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Taking a look back at Lake Oswegos top stories

by: STAFF FILE PHOTO / VERN UYETAKE, 
Lakeridge High School students, band members and fans head over to the football field from a barbecue prior to the school’s first home football game Oct. 10.

Looking back on Lake Oswego's 2008, it's clear that some issues continue to play important roles in the community.

And it's just as clear that new issues also have an emerging role.

It is that mix of old and new that helped make this year's Top 11 News Stories for 2008 especially interesting to compile. The Lake Oswego Review staff whittled down a long list of newsworthy contenders into a group of 11 stories (some with multiple appearances over the course of the year).

Stories ranged all over the spectrum of our community and involved topics from athletics to government to politics to money to nude dancing to death.

And topping our list for 2008 was the ongoing struggle to bring football home to Lakeridge High School.

No. 1 - Football comes home to Lakeridge

Plenty of sweat and tears went into this event. Political organizations changed, city regulations were updated, politics prevailed. But the main issue is that parity - for one magical night at least - was reached between Lake Oswego's two high schools.

It doesn't matter that the Pacers were outgunned in the game. The important point is to remember how exciting, how important the night of Oct. 10 was to the Lakeridge High School community, indeed the entire community.

Let's travel back and look at how Sports Editor Matthew Sherman began his story:

'Looking simply at the X's and O's of last Friday's Lakeridge football game against McNary, it's easy to point out that a lot of things went wrong for the Pacers.

'Ultimately, however, none of those things will be remembered by the Lakeridge players and coaches or by the hundreds of fans and community members in attendance.

'The two things that will probably be remembered most are the sight of the Pacers sprinting under an archway of golden balloons onto their own field for the first time in school history.

''Taking the field at the beginning of the game and the kids on the field singing the fight song at the end, that was awesome,'' coach Ian Lamont said.

'The second will probably be Chase Wippert's diving touchdown catch late in the second quarter, the first points scored on Lakeridge's field. That catch set off an exuberant celebration on the sideline and in the packed stands at Lakeridge High School.

'Never has such a meaningless touchdown meant so much. Wippert's catch came with Lakeridge already trailing 33-0 in an eventual 54-7 loss and it was just the Pacers' second touchdown of the year.

'But, judging by the reaction, it may have meant more than winning a playoff game.'

No. 2 - Winter storm just kept coming

The memories of the snow, the ice, the wind and the inconvenience are all too recent for any of us to forget.

A series of winter storms complete with all sorts of disruptive potential started rolling into our area on Dec. 14. They continued to cause problems until the end of last week.

Lake Oswego schools were shut down for the week of Dec. 15 (and would have been closed longer if it hadn't been that the Chris-tmas holiday break started Dec. 22). 'Non-essential' city services also were closed. Motorists had trouble negotiating some of the city's higher elevations and some couldn't move their cars at all. City road crews were stretched to the limit.

And the snow just kept on coming. Sports schedules were disrupted. Travel plans were revamped. Christmas shopping was eliminated. The weather provided an almost Norman Rockwell-type feeling to our little town.

There was a certain surreal quality to all of this. The Lake Oswego Review office on Second Street typically has 12 of us working to get the Review and West Linn Tidings out each week. Yet only three people were able to get to the office on Dec. 22 and 23 - the others either traveling or unable to make the commute. Thanks to the efforts of Publisher J. Brian Monihan and Reporter Nicole DeCosta in the office and other staffers working from home, the Dec. 25 paper got out on time.

For additional stories on what TV news continually referred to as 'Arctic Blast, 2008,' see page A1, this page and page A10.

No. 3 - Lake Oswego Interceptor System and its many facets

Lake Oswego officials announced their schedule for building the Lake Oswego Interceptor Sewer in early July, shuffling employees to manage oversight of the one-of-a-kind floating gravity sewer in Oswego Lake.

But when the city made public its plans to close the Lake Grove Swim Park for summer 2009, park users threatened legal action.

