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Year in review: Looking back and moving on

Main Street improvements, felled trees, school district negotiations and an early morning bear sighting mark 2011
by: Jaime Valdez Crews work to inflate a hot air balloon for a “night glow” during Tigard’s annual Festival of Balloons at Cook Park in June.

It was another roller coaster of a year, wasn't it?

As families look forward to Sunday and the start of 2012, The Times is looking back at some of the most talked about stories of 2011.

Looking back at the more than 1,600 stories we wrote this year, we've seen acts of tragic violence and met some truly inspiring people. We've seen long-standing institutions close their doors and saw glimmers of hope that the economy might claw its way back from recession.

Here is an update on some of the most talked about stories of 2011, and where we're headed in the new year.

Plans for 'Wall Street bridge' move forward

There were few issues in Tigard as contentious as two projects involving land near the Tigard Public Library.

The first project involved cutting down more than 2,300 trees from a single piece of property off Southwest Hunziker Street in the hopes of making it more attractive for developers. After several delays, the trees were felled in August.

The second project is a plan to extend Southwest Wall Street from the library over a large wetland to property on the other side that could then be developed.

Both projects involve land owned by Fred Fields and were strongly opposed by neighbors and environmental activists.

Following Fields' death on Dec. 13, his lawyer, Richard Canaday, said that plans for both properties would continue on schedule. The bridge was approved by the city hearing officer in July, but must meet several requirements before construction can begin.

Despite the approval, Tualatin Riverkeepers, a Tualatin-based group that advocates for local waterways and wetlands, said it plans to fight the bridge construction by proving that the project does not meet the criteria required to get the necessary permits.

'The hurdles they'll have to pass with the permitting will be very difficult,' said watershed watch coordinator Brian Wegener. 'And I don't know that there are that many people who are looking to buy (the land).'

A month of violence

The month of June saw three major acts of violence in the community, after three people - two of them children - were killed in separate incidents.

  • The first - and most high profile - was the death of Cecilia Buckley, an 11-year-old girl who was found strangled in her Sherwood home on June 2. She was rushed to Legacy Meridian Park hospital where she was pronounced dead.

    Cecilia's mother, Kristina Buckley, was arrested and charged with the murder. Kristina reportedly confessed to the crime and had tried to commit suicide afterward, saying that she had done it in part to protect her daughter from pedophiles.

    Her trial is set for Oct. 23, 2012, and Chief Deputy District Attorney Rob Bletko said that it was likely that Buckley's lawyers would consider using a mental defense. The state and defense will use the next several months to conduct mental health evaluations, he said.

    If convicted, Buckley faces the death penalty.

  • Ten days later on June 12, Kaliq Michael Mansor was arrested for the death of his 11-week-old son Bryan.

    Police were first called to Mansor's home after Mansor called 911, saying that his infant son had stopped breathing during a feeding.

    The baby was brain dead by the time he arrived at a hospital, and died the next day.

    According to prosecutors, the baby suffered massive retinal hemorrhaging in the eyes, a two- to three-inch fracture in his skull and also showed signs of an older rib fracture. Doctors said his injuries appeared to be the result of intentionally inflicted abuse.

    Mansor's trial is set to begin Sept. 11, 2012.

  • On June 26 police in Lincoln City were called to investigate the death of a Tigard man who had been killed in a home he owned.

    Darrin Dow, 49, of Tigard, was at home with 17-year-old Joseph Marsala from Oak Grove and another boy when Marsala allegedly hit him over the head with a garden hoe and stabbed him in the neck and stomach with a knife. Prosecutors say Marsala stole Dow's wallet and car, which he drove to Northeast Portland.

    There is no trial date set yet for Marsala, according to Lincoln County District Attorney Rob Bovett.

    'We're still in process,' Boyett said Tuesday. 'Nothing really has happened yet, the defense is still doing an investigation and figuring out the case.'

    Marsala is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 23, Boyett said, for a routine final resolution conference, where a trial date could be set, but it is more likely that a trial date won't be set until February or later.

    'There won't be any more news on the case until after that,' he said.

    Bear runs wild

    In the early morning of June 1, Tualatin Elementary School students received calls at home saying that school would be delayed. About half of the students didn't get the memo in time, and those who showed up played unwilling host to an uncommon guest: a black bear.

