Looking back on the year that was in West Linn: city hall, our neighborhoods and our businesses

TIDINGS FILE PHOTOS - Just over a week into 2017, West Linn was blanketed with snow and ice that caused the city to virtually shut down. The history books will remember 2017 largely for the seismic shift that took place at the top of the United States government — and with it the elimination of any pretense of polite political discourse.

Those changes were felt at the local level, particularly in the early months of the year during both the Women's March in Portland and the March for Trump that was held in Lake Oswego and attended by many West Linn residents. At City Hall, too, officials and representatives wondered how drastic changes at the federal government might trickle down when it came to funding or support for various projects.

Still, the national scene remained mostly on the periphery as West Linn dealt with plenty of its own issues. The weather simply refused to play nice, bringing snow and windstorms in the winter and a punishing heat wave during the summer. A different type of cloud hung over the police department through much of the year, as Chief Terry Timeus was suspended in July pending an investigation for an allegation of driving under the influence; while charges were not filed, Timeus and the City mutually agreed to part ways Oct. 31. Around that time, the West Linn Paper Company — a staple of industry in the city for 128 years — abruptly announced it would close for good by the end of the year.

In between all of that, however, the city continued to grow and thrive in its own right. Beloved traditions like the Old Time Fair and Holiday Parade continued, new businesses opened and individual residents made names for themselves in a variety of fields.

And in late August, time quite literally came to a standstill as the region looked up to the sky (with glasses!) to watch in awe as the moon passed over the sun.

The Tidings was there through it all, so join us as we remember the biggest headlines of 2017.

Wild weather

The normally temperate Oregon weather went through a bit of an identity crisis in 2017, beginning with a snowstorm in mid-January and continuing with a spring windstorm and summer heat wave.

After heavy snow fell through the night of Jan. 10 and into the next morning, West Linn spent a full week under a thick sheet of snow and ice that slowed the city to a virtual standstill. In total, the city saw between 5 and 6 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service — on the low end for a storm that generated as more than 15 inches in some areas of Portland.

West Linn-Wilsonville schools shut down for several days, as did City Hall and the West Linn Public Library. Police responded to dozens of calls about hazards, accidents and motorists in need of assistance, but there were no serious injuries. Several trees and power lines were dragged down by the weight of the snow, causing power outages across the city.

Just a few months later, in April, West Linn was hit with a particularly strong wind storm that left pockets of the city without power for as long as three days. At the storm's peak April 7, Portland General Electric's outage map showed a total of 62 outages in West Linn affecting 5,733 customers. The storm also caused significant damage at Mary S. Young State Park and the McLean House. By year's end, Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester said that most of the damage at the park had been fixed but one bridge and one trail had yet to be repaired.

Finally, in August, West Linn residents had to brave a heat wave that saw temperatures soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the Portland metro area, with a recorded high of 105 F by the National Weather Service Aug. 3.

Temperatures hovered in the 90s through most of the week, with Aug. 2 and 3 standing out at highs of 103 and 105 F respectively. To beat the heat, West Linn residents could be found in droves at the Willamette River and the city's array of spray parks. Outdoor events like Music in the Park were cancelled or rescheduled.

Unlike surrounding cities such as Wilsonville, power outages did not prove to be a widespread problem during the heat wave in West Linn.

Trouble at the PD

2017 was, in many respects, a year that the West Linn Police Department would like to forget. The turmoil began at the top, as longtime West Linn Police Chief Terry Timeus was placed on paid administrative leave in July pending an investigation into allegations that he drove under the influence of alcohol in May 2017. Shortly after Timeus was placed on leave, Lieutenant Mike Stradley was also placed on leave pending an investigation into undisclosed personnel policy violations.

By year's end, both Timeus and Stradley had opted to move on from the department. While Stradley returned to work in late September — the City found that he'd violated WLPD policies but allowed him to come back after "appropriate actions" were taken — he would later announce that he was taking a job at the police academy and his last day would be Jan. 16, 2018.

Timeus, meanwhile, denied the DUII allegations and the Washington County District Attorney's Office — which was called upon by the City as an outside investigator for the case — did not find enough evidence to charge him. Still, Timeus and the City mutually agreed to part ways and he retired Nov. 1.

Per his separation agreement, Timeus received a lump sum payment of nine months' salary as well as additional pay from unused vacation and management leave time — all of which totaled to about $123,400.

Captain Neil Hennelly, who served as acting chief in Timeus' absence, continued in that role after Timeus retired. However, Hennelly opted not to apply for the permanent role of chief and will instead retire in June 2018. Several other longtime officers officers, including Dave Kempas and Mike Francis, either retired either retired or moved on to new jobs in 2017, while officer Tom Newberry was fired by the City in February at the conclusion of an investigation regarding a series of controversial, racially-charged Facebook posts that began in July 2016.

The City has begun the search process for a new chief, though a hire isn't expected until the spring of 2018 at the earliest.

Speaking out

West Linn residents could be found among the scores who turned out for both the Women's March in Portland Jan. 26 and the "March 4 Trump" that was held in Lake Oswego on, you guessed it, March 4.

