2020: A year of disruptions, for good and ill
There's no doubt about it: This has been an eventful year.
Oregon weathered the onset of a pandemic the likes of which we haven't seen in more than 100 years; a wildfire season without precedent in our state; a bitter election season that continues, weeks after President-elect Joe Biden's victory, to be contested by the outgoing president and many of his supporters; a sudden and sharp economic downturn; massive street protests against police brutality and discrimination; and more.
The statewide and national issues are familiar. They've dominated the headlines all year, even in community newspapers like this one. They've affected nearly every aspect of our lives.
But there have been dramas and developments at the local level, too.
Schools closed down in March — and have remained closed ever since, for the most part — as coronavirus cases climbed rapidly in Oregon.
But weeks before that, in February, the Tigard-Tualatin School District was riven by controversy after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested a man as he was putting his children on the bus to school in the morning.
The Feb. 19 arrest sparked outrage, including from U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Beaverton Democrat whose House district includes all of Washington County. Bonamici has lobbied without success for Congress to pass a bill she has sponsored to keep ICE away from bus stops, schools, courthouses and other "sensitive locations."
ICE claimed its arrest of Tomas Galvan-Rodriguez was merely incidental — agents identified him as a suspected violator of U.S. immigration laws and conducted a "routine traffic stop." The agents were not aware they were arresting him at or near a school bus stop, according to the agency.
Tigard-Tualatin School District officials acknowledged that school bus stops aren't marked and didn't dispute ICE's claims not to have known the location was a bus stop. But a spokesperson did note, pointedly, that the agents contacted Galvan-Rodriguez as a school bus was pulling up.
School board members condemned ICE's actions, with Ben Bowman — who mounted an unsuccessful primary challenge to longtime Democratic state Sen. Ginny Burdick later in the spring — accusing the agency of traumatizing children under the school district's care.
ICE has maintained that it has the right to arrest anyone suspected of being in the United States illegally, even when it means ignoring local or state restrictions. It has singled out Washington County for criticism on multiple occasions for being uncooperative and warned that so-called sanctuary jurisdictions may be targeted with more aggressive "enforcement actions."
It's unclear whether the Biden administration or the incoming Congress will enact changes to the way ICE operates in 2021 and beyond.
Outside of Portland proper, few local elections in Oregon were watched more closely in 2020 than two contests that would shape the future of Beaverton.
Official U.S. Census data isn't available yet, but it's expected to show that Beaverton has either reached or is very close to reaching a landmark 100,000 residents. As the city has grown, it is also rapidly overhauling its commercial core, redeveloping old shopping centers and vacant lots and building mid-rises around City Hall in what increasingly resembles a bona fide midsize city's downtown district.
As Beaverton matures, members of the City Council argued, it's time for it to leave behind its unique-to-Oregon, 40-year-old system of governance in which the mayor presides over the entire city government as well as the council. The council asked voters to approve a new city charter that brings Beaverton in line with neighbors like Hillsboro, Tigard and Lake Oswego, reducing the powers of the mayor and placing a professional city manager in charge of City Hall.
The move was controversial. Councilor Lacey Beaty had recently announced plans to run for mayor against 12-year incumbent Denny Doyle. Both Beaty and Doyle argued that it was inappropriate to ask voters to simultaneously choose a mayor and change the parameters of the position in a dramatic way. In effect, Beaty and Doyle were competing for two very different jobs, not knowing which job it would be until after the election was over.
That ended up being a moot point after another city councilor, Cate Arnold, jumped into the mayoral race at the filing deadline. While Arnold said she would like to be mayor, she made it clear that her candidacy was mostly about promoting the charter change, which she supported.
Arnold drew enough of the vote that Doyle fell several percentage points short of the outright majority he needed to claim victory in the May primary election. At the same time, voters approved the new city charter — fairly narrowly, with "yes" winning by about an 8-point margin, but a clear outcome nonetheless.
The ramifications of the election were now clear. Beaty, who placed second in the primary, and Doyle would have several months to campaign in a top-two runoff election on the November ballot — and the position voters would choose one to fill was not the position for which they originally ran.
Publicly, Beaty came around on the new charter. She won Arnold's endorsement and went on to unseat Doyle in an upset in November. On Jan. 5, she will officially become the first woman to serve as mayor of Beaverton.
