Looking back at 2021 in Wilsonville
"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
Vaccines rolled out
The newly-approved COVID-19 vaccines were top of mind for many in Wilsonville at the beginning of 2021, as residents at assisted living facilities and public safety workers were among the first to receive their doses.
In early January, officers at Clackamas County Sheriff's Office — including Wilsonville police — received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine.
In an interview prior to the initial inoculations, Wilsonville Police Chief Rob Wurpes said he planned to get vaccinated but that doing so was optional among officers. Wurpes said polling had been conducted to gauge how many officers would agree to vaccinations, but Clackamas County Sheriff's Office did not provide results from that polling.
Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue also received the initial round of Moderna vaccines in late December 2020, and some local assisted living facilities like the Springs at Wilsonville and Marquis Wilsonville also were given doses.
According to The Springs Chief Operating Officer Brenda Connelly, 92% of residents and 60% of staff at the Wilsonville facility received a vaccine at the first clinic Jan. 9. Marquis hosted its first two vaccine clinics in late December 2020 and early January.
Vaccine distribution continued to the general public later in 2021, and as of Dec. 22 Oregon Health Authority data showed that Wilsonville's primary ZIP code, 97070, had a 77% vaccination rate.
A deep freeze
Trees careening into the middle of roadways or onto private property. Residents huddling in front of the fire waiting days for power to be restored. And even unusually long lines at fast food restaurants.
These were some of the effects of a series of storms in February that PGE representative Elizabeth Lattanner said were historic and unprecedented in the last 40 years.
On the Monday morning after the storms, PGE reported that there were 2,071 power outages in Wilsonville's 97070 zip code. PGE also said there were 15 transmission lines out, 206 miles of transmission to be repaired, 4,408 wires down and 2,500 people working to restore power in Clackamas County. Other pieces of equipment like substations and feeders were also damaged.
While other parts of the city also experienced outages, the entire Charbonneau community, which includes a high percentage of elderly residents, was without power. City public works staff spent evenings clearing trees and other debris while members of the community's certified emergency response team conducted welfare checks to make sure residents were doing OK.
The city's tree canopy suffered extensive damage from the storms. In August, the city said about 500 trees on either residential streets or city arterials were damaged. Twenty-one of those needed to be removed and the rest required further examination to determine whether they required pruning or removal.
A special day
Just a few days shy of a year since the state experienced its first case of COVID-19, elementary schools across West Linn-Wilsonville School District welcomed kindergarten students back to the classroom for the first day of hybrid in-person learning Feb. 24.
A plethora of added health and safety features went into making the reopening possible.
For one, all students and staff were required to wear a face covering while at school. The district also had a strict policy that A/B cohorts wouldn't mix, and buildings had a more rigorous cleaning schedule than typical. Bathrooms, for example, were cleaned every hour. High-touch surfaces were also disinfected throughout the day and a more thorough cleaning was done at the end of each day.
District officials carefully mapped out each classroom to ensure a 6-foot radius of space was between all individuals, per state guidelines.
The district's youngest learners were welcomed back first, and older grades followed in the ensuing weeks. When a new school year started this fall, the district was back to full-time in-person learning.
Dealing with record-breaking heat
Records, they say, are meant to be broken.
Amid a "heat dome" that covered the region in hot air, temperatures set new records for three straight days and peaked at 113 degrees June 28.
For Wilsonville residents, this meant fleeing to rivers and oceans, cranking up the air conditioning or visiting the Wilsonville Public Library and other cooling centers for relief.
Overall, the weather was merely tolerable for some while it proved excruciating for others. Air conditioning was a key factor, and dozens of residents without it took refuge at the air-conditioned Wilsonville Public Library.
On the police front, Wilsonville Police Chief Rob Wurpes said nothing out of the ordinary happened during the heat wave and the agency didn't receive as many medical calls as he expected prior to the weather event.
More than 100 people across the state died during the heat wave, including more than a dozen in Clackamas County.
Throughout the 15-month period of restrictions, closures and widespread fear about the effects of COVID-19, some public-facing Wilsonville businesses were teetering on the precipice of insolvency.
In fact, more than a few told Pamplin Media Group that they likely would not have survived without help from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. Even amid those continued challenges, the mood brightened when Gov. Kate Brown announced that COVID-19 restrictions would be lifted June 30.
With that, businesses no longer faced state-guided restrictions that limited capacity and required mask wearing for customers and employees, among other rules. A common refrain among business owners was the sense that customers were much more comfortable inside their facilities without the need to wear masks. Plus, hypervigilance about following safety protocols like continual cleanings were no longer relevant.
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.
Housing supply grows, but is it affordable?