At the Women's March, which claimed a crowd of 70,000 to 100,000 people at Tom McCall Waterfront Park, West Linn attendees recalled making quick friends with strangers and taking comfort in the show of solidarity.

Portland's rally was a sister march to the Women's March on Washington, which attracted an estimated 500,000 people to the National Mall in what was called a counter-inaugural protest to the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States the day prior. It was called a Women's March, but the gathering — just one out of 300 cities across the nation and in 40 other countries — attracted people with concerns about a number of different issues, with the election of President Donald Trump at the crux, as his administration was seen by many progressives as a threat to the rights of women, minorities and other issues such as climate change and health care.

The March 4 Trump, meanwhile, was actually more like two competing marches. Supporters of Trump and groups of demonstrators who opposed him faced off in Lake Oswego in an often loud and confrontational — yet largely peaceful — pair of marches.

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 man suffered a medical emergency and was transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where he later recovered.

New faces on the council

Two new city councilors — Teri Cummings and Richard Sakelik — were sworn in this year, and Mayor Russ Axelrod also returned after winning reelection in November 2016. Sakelik and Cummings replaced outgoing councilors Jenni Tan and Thomas Frank, neither of whom ran for reelection.

Axelrod, Cummings and Sakelik were each sworn in Jan. 3 for four-year terms that end in 2021.

A boost for Highway 43

That new council hit the ground running in 2017, and marked an important milestone in late February when it was announced that West Linn had received $3 million in regional flexible funds from Metro to support a newly updated Highway 43 concept plan.

The grant came as part of a $26 million package Metro awarded to 12 projects across the state as part of the 2019-21 regional flexible funding cycle. According to the City, 27 projects submitted requests for a total of $94 million in Metro grant funding.

This was the first time West Linn had received regional flexible funding, which is conveyed from the federal government to Metro for transportation improvements like bike and pedestrian facilities as well as alterations at intersections with traffic signals. On this particular project, West Linn will partner with the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) which owns Highway 43.

The Highway 43 Conceptual Design Plan was first conceived in 2008 and a 2016 update was intended to build on that existing plan while adding modern refinements like buffered cycle tracks — pathways shielded by a physical barrier to protect riders from traffic — as well as improved pedestrian facilities and the addition of a center lane for left turns, among other changes.

The $3 million was expected to fund improvements for the segment of the highway stretching from the northern city limits to just north of Mary S. Young Park, with funds being allocated between 2019 and 2021.

A developing story

A year in West Linn wouldn't be complete without development debates.

A particularly controversial saga that began in 2016 came to an end in May, as the City Council voted unanimously to deny an appeal of the "Chene Blanc" development project that proposed to add a 34-lot subdivision of single-family homes at 18000 Upper Midhill Drive. With the appeal denied, developer Ryan Zygar of Tamarack Homes was free to move forward with construction.

The council was reluctant in its final vote, but felt it had little choice in the face of the developer's second option: a new proposal of 41 townhomes that would be evaluated at the state's Expedited Land Division without any council input.

The council's ultimate approval of the project came with a slew of approval conditions, including the installation of a crosswalk at the intersection of Highway 43 and Arbor Drive; the completion of a supplemental geotechnical analysis with an estimate of how much soil would be removed at the site; and the creation of a construction management plan.

Later in the year, developer Jeff Parker of Tanner Properties, LLC. presented a new approach for his 11-acre space near Blankenship Road and Tannler Drive. Two years after the council denied an application for mixed-use development on that property, Parker and his colleagues submitted an application Sept. 22 for a "statutory development agreement" with West Linn.

That agreement laid out a series of steps and conditions to be followed by both the City and the developer during the development review process.

In exchange for the City's promise to review "in good faith" a series of upcoming applications — including those for zoning changes and the proposed development itself — Parker and Tannler Properties stated in the proposed agreement that they would pay to realign Tannler Drive through the property and install a traffic signal at that new intersection if a Traffic Impact Analysis (TIA) proved the need for one.

The realignment and other measures described in the development agreement would only take place if the City Council were to approve the final development applications from Tannler Properties. The council is expected to evaluate the potential agreement in February 2018.

Finally, arguments over the future of the rural Stafford area and how it should be developed — if at all — were at least partially settled in June when Clackamas County, three cities and the Metro Council signed an agreement on how they will shape the future of the Stafford urban reserve. The agreement broke a looming impasse between the county — which was being pressed to reaffirm the 6,230-acre area as an urban reserve open to development in 50 years — and Tualatin, Lake Oswego and West Linn. The cities argued that extension of streets and other services into the area, much of which is hilly, would be too costly.

The agreement committed the cities to come up with a city concept plan, which will determine the timing of development of any part of the area that goes inside Portland's urban growth boundary.

"It provides assurances that development in any form in any part of Stafford will be based on the vision of our citizens and the residents of the hamlet," West Linn Mayor Russ Axelrod said before he signed the agreement.

A troubling discovery

Parents and administrators were taken aback in May upon discovering a lewd photo-sharing scheme at West Linn High School.

No charges were filed in the end, as police were unable to determine the individual responsible for creating a cloud-based drive that stored photos of more than 100 students. Police said the majority of the photos were of freshmen students and they ranged from shots of students in their underwear to photos of fully nude teens.

