenue and 3rd Street — expected to open in 2020 — will include underground parking, retail on the ground floor, two floors of co-working space and a 10,000-square-foot rooftop event center with views of Mount Hood.
Efforts to redevelop the North Anchor Property and West End Building, however, were much less successful. In August 2019, developer Vanessa Sturgeon pulled a plan to build a 121-room boutique hotel at the City-owned property on the stretch of B Avenue between State Street and the alley between 1st and 2nd Streets, citing an inability to secure funding. And while the City acquired the West End Building at 4101 Kruse Way in 2006 with the hopes of converting it into a community center, those plans were upended by the Great Recession and after several fits and starts the City finally sold the building to Yakima Products LLC. in 2015.
Murders shake the community
In 2016, it had been nearly a decade since the last alleged homicide in Lake Oswego. That changed in February of that year, when 50-year-old Nancy K. Westbrook was charged with murder after the shooting death of her estranged husband, 36-year-old Joshua G. Westbrook.
While the incident was initially reported as a suicide, police quickly surmised that was not the case and began investigating a possible homicide.
Upon questioning by LOPD detectives, Nancy Westbrook admitted to firing the gun that killed Joshua Westbrook, and she was ultimately sentenced to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
The gun used in the killing belonged to Joshua Westbrook, and prosecutors said Nancy Westbrook claimed that her estranged husband was suicidal — she told LOPD and county officials that he had handed her the gun when they entered his bedroom and told her to "just end it." Because Nancy Westbrook is the sole surviving witness, her statement could not be conclusively verified.
Unfortunately, it took just three years for another alleged homicide to take place in the city. In January 2019, police were dispatched to investigate the death of 50-year-old Heidi Anne Winchester at a home near River Run Drive and Bass Lane. There, her husband, 52-year-old Michael David Winchester, was injured and in need of medical attention.
Later that same day, according to police, Michael Winchester confessed to killing his wife, telling an officer that "I did it, I killed her, she had cancer. She's dead upstairs."
Winchester was charged with one count of murder, and has yet to stand trial. Fundraisers were held to support the Winchesters' two teenaged sons, and Michael Winchester was released in the late spring to attend the high school graduation of one of those sons.
A level playing field
Future athletes in the Lake Oswego School District can thank representatives from the Lake Oswego High School softball team for helping to — quite literally — level the playing field.
In 2017, attorneys representing current and former members of the team announced that they had finalized an agreement with the Lake Oswego School District to bring its high school sports programs and facilities into compliance with the requirements of Title IX. That agreement was the result of a federal lawsuit, which was first filed in April 2016, alleging that the girls softball team had been denied equal access to the kinds of equipment, facilities, funding and fundraising opportunities provided to the boys baseball team. By doing so, the plaintiffs claimed, the district was in violation of Title IX, a federal law passed in 1972 that prohibits discrimination based on sex "under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
According to the lawsuit, the girls had to play on an off-campus dirt field with no hitting facility. Meanwhile, the boys used an on-campus field with artificial turf and a hitting facility that the girls were not allowed to use because it also doubled as a locker room. The result, the lawsuit claimed, was that the softball team could not practice hitting on rainy days, and games and practices were frequently canceled because of inferior drainage on the dirt field.
The final agreement, reached and filed at the U.S. District Court in Portland, required the district to:
— turf the girls' softball field at Lake Oswego Junior High to allow all-weather play
— make other improvements to the field, including an indoor hitting facility immediately outside the right-field fence, cinderblock dugouts, a press box and concession stand, lights and an electronic scoreboard, a flag pole and foul poles, a drinking fountain and other items
— add sports opportunities for girls at Lake Oswego High — such as a junior varsity softball team, interscholastic water polo and lacrosse teams and no-cut policies on volleyball and soccer squads — to ensure that the percentage of girls attending LOHS who are active in sports is comparable to the participation rate of boys. The district was also directed to step up efforts to recruit female athletes
— adjust practice and play times for girls' teams, make more locker rooms available for girls, equally publicize and promote girls' and boys' teams and apportion coaches equitably at LOHS. The district also had to ensure equal access to equipment, supplies and medical and training services.
National politics engulf Lake Oswego
The 2016 election of President Donald Trump proved to be a flashpoint across the world, and for one day in early 2017 Lake Oswego was in the center of the controversy.
Supporters of Trump and groups of demonstrators who opposed him faced off in Lake Oswego March 4, 2017 in an often loud and confrontational — yet largely peaceful — pair of marches. The "March 4 Trump," which started in George Rogers Park before proceeding down State Street, was delayed multiple times by counter-protesters who blocked its path, and the marchers ultimately never completed their planned route.
Instead, the afternoon played out in a series of standoffs between the two groups on State Street, first in the George Rogers Park parking lot, again at the intersection of State and Leonard streets and finally in Lower Millennium Plaza Park, down the steps from the main plaza where a "Stand for LOve" counter-protest had gathered earlier in the day.
Police made three arrests and one Trump supporter was hit on the head with a stick as the March 4 Trump left George Rogers Park around 12:30 p.m. During the confrontation at the gates that separate Millennium Plaza Park from the railroad tracks on State Street, a 76-year-old West Linn resident suffered a medical emergency and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital.
Otherwise, police reported nothing more serious than a flag burning and lots of angry shouting and taunting.
The Stand for LOve protest, meanwhile, was organized by Independents for Progressive Action, Grassroots Impact, Direct Action Alliance, Willamette Women Democrats, Oregon Students Empowered and other groups. Attendees at the morning rally expressed fear and anxiety about what they saw as a rise in hatred across the United States.