In 2021 the city began master planning efforts for the future Frog Pond East and Frog Pond South neighborhoods, which were initially projected to have over 1,300 homes on both sides of Advance Road. Other amenities may include a future community park, the current Meridian Creek Middle School and commercial services.
Though apartments and other more dense housing options were not identified for the future Wilsonville neighborhoods to the east of Stafford Road when the more broad-looking Frog Pond Area Plan was adopted in 2015, the Wilsonville Planning Commission recommended during a meeting Dec. 8 that the city explore this idea as it completes more fine-tuned master plans for the neighborhoods.
City staff viewed this planning effort as a vehicle for furthering the city's Equitable Housing Strategic Plan, which established City Council's vision for providing more housing diversity to serve lower-income populations. Homeownership in Wilsonville continues to be largely unattainable for the average earner in the region.
Meanwhile, despite strong objections from a group of neighbors, new developments in the Villebois Village Center received a thumbs-up from Wilsonville City Council during a meeting Nov. 15. Costa Pacific Communities plans to develop 143 housing units and over 2,400 square feet of retail in three buildings on land that has long sat undeveloped due in large part to the difficulty of bringing retail development to a suburban environment. Neighbors were particularly upset about a planned parking lot for the development, but their arguments fell flat with the council.
Changes on the school board
After a long and uncertain election season during the spring, West Linn-Wilsonville School District Superintendent Kathy Ludwig swore in the three new board members — Kirsten Wyatt, Louis Taylor and Kelly Sloop — July 12. They replaced outgoing members Dylan Hydes, Regan Molatore and Ginger Fitch.
Wyatt and Taylor ran unopposed for their seats, while Sloop narrowly defeated Seiji Shiratori to earn her spot on the board.
Later in the year, Board Chair Chelsea King announced she would run for state Senate.
Electoral districts change in Wilsonville
Wilsonville saw significant changes in its representation when the Legislature approved new legislative and congressional maps in September.
The city moved from the Fifth Congressional District (represented by Kurt Schrader) into the new Sixth Congressional District, meaning it will have a to-be-determined person as its representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.
At the state level, though Wilsonville will stay in Senate District 13, Kim Thatcher is moving to District 11 and a new person who hasn't been elected will represent Wilsonville, Tigard and other areas. And whereas most of Wilsonville used to be in a different district than Charbonneau, the planned community was added to House District 26.
Wilsonville Mayor Julie Fitzgerald was happy to see Charbonneau now being included in the same House and Senate districts as the rest of the city, describing the change as "fortuitous." And she thought the new maps overall were an improvement from the current ones.
Tensions over masks, critical race theory
The first in-person West Linn-Wilsonville School Board meeting since the pandemic began was not a quiet one. Anyone driving down Stafford Road just before the July 12 meeting would have seen folks waving American flags, shouting and holding up signs that read "ban CRT" and "unmask our kids."
When Board Chair Chelsea King opened the floor for public comments, the majority of attendees urged the board not to support the use of critical race theory in its schools. Previously, on June 19, the district had released a statement clarifying that CRT was not a formal part of curriculum in the district, but teachers could use it as a tool.
"Critical race theory is not a curriculum in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District. However, it can be a lens that our school board, staff or students may apply when discussing issues around race and racism," Superintendent Kathy Ludwig said in a message to the community.
Many who spoke against CRT said they believed it pitted child against child, and led to Marxist beliefs advocating for an elimination of social classes and private ownership.
The public outcry against CRT was not unique to the WL-WV school district, nor to the year 2021. For decades parents on the political right have had concerns about textbooks and schools of thought that promoted equity and used CRT as a lens to view history.
About a month later, King quickly adjourned a meeting after seeing the room crowded with mask-less people who were boisterous in their opposition to statewide indoor mask requirements and refused to comply. Her decision to reconvene virtually 40 minutes later was met with both jeers and claps.
Later in the year, the board discussed possible changes to its public comment policy and also began holding listening sessions in an effort to better connect with the community.
Supply chain and labor woes
Global supply chain issues trickled down to Wilsonville in a number of ways, as the city, school district and local businesses each experienced their own challenges.
Shawn Nili, the owner of NW Rugs & Furniture in Wilsonville, said orders that once took four-to-six weeks to arrive were taking six months by the fall of this year. The city of Wilsonville delayed a street maintenance project in Town Center because it needed to wait to acquire rapid flashing beacons, and it also took the city four months to acquire water valves for the project to build the new Fifth Street-to-Kinsman Road traveling route. The school district experienced similar supply issues as it worked to complete bond projects.
Meanwhile, local businesses were also puzzled by the difficulties they experienced hiring new employees. Those challenges continued even after some employers began offering signing bonuses to new hires. Theories on the cause of the labor shortage ranged from ongoing fears of COVID-19 to the unemployment benefits many were receiving until they were discontinued midway through 2021.
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