Closures, court cases, development, protests mark 2011 in Auburn

By: Jenifer Gee, Journal Editor
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By Jenifer Gee Journal Editor As we welcome in 2012 and what the year has to bring, it’s also a time when we can reflect on what stories and events stood out in 2011. Auburn’s 2011 timeline was marked with news of big development, extreme weather and notable legal battles. The following is a list of the top 10 stories for 2011. 10. Birth Center closes Sutter Auburn Faith closed its birthing center in July after 44 years of welcoming almost 10,000 babies into the foothill community. Nurses and community members rallied to keep the center in Auburn, but hospital management stood firm. Citing an average of one delivery a day, CEO Mitch Hanna said Sutter Auburn would turn its focus to care more suited for an older population in Auburn. 9. Gilbert Ortega dies Notable man-about-town Gilbert Ortega passed away Sept. 2 at the age of 82. Ortega was well known by many in the Downtown and Old Town Auburn community for his daily visits, his coon-tail cap and the familiar sound of his bicycle horn. A gathering of spirited supporters gave Gilbert a final send off with a celebration in Central Square. 8. Notable legal battles reach an end Three longstanding court cases came to conclusion in 2011. The three-year fight between former Planning Commissioner Michelle Ollar Burris and Placer County over an illegal lot splitting claim reached a settlement. In another county legal matter, former county aide Brian Jagger pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud for embezzling after he was charged with taking more than $20,000 collectively from the campaign coffers of the county’s current District Attorney Scott Owens, and two others not named in the plea deal. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 17. In a federal case that hit close to home Kevin Ring, former aide to ex-Congressman John Doolittle, was sentenced to two years in prison after he was convicted of bribing public officials with meals and tickets. 7. Walmart, McCaulou’s get the green light It was a year of new development coming to Auburn. Walmart announced its arrival in town with a website and plans to build on its North Auburn location near Luther Road and Highway 49. The announcement came with vows to fight construction from the Alliance for the Protection of the Auburn Community. A court case is still pending, however the county has approved the retailer at the site and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has plans for a spring construction. On the other side of town Auburn welcomed department store McCaulou’s into the Auburn Town Center. Hundreds showed up at the store’s July opening. 6. Pay-to-play has its price A 2010 ACLU aggressive effort to call out public schools requiring students to pay to play sports or other extracurricular activities took its toll on local athletics in 2011. The Placer Hillmen football team announced in September that it was lacking the $13,000 needed to provide away game buses. Luckily generous donations — $15,000 from Auburn’s Richard Rey and $6,500 in matching funds from Auburn Taco Bell franchises — helped propel the team through the season. However, other teams were not as lucky. Bear River High School announced it would no longer have ski and snowboard teams. The future of other sports teams and activities remains unclear. 5. Bear River canal breaks A heavy deluge of rain and snow that saturated the area in early winter continued to hit hard in spring. A landslide in rural Colfax washed away a significant portion of a canal that feeds water to 3,831 irrigation customers. Pacific Gas & Electric crews spent 50 days restoring the fallen portion. A continual wet spring helped ease the burden to Placer County farmers, but the agriculture industry lost millions of dollars of product while repairs were made. When the water shortage emergency was declared over in June, the Placer County Water Agency board approved lowering rates for those impacted while the canal break was fixed. 4. Weather hits extremes It was a record year of snowfall for Tahoe-area ski resorts that allowed a handful to stay open through July. In March, a down pouring of snow and a 45-car pile up near the summit forced a rare 11-hour closure of Interstate 80. Also in July, the annual Tevis Cup 100-mile endurance ride was postponed to October because snow made the trek too treacherous. Later in October, an early storm foiled Tevis’ path again and led organizers to reroute the ride. In December weather hit extremes again when a noticeable lack of precipitation made the final month of the year one of the driest since 1849. 3. Amgen comes to Auburn Auburn residents impressed Amgen Tour of California organizers so much in 2010 with its huge turnout to watch world class cyclists buzz through town, they awarded the city with a Stage 3 start in the internationally known race that drew Lance Armstrong in earlier years. The community rallied to raise money and more than 200 residents volunteered to make race day great. Although unseasonably cold and wet weather hit the day of the race May 17, thousands of Auburn residents still showed a strong turnout to send off the riders in style. 2. ADA lawsuits hit Auburn Multiple Auburn businesses reported being hit with Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits by Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson, who has filed more than 1,000 lawsuits for ADA noncompliance. Many local business owners said they want to be accessible but were troubled with Johnson’s perceived motivation of collecting money rather than making changes for easier access for those with disabilities. Johnson has vehemently defended his lawsuits saying he wants to hold businesses accountable for providing access to all. The lawsuits have spurred local legislators to introduce laws protecting businesses. The fate of those is yet to be determined. Occupy Auburn One of the biggest stories nationwide and internationally were protestors rising up. The Occupy and 99 percent movements swept the country with cries against big government and Wall Street corruption. The movement hit Downtown Auburn in November when a group of about 30 people assembled by the clock tower waving signs and chanting “banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” Stories about the protest and letters garnered more than 5,000 views on and sparked heated conversation locally, whether residents supported the movement or not.