Engineers were eventually forced to retool their plans, shifting construction to the south side of Oswego Lake and onto a handful of staging sites along the canals.

The threatened lawsuit complicated already tense negotiations between the city and Barnard Construction Co. of Montana, the proposed general contractor for the job. Those negotiations broke down at the end of July, mostly over a disagreement about the markup Barnard intended to charge Lake Oswego for work performed by other contractors and for equipment.

Construction of the interceptor sewer was set to begin after Labor Day 2008. But instead, Lake Oswego officials broke the job into six smaller projects and began bidding out the smaller portions in the fall.

The strategy was fortunately timed.

The projects so far appear to be benefiting from the economic recession and related drops in the cost of steel, fuel and labor. The first three contracts approved for sewer construction saved nearly $2 million; $5.6 million was spent.

The Lake Oswego City Council has approved the sale of up to $100 million in revenue bonds to fund interceptor construction.

If all of the bond money is spent, the bonds will increase today's average sewer bill from $326 a year to $768 a year over the first 10 years of the 20-year bond repayment period. Bills will remain at an annual average of $768 for the following 10 years.

No. 4 - The amazing success of Lake Oswego's schools

Though economic predictions have gotten darker, the Lake Oswego School District can count quite a few blessings in 2008 that will help while heading into an uncertain future.

For the second year in a row, the district received an exceptional rating on the state report card for all 13 schools - an accomplishment that is unprecedented for a district of its size.

The Lake Oswego School Foundation also remained successful in 2008 raising nearly $1.75 million and providing money to fund 30 additional teaching positions. Their success in recent years has kept class sizes down and added unique elective opportunities for students.

And the district's constituents further supported them in November when they agreed to keep the current levy at $1.39 per $1,000 of assessed property value - the same rate it's been receiving since 2000. The levy is one piece that will give more security to the district through 2015.

'We're going to head into some tough times,' said school Superintendent Bill Korach. 'It's going to be that one difference maker that will allow us to stay stable even though we'll have to tighten up.'

The levy brings in about 12 percent of the district's budget. This year it amounts to $6.8 million in the district's accounts for the 2008-2009 year.

No. 5 - The old and new and not-so-new faces of Lake Oswego politics

The end of 2008 signifies the end of a political era in Lake Oswego. Because of term limits, Mayor Judie Hammerstad, who has served for 8 years, was unable to remain in the mayor's post. Leaving from the city council are John Turchi, Frank Groznik and Ellie McPeak. Both McPeak and Turchi were ineligible to run again due to term limits. Groznik did not seek re-election.

This quartet - especially Hammerstad, Turchi and McPeak - have their fingerprints all over the last decade of changes that Lake Oswego has experienced. The acquisition of new open space and park land, the development of more parks and trails, the transformation of downtown Lake Oswego and Luscher Farm and the Outdoor Gallery Without Walls all had their involvement. So, too, did the decision to purchase the West End Building (see No. 7), the efforts-to-date on the Lake Oswego Interceptor System (see No. 3), the selection of a new city manager (see No. 6) and a new water pact with Tigard (see No. 8).

In November, Lake Oswego voters selected a new mayor - former city councilor Jack Hoffman, an attorney - and three new city councilors - Mary Olson, a civic organizer and former corporate financial officer, Sally Moncrieff, chair of the Palisades Neighborhood Association and Bill Tierney, chair of the Lake Oswego Development Review Commission. They will join holdover councilors Donna Jordan, Kristin Johnson and Roger Hennagin.

How this new group to be led by Hoffman comes together will undoubtedly be one of the key issues for city residents in 2009.

No. 6 - There's a new city manager in Lake Oswego

We haven't seen a great deal publicly of new Lake Oswego City Manager Alex McIntyre, a Californian with managerial experience in large and small towns. His hiring to replace former City Manager Doug Schmitz was announced in late January and he began work in March.

McIntyre, 46, told the Review that his strengths included building consensus and guiding large, complex projects.

