Looking at the stories that defined 2013

A landmark centennial year in West Linn was also one of harsh realities.

Despite vehement opposition from a group of residents, a Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership expansion was approved when the city council ruled that it met the overall needs of the community. Hopes for a new $24 million aquatic center sank when a long-awaited ballot measure failed. A city that had long thought of itself as Nordstrom re-assessed on a Costco budget.

There were also highs in 2013, including a yearlong party to celebrate the city's 100th birthday and the groundbreaking of the city's new police station.

For better or worse, the centennial year of 2013 served as a reminder of how much has changed since the city was founded in 1913.

A constant through all the years was the spirit of the community, and 2013 did nothing to change that. Triumphs and tragedies alike brought people closer together, and even the most contentious disputes were rooted in clashing visions for how the city should function today and in years to come.

Sobering reality and hopeful forward thinking combined to create the stories that defined 2013.

- Patrick Malee

by: VERN UYETAKE - After a lengthy debate, the West Linn City Council voted unanimously to approve the LOT construction project, a decision that angered some residents.

City council approves LOT water plan applications

After months of debate, the Feb. 11 decision was unanimous: West Linn approved the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership’s water treatment plant expansion and pipeline installation.

Lake Oswego has operated a water treatment plant at 4260 Kenthorpe Way in West Linn’s Robinwood neighborhood since 1968. In cooperation with the city of Tigard, Lake Oswego wanted to expand the plant and run a new pipeline to address the future water needs of both cities.

The plant, which will hold up to 2 million stored gallons of water underground and handle up to 38 million gallons each day, also serves as an emergency backup water supply for West Linn.

Along with a new plant, the project involves the installation of a 4-foot-diameter pipeline from the Clackamas River through West Linn and into Lake Oswego. The pipeline, which will be broken into four construction phases, will extend 1.9 miles in West Linn, crossing though both residential and commercial areas.

Construction began in August. In November, the city council approved four agreements related to the LOT projects, locking in a $5 million payment from Lake Oswego for construction rights and officially moving into a new intergovernmental agreement with Lake Oswego, Tigard and the South Fork Water Board that guarantees emergency water supply “in perpetuity.”

West Linn native dies in Arizona wildfire

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Percin, a 2007 West Linn High School graduate, died in what was called the deadliest U.S. wildfire in 80 years.

John Percin Jr., a 2007 West Linn High School graduate, was among the 19 firefighters tragically killed by an Arizona wildfire in June.

The fire near Prescott, Ariz., was the deadliest wildfire involving firefighters in the U.S. in the last 80 years. Percin, 24, was a member of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, an elite squad that fights wildfires head-on and is tasked with setting up barriers to stop fires from spreading.

Percin graduated from West Linn High School in 2007 and was involved in several sports. He is the son of Mary and John Percin Sr. of West Linn.

Pool measure sinks

Hopes for an aquatic and community center in West Linn washed away on election night Nov. 5, as voters sided against the $24 million bond measure by a margin of 75 percent (5,784 votes) to 25 percent (1,949 votes).

The facility would have been located on city-owned property near Tanner Creek Park, housing a pool with “aquatic park-like features” as well as a gym, running track, classrooms and fitness areas.

The city council voted unanimously July 1 to pass a resolution that officially put the measure on the November ballot.

The debate over installing a public pool or aquatic center had gone on for nearly 40 years in West Linn, but Nov. 5 marked the first chance the voters had to decide.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Local residents protested against a proposed composting facility across from Stafford Primary School. A bill signed in June took those composting plans off the table.

S&H composting plans halted at Stafford property

It started with public outcry and ended with a bill on Gov. John Kitzhaber’s desk.

The bill, which was amended to prohibit the construction of a controversial S&H Landscape Supplies & Recycling composting facility in the Stafford area, was signed by Kitzhaber June 26.

The proposed S&H Landscape Supplies & Recycling facility, at 3036 SW Borland Road in the Stafford triangle, was slated to be constructed near Stafford Primary and Athey Creek Middle schools.

In public meetings prior to the bill being signed, residents continually raised concerns about noise, dust, traffic and health impacts, as well as a decrease in property values.

S&H still plans to use the property for soil mining operations beginning in the spring.

From Nordstrom to Costco

The city council voted unanimously in June to approve the proposed 2014-15 biennial budget, capping a month-long process that forced officials to make some difficult decisions about what to add, keep or cut.

The two-year budget is $89.8 million, in comparison to the 2012-13 budget of $84.32 million. Of that, $18.75 million is for capital projects, with a budgeted reserve of $10.3 million.

As a whole, the approved budget reflected an analogy that has become popular throughout city hall: a transition from the plush Nordstrom atmosphere to the streamlined basics of Costco. From cutting the number of full-time staff to not funding community events, West Linn was forced to take some drastic measures to fill a $2 million shortfall in its budget.

Driving factors in the city’s budget gap were the spike in Public Employees Retirement System rates in 2013 (up $400,000 a year), declining property tax income (down $200,000 a year) and increasing health care costs.

