What's in a name?

Jack Westfall is being forced off his property to make way for a new school. Supports believe the building should bear his name.
by: Matthew Graham, Jack Westfall stands in front of the Westfall Performer, which he designed, and the home he’s lived in for 30 years, and intends to move to a new location in the Beavercreek area. North Clackamas School District took the property through eminent domain.

Just past the heavy road construction and still-emerging strip malls along Sunnyside Road lays an opening to the still-green expanses of rural Clackamas County, where horses and cattle roam around the open acreage and don't seem out of place in doing so. A sign warning 'congestion' stands as a reminder of the constantly receding dichotomy between urban and rural life.

Here, at the very edge of that expansion, with work crews frantically updating the major traffic arterials, stands Jack Westfall and his home of 30 years.

Westfall's 18-acre property - the home his wife died in after a four-year illness, the barn he built, the piece of heavy logging machinery he and his brother designed in the 1950s, the open space for his two horses - was condemned in September by the North Clackamas School District, who will build a new Happy Valley elementary school on Westfall's and eight other people's properties. He's planning to move the entire old home to a plot of land in the Beavercreek area.

But Westfall's children and friends want to at least preserve the legacy of the man who will be sacrificing, they say, more than anyone else for this project to happen, and to honor the woman he loved, both of whom they say are symbols of integrity, honor and love and care for all of their neighbors.

They want the new school to be named Westfall Elementary.

The school district formed a naming committee, which had considered the Westfall name along with four others. They ultimately recommended another name, Verne A. Duncan Elementary School, after the Oak Grove man who helped name the school district and was the second-longest running state superintendent of public instruction, a six-year state senator and dean of the University of Portland.

The committee will present the names to the school board Thursday night. The board will have the ultimate decision in the matter.

Susan Westfall, Jack's daughter, said she's not against the school district honoring Duncan, whose name was proposed for a few of the district's new schools, but that he doesn't have the ties to this site.

'[Duncan] didn't live there, he didn't take care of his wife who died there, he didn't love that land and take care of the neighbors out there,' she said.

And she said Westfall would be an exceptional role model for the students.

'He is a representative of hard work and love, he's a super representative for the kids to look up to,' she said. 'He has such a following because he's honest and he's fair.'

Joe Krumm, community and government relations director for the school district and a member of the naming committee, said the decision was based on many factors, including history and precedent, the message associated with the name and the fact that the school will stand for generations.

Krumm said that while people were allowed to nominate names, they didn't count those as votes. They took recommendations from the public and the final choice of which to recommend from the committee to the board required a supermajority of eight of the 11 committee members.

'The committee was very touched by the Westfalls,' Krumm said. 'I think a lot of the committee members believed that the former landowners should be honored in some way, so I'm expecting that is part of what the school board can look at from here.'

Community members want Westfall

Many friends and neighbors supported the Westfall during the naming process, Susan Westfall said.

'We went to the naming committee on January 29; there were 14 people in the audience, 12 of them were for the Westfall name, two were for other names,' she said.

The group in support of the Westfall name presented their case first, she said, and when they were finished, one of the other two participants changed his mind and backed them up.

The Westfalls even received support from state Representative Linda Flores.

'If the district is going to take his land, it seems only fitting to name the new school Westfall Elementary, after the Westfall family,' Flores said in a press release earlier this year. 'I've known Jack for many years. He has a lot of integrity and pride,' noted Flores. 'He deserves our respect and our thanks for the trauma he's had to endure. We should call it Westfall Elementary School so the community can remember the sacrifices the family made to benefit future generations.'

Flores said she's considering developing legislation for the 2009 session that would require better notification of condemnation cases, after complaints from Jack Westfall and neighbors that they were treated unfairly in the condemnation process.

Property condemned for new school

Jack Westfall, 85, said neither his property nor any of his neighbors' was for sale when the school district came to them asking to buy the land in January 2007.

'They made the offer, which we all refused,' he said. 'After they made the first offer I called [Superintendent] Ron Naso at home and invited him to our meeting … We told him at that meeting what we would settle for, not what they were willing to give us but what we would settle for, and things kind of went downhill from there.'

Westfall said he and one of his neighbors, representing all the property to be condemned, were invited to a couple of school board meetings last April to 'hammer out the differences,' but that no one at the meetings wanted to discuss 'price or any other condition.'

Ron Stewart, assistant superintendent, asked if they'd be interested in mediation, Westfall said, and they agreed. But the district set up the meeting for two weeks from then, not enough time for the property owners to line up their own legal representation, Westfall said.

So when they didn't show up, he said communication between the two groups broke down.

'They more or less held that against us, that we weren't cooperative, but it would have been dumb for us to go in there without our attorneys,' Westfall explained.

Then, in September, the residents got notice of the condemnation.

'We felt like we would have some, maybe, give-and-take with them,' Westfall said. 'We were willing to talk to them, we just weren't willing to take the price that they [originally] offered.'

Stewart said the school district also was willing to negotiate, but the property owners never offered the documentation that would have facilitated price negotiations. They initially hadn't proposed a counter offer, he said.

'The other thing they said they were going to provide and never did was another appraisal,' Stewart said.

The school district had an appraisal done and based its offer on that. The property owners said their price was too low, and said they were working on getting an appraisal done. But letters from the school district to the homeowners indicated that the district hadn't received those appraisals.

Stewart said the school district never shut down communications. He said the district gave them 'more than adequate time' to bring an appraisal and counter offer. 'We were always open [to discussion],' Stewart said, 'even once they got attorneys.'

The school district did send numerous letters to the landowners throughout the spring and summer, but without that appraisal from the landowners, their attorneys could not negotiate a settlement price. The district finally condemned the property to ensure it would be ready for construction this spring, but maintained that it wanted to work with the landowners, who are expected to be off the property this month.

The district paid Westfall $4 million for his land on Dec. 2.

Westfall did say he fully understands the district's need to and right to condemn the property in order to build new schools, he just wasn't happy with the way the district handled it.

'I'm aware they have their job to do, I'm aware they have the right of eminent domain, but they were, I would say crude in the way they handled the human relationship part of this thing, and that still bothers me.'