He previously served as chief assistant county administrator in Marin County, and before that he was town manager in the town of Tiburon for six years.

While he has been very active since taking the Lake Oswego post, he has spent much of his time working behind the scenes, learning the ropes of his new city and its myriad projects. We don't write about him very frequently; we suspect that will change with all the new faces coming into city government in January.

No. 7 - West End Building: A controversial facility

Lake Oswego voters opted not to fund the $20 million cost of the city's West End Building through property taxes in May, prompting city officials to continue probing whether to keep the building, sell it or craft some combination of both ideas.

The Lake Oswego City Council purchased the West End Building from Safeco Insurance in April 2006, using a temporary line of credit.

Since then, the city has funneled $1 million a year from the city's reserves to cover interest on the $20 million loan.

A proposal on the May 20 ballot would have repaid the loan with bonds through a tax on property owners for 20 years. But voters rejected the idea, though they previously told elected officials to keep the building in an election in November 2007.

The ongoing confusion over the building's fate prompted considerable public discord throughout the year. A community survey in May showed 27 percent of Lake Oswegans disapproved of the city council, with the West End Building topping the list of gripes among both satisfied and dissatisfied residents.

That dissatisfaction seemed to reach its pitch during November 2008 elections, when what to do with West End Building became a significant talking point for candidates seeking election to the Lake Oswego City Council and mayor's position.

A new city council, led by Mayor Jack Hoffman, is now tasked with resolving the issue.

The group is expected to receive a final report from the West End Property Decision-Making Process in January. The report will summarize five months of studies, focus groups, outreach efforts and appraisals that began in July.

A related appraisal in October 2008 found that the West End Building was worth more than the city paid for it but officials believe that real estate market trends could lead to a lower purchase price.

No. 8 - Lake Oswego-Tigard water pact and new water rates

Water ratepayers in Lake Oswego and Tigard tied the knot in August.

At separate meetings that month, elected officials from both cities agreed to build a joint water utility with benefits on both sides.

Without the partnership, Lake Oswego faced funding $78 million in planned upgrades and maintenance on the water utility owned by the city. In Tigard, water bills were expected to triple while that city purchased its water wholesale, mostly from Portland.

Expensive habitat restoration planned for the Bull Run Watershed was expected to drive the increases in wholesale water rates.

Through the partnership, ratepayers in Lake Oswego and Tigard will now see savings.

Ratepayers in Lake Oswego will get a break on the cost of planned upgrades and maintenance for the utility. The $78 million originally planned for local taxpayers was lowered to $53 million. Tigard ratepayers funded $25 million of Lake Oswego's proposed costs, plus another $47 million to expand the utility's services to Tigard.

In exchange, ratepayers in Tigard will have ownership in a water utility for the first time and will likely see long-term savings on water rates.

Lake Oswego retains ownership of its water rights on the Clackamas River. Both cities now jointly own the water utility, called the Lake Oswego Expansion and Water Partnership.

Last month, the Lake Oswego City Council approved new water rates that boost the utility's local earnings. Those new rates will cover Lake Oswego's $53 million share of upgrades and maintenance to the utility.

The approved water rate increases will take place over eight years, beginning in January. The new rates group water users into three categories, charging the largest amounts to the biggest water users.

The program aims to charge only slight rate increases to 56 percent of the city's lowest-volume water users. Another 26 percent of water users will face moderate rate increases. Large-volume water users, by contrast, will pay three times the rates paid by low-volume water users.

No. 9 - The city's suvey says plenty

It doesn't seem like a big thing, but the survey for the city of Lake Oswego released in late May spoke volumes. It showed an interesting split: Lake Oswegans were mostly happy about their city government with the exception of city politics and the WEB (see Nos. 5 and 7 above).

In her coverage of the survey, city reporter Lee van der Voo began her story:

'Lake Oswego residents are upbeat about their quality of life but grumpier about city politics than in previous years, according to a community survey released last week.

