Fires, drive-by shootings, and an attempted bombing top the list of biggest local stories of 2013, but there are plenty of positive notes, too: Medford's downtown is getting a boost with the construction of One West Main and the county health building, Zion Lutheran rebuilt after an arson, and Talent got a boost with an Oregon Shakespeare Festival building and Brammo's new headquarters in the old Walmart.
Here are the Mail Tribune newsroom's 13 picks for 2013:
1. Arsons burned 15 vacant houses in west Medford since January 2012. Locations include Orchard Home and Maple Park drives, Thomas Road, Columbus and Stewart avenues, Ross Lane, and West Fourth, Edgemont, West 11th, West Jackson, West Main, Prune and South Peach streets. Medford police have yet to identify a suspect. For a map, see www.mailtribune.com/arsonfires.
2. Medford experienced its driest calendar year on record: 8.99 inches of rain recorded at the Medford airport, the driest since records were first kept in 1911. The average is 18.35 inches a year. The previous low was 10.43 inches in 1959. Tropical ocean temperatures that can sometimes generate El Niño or La Niña weather patterns along the Pacific Coast were normal in 2013, causing neither one, says Steve Piece, a Pacific Northwest weather expert. "I like to call it 'La Nada,' " Pierce says.
3. A dry lightning storm in late July caused 80 fires in the rugged mountains of southwestern Oregon. Most were stopped while still small, but five major fires developed that filled the Rogue Valley with smoke that rose to unhealthy levels. The biggest, the Douglas Complex, grew to more than 78 square miles outside Glendale, and was the top-priority fire in the nation for 11 days.
4. The popular Medford restaurant Marie Callender's on Biddle Road was destroyed in the early morning hours of Dec. 14 because of an electrical component failure in the attic, investigators determined. A fundraiser was held for displaced employees, and holiday pies were sold from a van set up nearby Applebee's. The company's owner, J & A Food Service, has not yet announced a timeline for rebuilding the restaurant.
5. A February trial is set in federal court for Alan Leroy McVay, 46, on charges he detonated a makeshift bomb Nov. 13 outside the Jackson County District Attorney's Office in Medford. The device broke windows but did little other damage when the propane tank it was attached to failed to explode. McVay allegedly told police he was hoping to avoid a court hearing in which he faced a 36-month prison sentence for burglary and other charges.
6. Jackson County libraries and the Extension Service hope to secure stable funding through special taxing districts that will go before voters in November. Commissioners and all 11 cities in the county agreed to put the issues on the ballots. The library proposal would cost property owners 60 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to generate about $9 million a year. The Extension Service district would tax homeowners between 2 and 5 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value to raise between $321,000 and $804,000 a year.
7. The Medford City Council hoped to ward off the opening of medical marijuana dispensaries this spring by passing an ordinance that would ban them, using federal law to justify the move. A legislative legal committee determined Medford's ordinance violated the spirit of two recent laws that allow the creation of dispensaries and give the state authority to regulate agricultural crops and businesses. The ordinance change followed Medford police's May 23 raid of four medical marijuana dispensaries, including the SONORML office on West Sixth Street. SONORML's organizer, Lori Duckworth, and her husband face 22 felony drug charges in which police allege the pair used their dispensary as a front to sell marijuana for profit.
8. Two major construction projects totaling more than $35 million are changing the downtown Medford skyline: One West Main, a 115,000-square-foot building at the corner of Main and Fir streets that will house Pacific Retirement Services, Rogue Disposal and Recycling and Procare Software, and Jackson County's health services building and parking garage at Eighth and Holly streets, which will house 230 employees. Both are expected to be complete at the end of 2014.
9. Medford City Council voted Oct. 3 to raise utility fees to pay for a new police headquarters and three new fire stations that will cost $32 million. Starting Jan. 15, utility bills will rise by $2 a month the first year and increase over time to $4.82 a month by the fifth year. With decreases in other fees, the net increase will be about $2 a month, the city says.
10. Three drive-by shootings plagued west Medford in the first half of 2013, allegedly fueled by a rivalry between Sureños and Norteños gang members. On Feb. 20, near the corner of Summit Avenue and West Main Street, gunfire erupted from a car. A bullet shattered the window of a nearby house, but the resident inside was not hurt. Another drive-by shooting occurred March 8 on Bryant Street, then a third on May 7 on Benson Street. No one was injured in either incident. Santiago Loveland-Flores, 15, of Medford, was arrested in the May shooting on a charge of attempted first-degree assault and other charges.
11. Zion Lutheran Church, in the 500 block of West Fourth Street, Medford, was damaged by arson when a cross was set on fire just before 2 a.m. July 5. Passersby reported seeing two men throw something similar to a Molotov cocktail into vegetation outside the church. The cross erected there caught fire, and flames shot up the side of the building into the rafters, causing about $200,000 in damage. The congregation repaired the damage, prayed for the arsonists and rededicated the church on Dec. 1.
12. The Commons, Medford's $14 million downtown revitalization project with Lithia Motors' new headquarters as its core, is complete. The second park block at Fourth and Bartlett streets opened with the Winter Lights Festival in December.
13. Talent got some bad news when Walmart announced it would close, but it bounced back when Brammo took over the building for its headquarters, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival built a $7 million, 64,500-square-foot theater production facility on Talent Avenue.