Looking back at 2021 in Lake Oswego
"Confusion" may be the defining word of 2021.
Perhaps that is generous, given that we dealt with an ongoing — and now resurgent — pandemic as well as threats to democracy, a ferocious ice storm, a deadly heat dome, supply shortages, rising inflation and the increasingly urgent question of when (if ever) society would return to some semblance of normal.
Unlike 2020, we got tastes of "normal" this year — hence the confusion. There was an outcry of relief when vaccines began to be widely distributed and students returned to the classroom on a part-time basis in early 2021. Oregon celebrated its grand reopening midway through the year, providing more cause for optimism as the economy continued on a welcomed, if unexpected, upward trajectory.
But then came the delta variant, and now omicron. With cases spreading throughout a widely vaccinated nation (though, thankfully, many seem to be mild), we end this year almost as confused as we've ever been since this pandemic nightmare started about 24 months ago.
At times, the route to clarity is best paved by reflection. So before we begin 2022, join us on this journey through the last 12 months.
— Patrick Malee
City doles out vaccines
The newly-approved COVID-19 vaccines were top of mind for many in Lake Oswego at the beginning of 2021, as residents at assisted living facilities and public safety workers were among the first to receive their doses.
The Springs Living facilities officially rolled out the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to staff and residents Jan. 4. Balloons, foam fingers and a sense of relief flooded the vaccination area as 90% of assisted living and memory care residents and 77% of staff — with 10% more signed up — received their first doses at The Springs at Carman Oaks. The Springs at Lake Oswego had its first clinic Jan. 6.
"It's palpable, the emotion when people get vaccinated," The Springs Living Founder and CEO Fee Stubblefield said.
Beginning Jan. 11, American Medical Response Inc. administered vaccines to members of the Lake Oswego Fire Department, Lake Oswego Police Department and Lake Oswego Communications Center. Extra vaccinations were given to some city employees at the Water Treatment Plant, the Public Works Department and City Hall.
"I like that we are receiving this, the frontline workers, because it's going to help us not spread it," Griffin said. "I feel good because it's good for the community."
Vaccine distribution continued to the general public later in 2021, and as of Dec. 22 Oregon Health Authority data showed that Lake Oswego's primary ZIP code, 97034, had a 96% vaccination rate.
A deep freeze
Many Lake Oswego residents were without power when a snow and ice storm hit the region in mid-February.
Portland General Electric called it the worst snow, ice and wind storm in the last 40 years. Residents and businesses no doubt agreed, as many were without power for days on end. Businesses reporting closures due to power outages included Holy Taco, Chuckie Pies, Kyra's Bake Shop, Five Spice Seafood and Bamboo Sushi. City facilities and virtual events were also closed or postponed. The Lake Oswego Council meeting originally scheduled for Feb. 16 was postponed to Feb. 18, while City Hall was closed. Other facilities closed include the Lake Oswego Public Library, the Adult Community Center, and Parks and Recreation offices.
Several local parks remained closed for weeks while the city worked to clear the damage from the storm. The Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course had about 50 trees removed as a result of storm damage.
A 'joyous' return to school
Just a few days shy of a year since the district experienced its first case of COVID-19 (also the first reported case in all of Oregon), elementary schools across Lake Oswego School District welcomed kindergarten and first graders back to the classroom for the first day of hybrid in-person learning Feb. 23.
"It was joyous," Director of Communications Mary Kay Larson said. She was present at Hallinan Elementary's reopening and helped welcome students in.
"Everyone was really joyous and really excited to see each other and be back together," she said.
The district's youngest learners were welcomed back first, per LOSD's phase-in plan. Older elementary grades followed soon after, and all grades were in hybrid learning by the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Dealing with record-breaking heat
Lake Oswego and the rest of the Portland area dealt with a sweltering "heat dome" in late June, with temperatures setting new records for three straight days and peaking at 115 degrees June 27.
Many local city and school district programs were canceled or rescheduled, and some residents flocked to the river in an attempt to cool off while others stayed in their homes (which, if they were lucky, had air conditioning). The city also opened several public buildings as cooling centers for those in need.
More than 100 people across the state died during the heat wave, including more than a dozen in Clackamas County.
Lake Oswego reopens
After more than a year of uncertainty and limited services, many businesses rejoiced when Gov. Kate Brown announced that COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted June 30. At that point, restaurants and shops were allowed to eliminate restrictions related to social distancing, capacity and facial coverings.