'The results are no surprise, said Mayor Judie Hammerstad, who said the dissatisfaction noted by the survey, most relating decision-making on the West End Building, has been apparent in Lake Oswego for months.

'The recent poll is conducted every two to three years by Campbell DeLong Resources, Inc. and is meant to gauge public opinion as local leaders steer policies and projects. The process dates back to 1991 and this year surveyed 400 local residents via telephone.

'Results for the 2008 poll showed a significant jump in disapproval for the Lake Oswego City Council - 27 percent disapprove versus 13 percent in a 2005 survey. And the West End Building topped the list of related gripes, even among people who were mostly satisfied with city leadership.

'But despite the resounding thumbs-down on the decision to buy the West End Building on Kruse Way without a plan to finance it, local residents report they are generally happy with Lake Oswego and upbeat about the city's future.

'They gave strong indications that they support two key projects ahead: An effort to extend the Portland Streetcar into Lake Oswego along an existing rail line on Highway 43 and a plan to change the price of local water to encourage conservation.

'Hammerstad was pleased at both: 81 percent of people favored the streetcar idea and residents gave quality of life an average 8.6 points out of 10, the highest average in 17 years of surveys.

''At the same time there is a dissatisfaction with the way we handled the West End Building. That's no secret,'' said Hammerstad. ''Positive feelings about everything else that's going on in the city I think are the biggest takeaway.''

No. 10 - Seeing Stars? It could happen right outside of Lake Grove

Technically, this is an issue for Tualatin, because that's where the proposed Stars Cabaret would be located. But its proximity to Lake Grove at 17939 McEwan Road on the Lake Oswego side of Interstate 5 generates local concerns.

Ever since Stars Cabaret co-owner Randy Kaiser proposed building a new strip club at this location, residents and governmental bodies in both Tualatin and Lake Oswego have sounded off.

While the Tualatin City Council has come out against the core issue of issuing of a liquor license, the final word on Stars Cabaret-Bridgeport has yet to be spoken. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission will not give a determination on the license until sometime in 2009. First, an OLCC director will decide if the city of Tualatin's recommendation for a denial of a liquor license has legal standing. If it doesn't, the issue will be moved to a hearing before the OLCC as early as February.

A Web site by opponents of Stars, www.changefororegon.org , seeks to keep current with Stars-related issues.

Stay tuned. Even when the OLCC decision is reached, you can expect the fireworks to continue.

No. 11 - Deaths: Losses from natural and not-so-natural causes

A great many people died this past year in Lake Oswego. Many good people. Many that will be remembered for a long, long time.

Four of those deaths ended up on the Review's front page: Two because they were long-standing leaders in the community who died natural deaths, one newcomer to the community who was killed and one 11-year-old boy who died while playing at a local school:

* Lake Oswego community activist, Warren Oliver, died on April 20 at the age of 81.

The recipient of the 2002 Lake Oswego Chamber Community Leader of the Year, he was known as the quiet force behind many community organizations and causes.

* Long-time Lake Oswego resident Jack Radow died April 22 at the age of 95.

The month before Radow and his wife, Jeanne, were awarded the Bob Bigelow Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lake Oswego Chamber of Commerce for their outstanding community contributions. His legacy is his work with the Lake Oswego Library and, in particular, with the Friends of the Library's used-book store, The Booktique.

* Austin Sergeev, an 11-year-old Lake Oswego boy, died Oct. 14 after an incident playing flag football at Palisades Elementary School. He was pronounced dead at Legacy Meridian Park Hospital in Tualatin. According to the state medical examiner's office, he died of blunt force trauma to the heart, contradicting initial assumptions that the blow was to his throat.

* Frederick Stephens III, a new resident to Lake Oswego, drowned in a Mountain Park hot tub on Feb. 3. Surveillance cameras reportedly showed a struggle in the hot tub between David Hessemer and Stephens. Hessemer is charged with murder in the incident and the trial has been rescheduled for 2009.