EVERETT — Twenty-twenty-one started with a sigh of relief that 2020 was over. That crazy leap year — with its pandemic, politics, unrest and lifestyle changes — was behind us!
Or was it?
A review of 2021 news in Snohomish County reveals a second consecutive year of abnormal living, with national issues continuing to roil affairs here. It was also a year of uniquely local challenges and changes. These weren’t always the most popular stories among readers, but as editors we think they had a lasting impact. We begin with …
The Daily Herald last January duly noted the one-year anniversary with stories chronicling the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis here. (Remember “patient zero”? He was the first known coronavirus case in the United States and called Snohomish County home.)
Things seemed grim. Herald writer Andrea Brown noted: “Even with vaccinations underway, there is no letup in sight.” One of our headlines from that time: “Scarcity slows local vaccine rollout in Snohomish County.”
But as the year unfolded, there were positive signs. Public schools were reopening in January and February after about a year of remote learning. Businesses were starting to come to life as a lockdown was partially lifted. Vaccine supplies eventually were plentiful. In March, we reported hopefully, “All Snohomish County residents could be fully vaccinated by August.”
Then came July and a general reopening declared by Gov. Jay Inslee. Summer seemed to be a hazy dream-come-true. The state lottery awarded $1 million and many other prizes to randomly chosen people who had gotten vaccinated. Needles were poking arms like crazy. This could be it!
By August, it was clear that vaccination rates were plateauing. It was time for governments to play hardball. “Governor will require state employees to get COVID vaccine,” said a headline on Aug. 9. There was increasingly vocal resistance: “Amid surging cases, nurses and others protest vaccine mandates.” And another wave was rolling in: “COVID-19 patients are again filling Snohomish County ICUs.”
In September, the previous winter’s infection rate was surpassed. At one point, it was determined that 93% of Snohomish County’s COVID-19 deaths were among people who were unvaccinated.
That fact seemed to do little to convince the vaccine-averse. People were willing to be fired to avoid getting the shot.
As of this writing, 527,868 Snohomish County residents are fully vaccinated. That’s about 62.5% of the total population. There are worse places in that regard. But as elsewhere, we’re at somewhat of an impasse.
Law and disorder
A few weeks after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Herald writer Caleb Hutton figured out that a member of the Proud Boys with ties to Arlington was on the front lines that day. His nickname is Milkshake, and in May he was arrested.
An arsonist who admitted involvement in a 1987 fire at Everett Community College, which killed a firefighter, was finally brought to justice in March after decades of dogged investigative work.
A woman who was left alone for three hours in the Lynnwood jail died by suicide in July. Meanwhile, the Lynnwood City Council had been planning to build a new jail. After protests by her family and others, the council decided to proceed with a revised plan that will include a wing dedicated to behavioral health. Ground was broken in October.
A new state law that sets limits on police use of force has had unintended consequences. In July, crisis responders told us officers now decline to help with involuntarily committing people who are having mental health crises. State lawmakers are revisiting the issue.
The state Supreme Court in February nullified a drug-possession law, leading to the dismissal of cases and the release of people serving time. That contributed to a reduction in the prison population that led to closure of units at the Monroe Correctional Complex.
An effort to recall Snohomish County Sheriff Adam Fortney ended in March with too few signatures to put the matter on the ballot.
The owner of The Anchor Pub in Everett was arrested in October for investigation of rape and alleged crimes dating back to 2017.
In December, the former wife of convicted downtown Everett developer Lobsang Dargey told The Daily Herald the inside story of his fraudulent activity and said he’s out of prison and back at it — working as a developer.
According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Snohomish County gained 114,000 residents since 2010 and now totals 827,957. That’s a 16.1% increase. All but two ZIP codes in the county saw growth.
With the decennial population count came the redrawing of political boundaries to reflect shifting populations. The good news is a bipartisan commission came up with new maps. The bad news is they missed their deadline and weren’t all that transparent about the final process. The state Supreme Court, charged with sorting out problems with redistricting, said the maps were nonetheless valid. But some are challenging the outcome.