According to police, many of the involved students knew that the cloud storage drive existed, and there was no evidence of a payment scheme to access it. Many of the photos appeared to date back all the way to the prior school year; the department learned about the case from the West Linn-Wilsonville School District.

The photo drive was deleted, and police hoped to open up a discussion about the case at some point during the 2017-18 school year.

Hello darkness

In the lead up to the 2017 solar eclipse, West Linn and the greater Portland metro area braced for an influx of travelers from around the world who hoped to see "totality," or close to it.

Yet, while West Linn did see 99 percent of the sun covered just after 10 a.m. — exactly as scientists projected — concerns of a traffic quagmire caused by travelers proved to be largely unfounded. Indeed, residents said that roads actually seemed quieter than normal. Resident Roberta Schwarz watched the eclipse at the White Oak Savanna Park, which overlooks Interstate 205. At about 9 a.m., as the eclipse began in Oregon, Schwarz said heavy traffic was nowhere to be found.

Traffic backups were reported further south, however, as drivers left the Salem and Corvallis areas that were in the path of totality. Residents who stayed close by didn't have to deal with that, and instead enjoyed the rare event in a setting which proved to be quieter than many expected. Some watched from the Adult Community Center atop the hill, and the West Linn Public Library showed a live feed from NASA in its community room.

Welcome relief

Aug. 31 was a special day for the Robinwood neighborhood, one residents had waited years for. That afternoon, the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership (LOT) hosted a neighborhood barbecue to celebrate the completion of a four-year construction project at its water treatment plant.

By then the tower cranes and dump trucks were long gone, but residents nonetheless basked in the sense of finality. As LOT spokesperson Katy Kerklaan put it in the final project newsletter, "To say this has been long-awaited is an understatement."

A sudden end

The community mourned in late October when the West Linn Paper Company – which had operated under various names along the city's waterfront for 128 years – announced that it would close for good.

The closure came after the company had been hit with a series of major, unexpected setbacks within a matter of weeks. First, a boiler explosion crippled one of the company's major pulp suppliers in Canada. Shortly after that, as West Linn Paper negotiated with other pulp suppliers in the hopes of staying afloat, what Chief Operating Officer Brian Konen saw as a "credit squeeze" caused those alternative suppliers to back away.

According to a notice filed to the Oregon Dislocated Worker Unit Oct. 16, a total of 277 jobs were lost and all West Linn Paper operations were expected to end by Dec. 31, 2017. What will take the mill's place along the river remains to be seen, and the property will be monitored closely as West Linn embarks on a broader planning effort for redevelopment along the river.

In the months following the announcement, West Linn Paper filed two separate lawsuits through the U.S. District Court — one against a single pulp supplier and the other against a group of five material suppliers.

A relatively quiet election

There were no City Council seats up for grabs in the November special election, and residents were thus spared from an endless barrage of campaign materials and yard signs. But the City did have six ballot measures up for vote, and ultimately saw voters pass five of those measures by a wide margin Nov. 7.

Measures 3-519, 3-520, 3-521 and 3-522 each asked whether segments of specific parks or open spaces along Highway 43 could be used in the construction of future road, sidewalk and bike improvement, and voters overwhelmingly said "yes."

Measure 3-523, meanwhile, proposed that the city charter be amended to allow city councilors to provide input to the city manager on matters relating to city business and the performance of either an employee or department, on a narrow basis. The Council was also unanimous in support of this amendment and it passed with 78 percent of voters in favor.

Measure 3-524 was easily the most controversial issue on the ballot as it attempted to resolve an issue that dogged the City Council for years: how West Linn receives legal advice. The measure contained two proposals. The first was to reinsert charter language stating that "the council may retain legal advisers as it deems prudent. These legal advisers shall report to and serve at the direction of the council."

The second was to add language to the city attorney section of the charter, and clarify that "any legal advice provided to the City Council or its advisory groups shall be overseen by the city attorney."

The intent of the latter proposal was to clear up the reporting structure of the assistant city attorney, as the council was long concerned with the idea of this assistant attorney reporting to the city manager as opposed to the council. Three councilors — Mayor Russ Axelrod, City Council President Brenda Perry and City Councilor Bob Martin — were in favor of the measure, while City Councilors Teri Cummings and Rich Sakelik voiced strong opposition and said the measure would lock in a system they felt to be broken.

The voters agreed with Sakelik and Cummings, and the measure was defeated 64-36.

Vote of confidence

While her predecessors proved that being city manager in a place like West Linn is no easy task, Eileen Stein earned the trust of the City Council over the first year-and-a-half of her tenure and in late November she was officially informed that her employment with the City will last an additional two years once her contract expires in mid-2018.

The City Council voted unanimously in favor of that decision at a Nov. 30 special meeting. The exact terms of the contract extension have yet to be finalized, and the vote was merely intended to honor a provision in Stein's current contract stipulating that she had to be notified by Dec. 1, 2017 if the council intended to keep her as its city manager or move on to someone else.

Stein's current contract — her first with the City — began June 1, 2016 and runs through May 31, 2018.

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