Lake Oswego Mayor Joe Buck, who owns Gubanc's Restaurant, Lola's Cafe Bar, Babica Hen Cafe and Twin Fir Kitchen — the latter in partnership with Lisa Shaw Ryan — said at the time that transitioning to fully reopening his restaurants was smooth.
"People are really excited to be out ... things gradually ramped up over these past several months, which in a way was really good because it allowed us to incrementally bring folks back on board, hire, increase the capacity," Buck said. "It wasn't just from minimal capacity to full capacity overnight."
The arrival of the delta and omicron variants of COVID-19 later in the year forced businesses to adjust again, and an indoor mask mandate remained in place statewide at year's end.
Transition in leadership for school district
After Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Lora de la Cruz announced her resignation in April, citing the need to be closer to her family as her mother faced health issues, the Lake Oswego School Board selected then-Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Schiele as de la Cruz's permanent replacement.
De la Cruz arrived at the Lake Oswego School District in 2019. She replaced interim Superintendent Michael Musick, who served after Heather Beck departed in 2018. Musick chose not to apply for a permanent position.
Schiele, who took over in June, started her LOSD career as a counselor and along the way to her current role she also worked as an assistant principal and principal.
"I have this deep-rooted belief in children and taking care of them and making sure that they feel not only that they are welcome, but they contribute to our excellence as a whole," she said. "I've just always felt like it's so important to find students' passions and help them with getting every door open to them that helps them live a happy, healthy life."
A fast-developing city
It was a busy year in terms of both present and future development projects in Lake Oswego. Early in 2021, the school district opened the new Lakeridge Middle School. The new Mercato Grove mixed-use development opened midway through the year, and as 2021 neared its end so too did the city's Boones Ferry Road construction project. Perhaps most noteworthy, Lake Oswego opened its brand new City Hall building in September.
Several other local projects remain on the horizon, as the city continues to plan the construction of a new aquatics and recreation center at the present Lake Oswego Municipal Golf Course (which will be shorted to a nine-hold executive course) as well as a new mixed-use center at the North Anchor property and a replacement of the Tryon Creek Wastewater Plant. Near the end of 2021, an application was also submitted for workforce housing at the former Marylhurst University campus.
Supply chain woes
Global supply chain issues trickled down to Lake Oswego in a number of ways, as the city, school district and local businesses each experienced their own challenges.
Local construction projects were continually hindered by the slowdown, while restaurants at times struggled to find a number of basic supplies. There was a moment when the city even thought it couldn't retrieve Christmas lights for the annual holiday tree lighting event.
Skip O'Neill, a Lake Oswego contractor, said the supply shortage was compounded by the fact that there was an increase in remodeling and building new homes during the pandemic.
According to Josh Lehner with the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis, the supply chain crunch is likely months from subsiding.
Rethinking community policing
Early in 2021, the City Council established the goal of completing a community engagement process to examine policing in the aftermath of widespread condemnation of police killings of Black people.
To begin the process, there was a community kickoff meeting last March. The second phase, which wrapped up this summer, dealt with discussions on topics ranging from Lake Oswego Police Department hiring practices to officer training. By September, participants in the process had presented several recommendations to the City Council. The four themes of those recommendations were "Communication and Reporting," "Police-Community Engagement," "LOPD Recruitment, Retention and Development" and "Community Outreach and Bias."
At year's end, the council was working to finalize its action plan based on the recommendations.
A new school bond and controversial park measures
In November, voters approved a new $180 million school bond while also weighing in on two competing parks measures that prompted controversy and confusion.
The school bond will tackle both basic capital repairs and drastic overturns of outdated facilities. The most substantial efforts planned for the 2021 bond are complete remodels of Lake Oswego Junior High and River Grove Elementary school — both of which are around 60 years old. Every other school in the district will see infrastructure, accessibility and safety improvements such as secure entrances, and more inclusive playgrounds on a primary level. Both high schools will also receive updated science, engineering and computer laboratories to adapt more efficiently with the changing curriculum.
Meanwhile, Measure 3-568 put forth by Love LO Parks — a grassroots movement led by Lake Oswego community members to prevent 15 parks from any future development — was approved by voters over the city of Lake Oswego's Measure 3-575.
While both measures had similar intentions of protecting the city's parks, Love LO Parks claimed its measure protected the parks in their most natural element, while the city said its measure clarified some of the wording in the Love LO Parks measure that could present future concerns.
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