The fallout from the national housing market implosion was the financial story of the year. Billions of dollars in bailout money for big banks and foreclosure notes for families with leaking adjustable rate mortgages. And the story dominated headlines, certainly for the first half of the year. Closer to home, local banks, many of whom were heavily leveraged in Bend's volatile housing market, saw the bottom fall out. Once high-flying Bank of the Cascades saw its stock dip below $1 from a high of more than $30 at the height of the boom. Federal regulators circled, issuing notices to banks that they needed to raise more capitol and finally swooped in, shuttering Prineville-based Community First Bank in early August. A month later regulators put Bank of the Cascades on notice, ordering the bank to raise more capital to bolster its portfolio or face more regulatory action. The remaining Central Oregonians with jobs learned to sleep on newly lumpy mattresses.
It seems like ancient history now, but Bend's celebrity chef Jody Denton kicked off the New Year by announcing that his flagship restaurant Merenda would be closing after one final dinner. The announcement followed the closure of Denton's other venture, Deep, a critically lauded Asian fusion restaurant, that set the bar for Bend's new urban chic aesthetic, but couldn't survive the ever-widening recession. True to his word, Denton hosted a final night of drinks and dishes at Merenda and packed his bags, setting out for the greener pastures of Australia. He left in his wake a long list of creditors, including suppliers and business partners who lined up to hear that there was no money left when Denton declared bankruptcy from halfway across the globe.
Westlund vs. Oppenheimer
Former gubernatorial candidate and state senator Ben Westlund probably didn't have any idea the scope of the shitstorm that he was walking into when he defeated Alan (Hey, I'm running for something again) Alley in the state treasurer's race. The usually low-profile job (Honestly, how many of you could spot Randall Edwards in a line-up?) become a political lightning rod when it was revealed that a public college savings plan, which was administered by the treasurer's office and designed to help working families save enough money for college, had lost millions of dollars in the stock market after fund manager Oppenheimer invested the money in volatile, high-yield securities. Working with new top cop John Kroger, Westlund eventually wrestled a settlement out of Oppenheimer that re-paid some of the lost funds.
Metolius Basin Preservation
Like Custer at the Little Bighorn, Deschutes County Destination resorts made their last stand just over Green Ridge on the banks of the Metolius where they met a band of restless and well-organized natives, who, with a little help from Governor Ted Kulongoski, beat back a pair of resort proposals that would have added thousands of homes and a pair of golf courses to the area around the river. In the end state legislator's narrowly passed a bill that offered developers a consolation prize, the ability to transfer their development credits to another tract of land outside the basin, while severely restricting their ability to develop inside of it. The move was seen as a win-win by most everyone, except the Jefferson County Commission and the Bulletin editorial board, which inexplicably claimed it was just standing up for Oregon's land use laws.
OLCC Goes Rogue
When OLCC's Regional Manager Jason Evers started laying down the law on local bars, restaurants, concerts and festivals, issuing a bevy of fines and new regulations backed up by implied threats and intimidation, bar and club owners balked. The problem got so bad that the normally apolitical Bend Visitor and Convention Bureau (Visit Bend) finally drafted at letter to the governor urging him to intervene with a state agency gone amuck and a regional manager who appeared to have, in true Sarah Palin fashion, gone totally rogue. After several verbal roundhouse kicks to the head, the OLCC apparently got the message, temporarily transferring the regional manager out of the area while the Department of Justice conducted an independent investigation into the Central Oregon office.
The Hospital never had to use those Outbreak-inspired white overflow tents and nobody had to wear a haz-mat suit to the office that we know of. But the swine flu scare was all too real, and a wave of flu symptoms washed over Central Oregon even as the vaccine lingered in far away laboratories. During a brief period hospitals weighed canceling elective surgeries and attendance was down by half in some classrooms. But as we loaded up on hand sanitizer, it became evident that the swine flu pandemic wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. The final toll: 75 deaths statewide and four in Deschutes County. That vaccine? It finally arrived last week - just in time for no one to care.
Bend Becomes Poster Child For Bust
Just a few years back Bend was the poster child for the real-estate boom. Bend and Deschutes County were enjoying some of the fastest home appreciation rates in the country. And our list of lifestyle attributes - powder filled nights and blue sky days in winter, and dry fly fishing and endless golf out your back door in summer - were pushing Bend into every Top 10 list for lifestyle refugees and retirees. But as they say: the higher you climb... And so just a few short months later, Bend was gaining notoriety for its real estate bust and ensuing economic woes. It's hard to pinpoint just when the worm turned, but in 2009 "Woe is Bend" stories popped up in the Oregonian, Seattle Times, and New York Times. Even the BBC trekked into Central Oregon to get a first-hand look at ground zero for the American Dream.
Teater Returns To The City Council
OK, this story didn't get the attention of CNN, but it was the culmination of a well-publicized political drama and signified that the Bend council was shifting to the right after several years of a somewhat progressive majority. After the council deadlocked over appointing a successor to Chris Telfer, the fiscally conservative councilor who departed for the state senate, Telfer's handpicked successor as mayor, Kathie Eckman, brought in former Mayor Oran Teater to fill the vacancy, ensuring that council's conservative bloc would enjoy a majority. The move was billed as a cost-saving measure that headed off a special election and more palatable than a coin-toss to determine the next councilor. But Jim Clinton, the longest serving member of council's left leaning contingent, derided the episode as a "backroom" deal after he and at least one other councilor were left out of the horse trading. And thus began a new era of political pragmatism in Bend. (Quick, hide the buses before the council sees them!)
Government Goes Bust
You didn't need to be a member of a public employees union to feel the belt-tightening that was going on from Salem to Sisters. Perhaps the shining example of the state's budgetary woes was the decision by the Redmond School District to cut back to a four-day school week. Meanwhile, the city of Bend was handing out pink slips by the sack full as building and planning fee revenues dropped through the floor. The state scrambled to staunch the bleeding by raising personal and corporate income tax rates - a move that was promptly referred to voters by anti-tax advocates - and started requiring employees to take mandatory unpaid days off. Meanwhile, Bend city councilors scrambled to find the map showing where they had buried all their general fund dollars at Juniper Ridge.
2009 certainly had its share of low lights. Looking back on this list is a like a highlight reel of the recession, but the year ended for many in the cycling community on a high note when the Cyclocross National Finals rolled into town. The event came on the heels of near record cold-snap that froze pipes around town, knocked out power for thousands of residents and left the ground blanketed in picturesque pre-holiday snow crystals that crunched under our feet. Bicyclists braved the cold and the snow, which slowly thawed over the four-day event, culminating in a magnificently muddy men's pro division race on Sunday afternoon. According to early estimates, the attendance was a record for the event as roughly 6,000 spectators rang in the new year with cranks, costumes and cowbells.