The mayor-elect, who voted against referring the new charter to voters, says she is excited to take on the newly reshaped role of mayor, which she likens to that of a "team captain."
In a year that had already included a deadly pandemic, social justice protests and mass layoffs, Oregonians were reminded of an even greater crisis late this summer.
Experts widely blame climate change, driven by human activity that has driven up the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide and other "greenhouse gases," for an increase in wildfire activity in places with arid summers.
For several years, Oregon has looked on as California to the south struggles with fire activity that has become more wide-ranging, more dangerous and less calendar-specific. Wildfires in November 2018, well outside of the traditional "fire season," prompted Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue and other Oregon fire agencies to send crews down to assist their brethren in California.
And in late 2019 and early 2020, all eyes were on Australia as it experienced what was dubbed "Black Summer," when 46 million acres burned in one of the worst bushfire seasons on record for the continent. The Times offered a blunt warning in a Jan. 9 editorial: "It could happen here."
In September, it did.
Powerful easterly winds likened by meteorologists to the Santa Ana winds, which often drive wildfire activity in California, drove hot air into northwest Oregon beginning in the late afternoon on Labor Day. Within 24 hours, dozens of communities across the state were threatened by fast-advancing flames.
In Washington County, the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire started from an improperly extinguished campfire on private property. The fire, clearly visible from Southwest Scholls Ferry Road, spread rapidly. Evacuees were sent to Groner K-8 School, and then Mountainside High School in Beaverton as Groner's parking lot reached capacity.
TVF&R officials said the fire was estimated at close to 2,000 acres. But mercifully, aerial observations prompted them to reassess: The fire was actually less than half that size, and with the help of firefighting aircraft, it was brought under control later that week before it could threaten Newberg to the south.
No homes were destroyed in either of Washington County's two major wildfires, including a fire that burned more than 100 acres near the rural community of Cherry Grove outside Gaston. But firefighters and volunteers alike from Washington County were scrambled to assist with larger, more dangerous fires elsewhere in Oregon.
Some of the TVF&R units demobilizing from the Chehalem Mountain-Bald Peak Fire were immediately redeployed to Clackamas County, where a massive fire complex menaced Molalla and Estacada. Others helped battle the Echo Mountain Fire near Lincoln City.
Smoke from the conflagrations burning across Oregon blanketed the Portland area for days, fouling air quality to the point where public health experts urged people to stay indoors.
In total, wildfires burned more than 1 million acres in Oregon, destroyed more than 3,000 buildings and killed at least 11 people. Washington County got lucky.
Warning: This section contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse that may be upsetting to readers.
Shock, disgust and outrage were the reactions to a lawsuit filed Oct. 22 in Multnomah County Circuit Court alleging that a family health doctor who formerly practiced at Legacy Meridian Park Medical Center in Tualatin had abused girls and women in his care for years.
David Farley abruptly retired from his private practice in West Linn in August. His license to practice medicine in Oregon was summarily revoked Oct. 2 by the state medical board for sexual misconduct and other wrongdoing, including performing medically unnecessary procedures.
The Oct. 22 suit was filed by four former patients of Farley. All alleged that while they were seeing Farley, he conducted invasive examinations and touched them inappropriately. One said when she was 17 or 18, Farley broke her hymen with his fingers and told her he had done it for another member of her church, whom he identified by name. Two others said he attempted to induce early labor when they were pregnant, without informing them beforehand what he was doing.
All of the plaintiffs are, or were, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The lawsuit claims Farley preyed on their inexperience and ignorance of proper gynecological conduct in order to victimize them, including while he was practicing at Legacy Meridian Park.
Within a month of the lawsuit being filed, 60 more former patients of Farley came forward with allegations of abuse, according to an attorney for the plaintiffs. The West Linn Police Department acknowledged it had been investigating Farley "for a while" even before the suit.
Twenty-five more plaintiffs formally signed on to the lawsuit in December, including former patients who say Farley abused them before they even reached the age of puberty.
The suit also names Legacy Meridian Park, Providence Health and Services, and Willamette Falls Medical Center as defendants, arguing they should have known Farley was abusing patients and share in the responsibility.
Farley has since moved to Idaho. No criminal charges have been filed against him in Oregon in connection with the misconduct and abuse allegations.
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