The city was forced to stop funding certain projects and asked a number of key staff members to cut their positions from full to part time, while other positions were completely eliminated.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A proposal to increase water rates by 18 percent was taken off the March 12 ballot to avoid confusion during the LOT hearings.

18 percent water rate hike scrapped

In a surprise vote, the city council unanimously voted during its Jan. 14 meeting to take the proposed March 12 water measure off the ballot.

The change of heart was a sudden reversal of the council’s December decision to ask residents for a one-time water rate hike of 18 percent, over and above the city’s annual capped 5 percent increase.

The council allegedly removed the ballot measure to avoid confusion with the contentious permit hearings it was conducting that same month regarding the Lake Oswego-Tigard (LOT) Water Partnership proposed water treatment plant expansion and pipeline.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Back in August, Mayor John Kovash and three city councilors admitted to a past ethics violation and accepted letters of education in lieu of civil fines.

Mayor, councilors admit ethics violation

In a settlement reached with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission in August, West Linn Mayor John Kovash and City Councilors Jenni Tan, Jody Carson and Mike Jones admitted to violating Oregon public meeting laws during a March 2012 executive session.

The settlement papers acknowledged that the councilors “violated executive session provisions of Oregon public meetings law by participating in an executive session when topics prohibited by ORS 192.660(8) were discussed” and that they “wished to conclude this matter by agreeing to the terms and conditions in this order without completing the investigation phase.”

Because the council was acting on advice from City Attorney Tim Ramis when it held the executive session in question, the ethics commission did not impose any civil fines. Each council member received a “letter of education” from the commission as part of the settlement.

The decision came as a response to an ethics complaint filed March 11 by West Linn resident Karie Oakes and former City Councilor Teri Cummings, alleging that the city council had misused a March 12, 2012, executive session to hire an in-house attorney, which violated public meeting laws.

by: LORI HALL - West Linn native Aubrey Cleland fell just short of a top ten finish on 'American Idol,' but was selected to join the show's tour across the nation this past summer.

A new idol for West Linn

West Linn residents had a special reason to tune in to "American Idol" early in 2013, as one of its own blitzed through the field of contestants and narrowly missed the top 10.

Aubrey Cleland, 19, was in the midst of her third and final chance to compete on the show, having gone from making the top 100 her first time to placing as the sixth-place female in 2013.

Despite earning consistent rave reviews from the judges, Aubrey did not rank in the top 10 among the 39 million votes that were cast.

In a new twist for 2013, AT&T sponsored a tour fan save in which the sixth-place boy and girl performed in a sing-off and the audience chose who to put on tour this summer. It was announced March 21 that Cleland received more votes than Charlie Askew.

The tour made 30 stops around the country this summer, including a Portland show July 20.

by: VERN UYETAKE - After a delay to re-bid the project, construction of the new West Linn Police Station began Sept. 9.

Police station breaks ground

It was a moment that seemed far off in the distance earlier last summer, when bids for the construction of the new West Linn police station came in well over budget.

Yet the long-awaited construction project finally began Sept. 9, as the city held an official groundbreaking ceremony at the site, on the corner of Eighth Avenue and 13th Street. The event marked the beginning of a 10-month project led by Todd Construction, which saw its $5.25 million bid accepted by the West Linn City Council on Aug. 19.

The project is the result of an $8.5 million general obligation bond measure approved by voters in November 2011.

The new two-story, 20,024-square-foot police station will be designed to withstand a seismic design category D earthquake, provide emergency dispatch and operations capability, accommodate training, evidence processing, storage, operations, communication and staffing needs for officers and K-9 units.

Petitions filed to recall mayor, councilors

Four separate petitions were filed at city hall Dec. 9 seeking to recall Mayor John Kovash and City Councilors Mike Jones, Jody Carson and Jenni Tan.

The petitions were filed by four West Linn residents: Karie Oakes, Curtis Sommer, Reena Heijdeman and E. Marie Horvath, each alleging that the city councilors broke their oaths of office by violating public meetings laws, “failing to represent the best interests of West Linn citizens,” “ignoring recommendations from city advisory boards and commissions” and “failing to assert proper control and direction over the city manager and city attorney.”

The petitioners also asserted that the city council did not take public opinion seriously enough, particularly in the midst of approving the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project in February.

With their paperwork officially approved, the petitioners were each granted 90 days to gather the 1,844 signatures needed to trigger an election.

by: LORI HALL - A plan to add 62 miles of new trails to West Linn over the next 50 years was approved Dec. 9.

Trails master plan approved

The city council unanimously approved a new trails master plan Dec. 9, paving the way for dozens of miles of new trails over decades to come.

The 2013 trails plan calls for about 62 miles of new trail routes throughout the city, including 44.6 miles of on-street trails like sidewalks and bike lanes. Though West Linn already contains 25.6 miles of trails throughout its parks and open areas, city officials say the current system provides too little in the realm of connectivity between neighborhoods, commercial areas and other destinations.

Development of the trails master plan had been in the works since 2009, and the 2013 iteration contained some significant alterations in light of comments made at a 2011 public hearing and an open house in July.