    The bear was first spotted at 5:45 a.m. outside of the school, eventually wandering into the surrounding neighborhood. It took several hours for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, along with the Tualatin and Oregon State Police Departments, to capture the animal. No one was harmed, and the bear was eventually released along the Oregon Coast.

    That same day, there was an unrelated bear sighting in Vancouver, near Clark College. The Vancouver bear had been spotted earlier in the week throughout the area, and was tranquilized and captured that morning, also to be released in the wild.

    According to officials, the wildlife wanderers made their way into town as a result of a cool, wet spring that prevented the bears from feeding on normal resources, forcing them out of the woods to look for food.

    Just a few weeks after the incident, a vote was held at Tualatin Elementary during which the students overwhelmingly voted in support of changing their school mascot from the panther to the black bear.

    'A black bear actually visited us, and (the panther) hasn't ever,' said third grader Eduardo Rios-Perez.

    Social butterflies

    In March, The Times launched two new Twitter feeds to better connect with our readers, and the response has been tremendous. Hundreds of people have followed The Times on Twitter, and our stories have reached thousands of people across the world.

    Along with other social networking sites such as Facebook, we have been able to find dozens of stories, better connect sources and readers, and have helped make your local newspaper a more interactive, personal tool for the community.

    Through social media, we were able to track down a woman whose house was featured on the TV show 'Grimm' and get a heads up that the city of Tigard was planning to buy Potso Dog Park before the official announcement.

    These sites also allow us to get feedback on stories that we are working on and get inspiration for stories in the future.

    Visit us at twitter.com/tigardtimes and twitter.com/tualatintimes to find the latest in breaking news and have your say on issues of the day.

    We've got big plans for our online coverage, and we'd love to be friends with you on Facebook and have you follow us on Twitter.

    We'll see you online.

    Hometown hopefuls race for Wu's seat

    Washington County's biggest story of the year, by far, was the resignation of Congressman David Wu in August.

    Wu, who faced allegations of unusual behavior for months before resigning, left after a scandal surfaced involving alleged unwanted sexual contact with a young woman in California.

    His departure left Oregon's 1st Congressional District the only open seat in the House of Representatives, and brought a flurry of activity from both sides of the political aisle as the parties hoped to take the seat.

    In total, 13 candidates raced for the seat in the primaries, but it was two local candidates that drew much of the attention on the Republican side.

    Rob Cornilles, a Tualatin resident, ran against Wu in 2010 and was seen by many to be the party's best chance to take back the seat, which has not been held by a Republican since 1975.

    His main rival in the primary, real estate investment manager and former radio host Jim Greenfield, of Tigard, had strong ties to the Tea Party, and said he wanted to greatly reduce the role of government by eliminating agencies not authorized by the Constitution, such as the departments of health and human services and education.

    Cornilles easily won the primary with 72 percent of the vote and will now face former state senator Suzanne Bonamici on Jan. 31.

    But that's far from the end of the story - the special election is only to fill the rest of Wu's term, which expires in Nov. 2012. All House members are up for re-election and whoever wins the January election will have to immediately run again in the May 15, 2012 primary before the Nov. 6, 2012 general election.

    So far none of the candidates have filed to run for the 2012 general election, but voters can expect another year of political ads before the seat is finally filled in Nov. 2012.

    Local shops go under

    Businesses come and businesses go, but 2011 saw the death of several longstanding local businesses.

    Hi Hat, a popular Chinese restaurant that stood on Pacific Highway for 56 years, closed in April, of its own accord.

    'It's just the right time,' said Janet Dowty, 56, who ran the restaurant with her three brothers.

    A developer asked to buy the restaurant from the family and because none of the children wanted to take over the restaurant, Dowty said it just seemed like a smart decision.

    The same can't be said for the other longtime businesses that closed this year. Elmo Studd's Building Supplies sold hardware and amused locals with pithy phrases on its reader board for decades, but closed just a few months after it was taken over by new owners.

    Many locals wondered if the famous sign was a joke when it read 'closed' in August, but as the days went by The Times' office was flooded with calls from people concerned about the store.

    Longtime owners Bill and Diane Fagan retired in August 2010, selling the business to Rebel Country Lumber, based in Beaverton. The business had reportedly fallen on hard times after the sale and shut the hardware store down a year later.

    In downtown Tigard, a string of longtime businesses were closed as well. Kauffman Streamborn, which had operated in Tigard for 40 years, shut its doors unexpectedly in April and later filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A Taste of Heaven bakery on Main Street closed in February, the same week as the Tigard Sub Shop closed.

