For some of you, 2020 may be a year to be forgotten. It has been a year like no other full of challenges and difficulties. However, it was also a year of opportunities, coming together as a community, and of course progress. While we are excited for the arrival of 2021, we appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the highlights, accomplishments, and other notable events of 2020.
COVID-19 brought unprecedented challenges to all of us. The City Council and staff rose to the occasion by being one of the first entities to declare a state of emergency which was used to suspend water and sewer shut-offs and late fees. While we also had to do things like shutdown the playground and reduce operations at City Hall, we did some amazing things as well. Within weeks of the state of emergency, we had created a utility relief program to help residents and businesses pay for utilities. We were also able to partner with the City of Portland for a share of Federal CARES Act funds through the PDX Cares program. These funds were used to increase the amount of utility assistance that was available and to create a general relief program for our most impacted residents. Additionally, we partnered with the County and others to support local food box programs, and even created one of our own for Thanksgiving. From April to December, we’ve helped over 176 households and businesses in Wood Village. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us, but it also showed what this small community can do to help those in need.
2020 was a year of change and new faces for our community partners and us. We unfortunately lost a dear friend and City partner this past summer. Pastor Bill Ehmann, or “Pastor Bill” as he was known by many, worked for over 25 years at the Wood Village Baptist Church to create and foster a positive and community-oriented relationship with the City. From the Nite Out, Cleanup Day, movies on the lawn, to summer lunch programs, Pastor Ehmann served our community well. His serving spirit was an inspiration to us all, and he is certainly missed.
Councilor and former Mayor Patricia Smith served on the City Council for over 15 years and will continue to serve the City on the Play East Recreation Board and Parks Commission. She will be replaced by newly elected City Councilor Jairo Rios-Campos. Jairo is the manager of Play East Recreation and a community organizer who founded the Natural Leaders Program. Planning Commissioner Nathan Smith stepped down last summer after he relocated to eastern Oregon. He was replaced by Steve Zebrowski whose background in construction management makes him a great addition to the Planning Commission. Charlotte Harden and Elvia Angle-Silva volunteered to join the Budget Committee to fill some long-standing vacancies. In total, Wood Village has 19 volunteers that serve on the City Council and our other Boards and Commissions. We could not do all the great and wonderful work without the help and support of these selfless community heroes.
Significant change on our boards and commissions was matched by changes to City staff. Marie Kizzar, who served the city for 22 years retired in 2020. Marie kept our public works and planning functions nimble and responsive, making Wood Village an ideal place for a business to start in or relocate to. With her long-time service, professionalism, and skill, she was involved in almost every major change that occurred over the past two decades. Fred Ramirez, whose work led the Council to make Groundskeeper a full-time role in Wood Village, also retired. Loren Wilton, the lead in our Public Works crew, and Brian Kidder left their positions to take on new opportunities. We also lost Rose Douglass who was well on her way to defining the new position of Assistant to the City Manager before she had to move back to Indiana.
While we had to say goodbye to talented people, we’ve had the pleasure of saying hello to great new staffers. Stephen Katulak is our new groundskeeper and Robert Cooley joined our utility worker team. Johnathan Pierce joined the city as the new Public Works Administrative Coordinator and Emeline Nguyen, creator of the alternative Pumpkin Day, the Turkey Drive and the Virtual Tree lighting events, is the new Assistant to the City Manager. With new people comes new ideas and additional opportunities. We wish those who left this past year well, and we’re very excited to have welcomed our new team members who are serving this wonderful community with passion and pride.