The new plan will likely be implemented in segments over the next 50 years.

LOT decision remanded by LUBA

In a final decision issued Nov. 25, the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals remanded the city of West Linn’s decision on the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership project.

As a result, the issue moved back to West Linn City Council, which was required to conduct additional deliberations and procedures before the project could officially move forward. Those deliberations were scheduled for Jan. 13.

The petitioners documented a total of 10 alleged errors — both procedural and judgmental — made by the city in its approval of the project. LUBA sustained three of those assignments of error but denied or deferred the other seven. The errors were deemed to be procedural in nature, and LUBA did not disagree with the substance of the decision.

Construction at the LOT site continued as planned after the ruling.

by: PATRICK MALEE - Police seized 10 pounds of marijuana and more than $18,000 in November as part of a drug investigation centered around West Linn High School.

Fast times at West Linn High

In one of the largest drug busts of its kind in West Linn, police seized about 10 pounds of marijuana and other drugs and more than $18,000 during the month of November as part of an investigation of the trafficking of narcotics in the city and at West Linn High School.

The seizures and associated arrests were part of an investigation that happened over several months, and more arrests were expected in the coming weeks or months.

The street value of the marijuana seized was approximately $25,000, according to police.

Police said the operation centered around Francesco Zorich, 51, of West Linn. Acting on information that Zorich was selling marijuana and employing WLHS students to tend to his grow operation, police served a search warrant Nov. 19 at Zorich’s West Linn home at 1301 Ninth St. and seized nearly 2 pounds of marijuana, more than $3,500 and a .357 Magnum pistol.

Police later arrested three others allegedly involved with the operation: Nick Joscelyn, 20, of West Linn; Connor Krug, 21, of West Linn; and Warren Simon, 18, who graduated from WLHS last June.

Zorich, Joscelyn, Krug and Simon each face various charges of possession and delivery of controlled substances and marijuana.

Police said much of the marijuana seized was destined for the high school through a network of dealers from all grade levels.

by: VERN UYETAKE - The city celebrated 100 years in 2013 with fireworks and a number of festive celebrations.

Celebrating 100 years

West Linn turned 100 years old on Aug. 15, and for three days the city paid tribute to its centennial birthday with a number of events — starting with a fireworks display and culminating in the Day of Centennial Celebration at Mary S. Young State Park.

Of course, the centennial theme enveloped events throughout all of 2013, from the Old Time Fair to the holiday parade.

The West Linn Centennial Heritage Series also hosted a number of events with a historical theme, the last of which took place Dec. 8.

by: VERN UYETAKE - The city's 'Cut the Red Tape' project proved controversial, as some residents felt it was too far-reaching.

‘Red Tape’ sparks controversy

After months of debate dating back to late summer, the West Linn Planning Commission voted Nov. 20 to recommend that the city council pass a modified version of the code and process streamlining proposal, previously known as “Cut the Red Tape.”

The project, which officially kicked off in April, was a key facet of the city’s effort to foster economic development in its commercial areas. The plan called for a number of amendments to the West Linn Community Development Code.

Yet planning commissioners and citizens alike questioned both the scale and process behind the project.

The city’s original proposal included 30 amendments to West Linn’s community development code and covered everything from building applications to land use appeal processes and the city’s comprehensive plan.

The planning commission’s recommendations will be presented to city council in early 2014, though an exact date has not been set.

City councilors hit with lawsuit

A lawsuit filed April 12 by a group of West Linn residents and a business owner under the name STOP Tigard Oswego Project LLC alleged that the council violated public meeting laws by conducting meetings and executive sessions behind the scenes to orchestrate the city’s approval of the Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Treatment Plant and pipeline projects.

The plaintiffs suspected backroom meetings and improper conversations in the two weeks that the record was re-opened due to Mayor John Kovash's disclosure of an ex parte communication.

In the end, the council agreed Nov. 4 to accept the plaintiffs’ offer to dismiss the case so long as the city does not seek recovery of its legal fees.

In total, the city of West Linn accrued about $25,000 in legal expenses.

by: VERN UYETAKE - The city has been eyeing redevelopment of the arch bridge area since 2011, but needed a $220,000 grant from Metro to get the ball rolling.

Metro grant jumpstarts arch bridge planning

After receiving a $220,000 grant from Metro in August, the city of West Linn wasted no time getting started on the Oregon City-West Linn Arch Bridge planning project.

The planning, expected to be complete by spring of 2015, will analyze everything from land use to economic conditions, pedestrian accessibility and redevelopment plans at the West Linn Paper Company parcel adjacent to the arch bridge.

The city council approved a planning contract during a Dec. 16 meeting.

West Linn originally requested the Metro funding to support its efforts to facilitate redevelopment in the arch bridge-Bolton area, a project that runs congruent to the redevelopment of the former Blue Heron Paper Company across the river in Oregon City as part of the Willamette Falls Legacy Project. The recently renovated arch bridge crosses the Willamette River between West Linn and Oregon City.

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