    'We're very disenchanted with Tigard,' said Marie Marr, who owned the Tigard Sub Shop with her husband since 2005. 'We're just wiping our hands and saying goodbye.'

    Economy improving?

    While many businesses continue to struggle, the last 12 months have seen a few signs are that things could be getting better.

    Membership at the Tigard and Tualatin chambers of commerce are up, with Tigard receiving 20 new members in August alone, setting new records and ranking the chamber as one of the fastest growing in the state.

    Another encouraging sign for the economy was this year's NW Natural Street of Dreams, held on Bull Mountain. The annual event, which showcases the latest in architecture and design, saw more than 60,000 visitors, twice what the event was able to bring in last year. And while some homes from previous years are still for sale, several of this year's homes were sold before the event was over, said Nancy Haskin, vice president of membership, shows and education for the Homebuilders Association of Metropolitan Portland.

    Across town, Affiliated Computer Services, a call center located near Highway 217 and Interstate 5, took the reins as the single largest employer in Tigard, announcing this year that it could employ as many as 1,000 people by the end of the year. Hiring 550 people in 2011 alone, the Tigard facility handles technical support and customer service for several big-name companies.

    Saying Goodbye

    This year is also a year of departures in city leadership.

    Tualatin City Council President Chris Barhyte stepped down this summer after moving outside of the city.

    Barhyte, a council member since 2002, had just begun his third term on the council when he announced he would be moving with his family to Rivergrove and would have to resign from his position.

    The Council appointed Nancy Grimes to fill his seat until Nov. 2012, when voters will decide who will finish Barhyte's four-year term.

    Tigard and Sherwood also said goodbye to city leaders this year with the departures of both city managers.

    In Sherwood, City Manager Jim Patterson left to take the same position in Corvallis in October. The City Council appointed Tom Pessemier in the interim.

    Pessemier, who also serves as the city's community development director, has applied for the permanent position.

    In December the Sherwood City Council approved a $25,000 contract for a nationwide search for Patterson's replacement, which is likely to take several months.

    That's the same price Tigard paid to find a replacement when its city manager, Craig Prosser, left in July.

    Prosser, 61, retired after more than six years as the city's administrator.

    In December, Marty Wine took over as city manager and Prosser was appointed to serve on TriMet's Board of Directors representing Clackamas County. His first meeting will be Jan. 25.

    Sprucing up Main Street

    Downtown Tigard saw some change in 2011 and more is expected next year.

    While many longstanding businesses on Main Street have closed up shop (about 10 percent of storefronts empty) there are some businesses who are making a go of it.

    Tigard Wine Crafters and Live Laugh Love Glass are two upscale businesses that are hoping to to become the destination shops that Main Street needs to draw in foot traffic.

    At Wine Crafters, patrons can make their own bottles of wine and Live Laugh Love Glass is an art gallery that lets customers blow their own glass.

    'Business is picking up and we are doing really well,' said Natalie Vinsant, who co-owns the gallery with her husband Brett. 'We are excited for 2012, and hope the business keeps growing as it has done every single month. We even had to expand our hours to accommodate more people in November and December.'

    The city is taking steps to improve downtown as well. Upcoming construction on Main Street will widen sidewalks, add street lighting and improve water run-off through swales.

    The goal of the project is to improve circulation and discourage commuters from using the road as a Highway 99W shortcut.

    Votes crucial in park changes

    The Tualatin parks charter amendment squeaked by during a March 4 special election, with a 238 vote lead out of 4,400 ballots cast. The amendment meant that any 'non-park use' changes planned by the city, as well as the selling of existing park land, must be approved by voters. Examples of such changes include putting utility lines under park grounds or expanding or routing roads onto park land.

    A group of citizens were inspired to spearhead the effort after a bridge over the Tualatin Community Park appeared in some blueprints drawn up by the city. The purpose of the blueprints was to gather ideas for improvements to the city's transportation infrastructure, but when citizens complained, the idea was dropped.

    A main concern of opponents to the amendment was that the language was vague and could lead to a regular slew of ballots, the cost of which would fall heavily on taxpayers, and that the ballots would impede the city from performing even the most essential tasks without citizen approval.

    Since the amendment's passing, there has been no major changes to the parks that would require a vote.

    - Alana Kansaku-Sarmiento

    contributed to this story