Social Justice and Justice Reform are movements that have rightfully captivated our country. Wood Village is a City made stronger by our diversity. Therefore, Wood Village staff and City Councilors are active participants in social justice discussions around the region. City leaders worked with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office to better understand the social justice platforms and issues. We want to develop meaningful changes to ensure all members of our community have the full measure of their civil and human rights. City leaders spent time with grassroots activists hearing stories of injustices and calls for change. There was a peaceful march in Wood Village this summer to help bring awareness to residents. The time for action and change is now. In 2020 we did a full audit of our municipal code (laws of the City), to make sure that it is fair, equitable, and does not have unintended consequences to specific groups of people. We also looked at internal policies to help make our organization stronger and serve the community better. This work is far from over. The City Council and staff will continue to evaluate, create, and adjust policies and programs to ensure that everyone has equal access to success and happiness in our diverse community.
Our City continues to grow! We have more than 4,000 residents. We are building a new City Hall in Donald L. Robertson park. The building will open in the summer of 2021. The project will create a great community building and enhance the park with more parking, increased pedestrian access, additional plaza space, and a splash pad! Across the street from the park a new commercial building is currently under construction. While we do not yet know who the tenant will be, it will be a wonderful looking building that will help create and grow our Wood Village brand. Last, but certainly not least is the Byway development at the former City Hall site. This project is moving along quickly, and the first residents moved in last month. The full project is expected to be completed this summer. The Byway has added great beauty and a community feel to Halsey and 238th and will offer housing opportunities for new families to call Wood Village home.
The City took on several other maintenance and operational projects. Our annual street project was the crack and slurry seal of Ash and Birch Aves which included needed repairs to failed roadway areas. These repair and surface treatment efforts preserve and protect our roadways. Each year we target areas in need, so look for more projects later this year. Unless it stops working properly, most people do not think about the City’s water, sewer, or storm water systems. We do, and we did a lot of work this year maintaining those systems. All systems combined, there are about 30 miles worth of pipes, valves, and system components to maintain. We inspected and exercised every water valve, cleaned and inspected all 126 catch basins, and cleaned targeted sections of the sewer system every three months. We also replaced two critical sewer pumps, cleaned and inspected our reservoirs, and added remote read water meters in specific areas to optimize meter reading. We will continue to invest in our critical utility systems to ensure that you have safe and clean drinking water, proper sewer systems, and a storm system that limits localized flooding.
We had some big changes to the City’s Park system this past year too. Frontage enhancements were added including more optimal ADA access, stone seating walls, and a plaza area around the restroom in Donald L. Robertson Park. The design was in keeping with the Gorge Hub concept, which is a network of locations that reach from Wood Village to The Dalles. The design for the Hawthorne Trailhead and Nature Play project was completed this year. The project will enhance the park entry at Hawthorne and add wildlife habitats and a nature play area in the western portion of the park. The City purchased new park property at the Town Center and completed its design as well. The 4.6-acre wetland will be turned into a beautiful nature park and pathway. While we do not have a construction timeline, we know this will be a great addition to our community once finished.
Parks and events are a big part of what makes our City a home. Though we couldn’t hold our annual Easter Egg Hunt, we partnered with other community organizations to hand out over 33,000 candy filled eggs to area children. Our Pumpkin Fest was a drive-through event this year. Even though there were no on-site activities, we still gave away over 300 pumpkins, carvings kits, craft kits, and other goodies. We’re all hoping for an in-person event next year, but this was a pretty good alternative for this year. We also launched a new event this year, the Turkey Drive. This event provided Thanksgiving meal boxes to over 150 families. It was a great success that I’m sure will be back next year. Lastly, we had our annual Tree Lighting event. The event was virtual this year, but hopefully you were able to see the tree in person on your own while shopping at the Town Center. The event was recorded and posted on our website through the Holiday Season, and we hope it brought some joy to you and your family. Despite COVID-19, the City found creative ways to bring the community together in safe and responsible ways. You can be sure that we’ll continue to do that in the year ahead.
2020 was a year of challenges and opportunities. The above-mentioned items are only a fraction of what was completed this past year. The City remains focused on providing essential services like clean water, quality utilities, public safety, building services, and above all, creating and sustaining our unique and inclusive community. We are honored to serve you and help create a Wood Village that makes you proud to live here.