Organizers insisted that they were hoping to avoid any confrontation, even as the crowd dispersed from Millennium Plaza Park and headed to State Street. There, they planned to line sidewalks on the west side of the street as the March 4 Trump walked past.
From about noon to 1:30 p.m., the stretch of State Street between Leonard Street and Sundeleaf Plaza was a flurry of neon pink hats, similar to those worn at recent Women's Marches across the country, and signs that read "Nasty Women Get Stuff Done," "All are loved" and "Not My Czar," among other things.
A grassroots effort against racism
Not long after the Trump marches, a new group called Respond to Racism was formed in Lake Oswego by Willie Poinsette and Liberty Miller. Poinsette and Miller were inspired by Portland Police Detective Nathan Sheppard's 2017 blog post detailing a racist road rage incident in Lake Oswego, as well as a series of alarming racist incidents at local schools.
The two decided to invite the entire community to join them in person and have a more in-depth discussion about racism and how it relates to Lake Oswego. While the first meeting was just between Miller and Poinsette, the group soon ballooned to include hundreds of community members — including many elected officials — who attended monthly meetings at the Lake Oswego United Church of Christ.
The group emphasized three core areas: learning, dialogue and action. As it grew, Respond to Racism attracted scores of esteemed keynote speakers at its meetings and hosted forums for candidates in races for City Council and the Lake Oswego School Board. In early 2019, Poinsette was named the Community Leader of the Year by the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce.
The group also worked with other local organizations — both governmental and nonprofit — to organize a Multi-City Equity Summit in the fall of 2019.
In accepting the Chamber of Commerce award last March, Poinsette made it clear that the city still has a long way to go in its fight against racism and other forms of bias.
"I did share that I was invisible most of the time, and my son went through school here and it wasn't easy," Poinsette said in an interview following the ceremony. "I wasn't recognized as a person. I couldn't go to the store — and still can't — and find products for my hair, Band-Aids for a certain skin tone, there's not a place I can find to do my hair. So my call was for the Chamber to extend its outreach and get other businesses involved.
"There are other people of color living here — and not just black people. We need to acknowledge that the city is not what it used to be."
New investment in LO schools
School board members, district officials, faculty and students rejoiced in 2017 after voters overwhelmingly approved a $187 million school bond measure.
Measure 3-515 created a tax rate of $1.25 per $1,000 assessed property value. That meant a tax of $425 per year for a home with an assessed value of $340,000, the median in the school district at the time.
In 2014, a real estate study of most school buildings outlined serious maintenance issues that had been delayed during the recession, in favor of routing limited funds to staff and students. That was followed in 2015 by an in-depth analysis of all 18 buildings in the district — including the 10 operational schools; it indicated that at least $98 million in deferred maintenance and seismic repairs were needed, not including soft costs such as design and personnel.
The bond was designed to address those years of deferred maintenance, tackling big picture issues like the replacement of Lakeridge Junior High (which will now be called Lakeridge Middle School); seismic, safety and technology upgrades; paying for a new district pool; and allowing for repairs at all of the district's schools.
Specifically, the bond allocated $61.4 million for deferred maintenance and seismic upgrades at all schools; $82.3 million to replace Lakeridge Junior High School; $16.2 million for improvements to security, safety and technology; $7 million to replace the district's swimming pool; $5.3 million for the creation of science, technology, engineering, art and math centers; $5.9 million for the addition of maker spaces/multipurpose rooms at elementary schools; and $9 million for other costs, such as relocating students during construction.
Two-and-a-half years later, bond construction work is well underway — and some projects are already finished. The new Westridge Elementary building opened at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, and the new Lakeridge Middle School is on track to be completed in the summer of 2020.
A series of leadership changes
One would be forgiven for feeling a sense of whiplash in trying to follow along with the comings and goings of city managers and school district superintendents in Lake Oswego since 2010.
The decade began with Alex McIntyre serving as city manager (he was hired in 2008) and grizzled veteran Dr. Bill Korach as superintendent (a post he'd held since 1987). McIntyre left in 2012 to become city manager in Menlo Park, California, setting in motion a dizzying carousel of replacements: two interim city managers — first David Donaldson, then Tom Coffee — and finally, in 2013, a permanent replacement in Scott Lazenby.
Lazenby, who'd served as city manager in Sandy since 1992, would remain in place for six years before retiring in July 2019. This time, the City was prepared with an immediate replacement for Lazenby: former Metro chief operating officer Martha Bennett.
In all, Bennett brought more than 25 years of experience including prior posts leading the City of Ashland as city administrator, at the City of Milwaukie as assistant city manager, and serving as executive director of the Columbia River Gorge.
After decades of steady leadership from Korach, meanwhile, the school district finally faced the daunting task of hiring a new superintendent when Korach retired in 2014. The school board ultimately chose Heather Beck, who arrived in Lake Oswego after serving as chief academic officer of the Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado.
Beck's tenure lasted about four years before she resigned in June 2018 and departed for Singapore, where she'd accepted a position as deputy head of school at the Canadian International School. Dr. Michael Musick, previously the assistant superintendent for school leadership at LOSD, was selected as the interim replacement for Beck during the 2018-19 school year, and in December 2018 the school board announced that it would hire Dr. Lora de la Cruz as the new permanent superintendent.
De la Cruz, who previously served as an area superintendent and learning community director at the Aurora Public School District in Colorado, began her tenure in Lake Oswego in the summer of 2019.
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