In Snohomish County, that outcome creates somewhat strange bedfellows. A redrawn 12th Legislative District spans the crest of the Cascade Range and puts Monroe and forested U.S. 2 communities in the same constituency as sagebrush-arid Wenatchee.
In another big change, powerful state Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, was appointed by the governor to be secretary of state, replacing Republican Kim Wyman, who joined the Biden administration.
It wouldn’t have been 2021 without lawsuits challenging the results of the 2020 election. In September, some 10 months after the vote, lawsuits were filed in Snohomish, Whatcom and Clark counties alleging auditors used uncertified voting equipment and manipulated thousands of ballots in an unspecified statewide race. The plaintiffs we talked to, however, conceded they didn’t have any specific evidence of wrongdoing.
Is there something in the water of Mill Creek? That city has seen so much turnover among officials in recent years that we can hardly keep up, and it’s never easy learning what’s behind a given departure — or why, when someone quits, they get severance. In 2021, it was the city manager (voluntary resignation and severance worth more than $100,000) and yet another police chief, who held the position for only a year.
Kids gradually returned to classrooms when the pandemic seemed to be easing, and Everett Community College used federal COVID-19 dollars to wipe out tuition debt. But otherwise it was a tough year to be in charge of schools, to be teaching in schools or to be attending schools. Some challenging issues rose to the level of headlines.
Jason Thompson, the superintendent of the Marysville School District, went on leave in March, ostensibly for medical reasons. But the later-revealed truth was he was clashing with the School Board and claimed the district “created a hostile, intimidating, and offensive work environment.” He’s now gone and the search for a replacement has begun.
Then Monroe schools Superintendent Justin Blasko was placed on administrative leave in December after allegations of bullying and worries over his handling of racism in the district led to calls for his resignation.
Racism was a recurring theme in schools all over Snohomish County in 2021. Besides incidents in the Monroe district, there was an allegedly racist beating in Lynnwood; there were allegations of racist threats in the Marysville school district; a Lake Stevens man was charged with a hate crime for threatening to kill people of color — something he previously was accused of doing while attending school in Marysville; and the Lakewood and Mukilteo school districts launched an investigation into allegations of discriminatory comments aimed at Black players during a girls basketball game in May.
Then there were the parents. Shouting obscenities, in August they disrupted a Marysville School Board meeting over the issue of masks in the classroom, causing board members to adjourn and police to close the building.
The year ended with one controversy somewhat unresolved. Under a new state law, officials were planning to change the mascot for Marysville Pilchuck High School, which serves students of the Tulalip Indian Reservation. The school district was poised to change the name “Tomahawks” to something else, but Tulalip elders, who decades ago helped establish the nickname, opposed a change — to the consternation of present Native American students.
Up there, in the air
Christopher Sembroski, of Everett, ventured into Earth orbit along with three other non-professional astronauts during a year that gave wing to numerous space tourists. He was chosen almost at random.
Arlington-based Eviation unveiled an all-electric regional airliner, which it hoped to test-fly soon. The engine-maker, magniX, is based in Everett.
And Everett said goodbye to the 787 Dreamliner as Boeing consolidated assembly of that model in South Carolina.
Pretty much all you need to know about the year’s weather can be summed up by the fact that a temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit was recorded in Lynnwood in late June.
We ended the year with temps dipping into the teens and 20s and snow on the ground.
Hot or cold, it’s been tough for our neighbors who don’t have a home.
Another stark reminder of our human insignificance came in a three-part Herald series about our very own geologic fault, which runs from a point northwest of Whidbey Island through the Everett-Mukilteo-Edmonds area and on to the Cascade foothills. “An earthquake along the southern Whidbey Island fault reshaped the land some 2,700 years ago. Another big one could be devastating,” we reported.
You’ve been warned. Have you prepared?