Protesters confront Auburn police on June 2, 2020, in downtown Auburn. Photo by Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

Protesters confront Auburn police on June 2, 2020, in downtown Auburn. Photo by Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

Auburn Reporter’s top stories of 2020

From COVID-19 to the filing of murder charges against an Auburn police officer, from street demonstrations to a December fire that scorched an East Main Street business complex, 2020 was a momentous year for Auburn.

Here is a selection of stories pulled from the Auburn Reporter:

January

• Vinifera Wine Bar and Bistro announces plans to expand from its home on Auburn Way North, the former site of Flapper Alley, to new digs at 2402 A St. SE. COVID-19’s negative impact on the economy as well as government-imposed restrictions on restaurants would later delay the project.

• A King County Superior Court judge dismisses former Auburn City Councilmember Largo Wales’ 2019 lawsuit against the city of Auburn. Wales alleged that the city, Mayor Nancy Backus, the Committee to Reelect Nancy Backus, and its former director of human resources and risk management had violated her privacy and her right to freedom of speech.

• A 31-year-old Seattle man driving on southbound Interstate 5 in Kent sustains a gunshot wound to the lower back after someone from another vehicle fires 10 rounds at his vehicle. It is the second freeway shooting in two days along I-5 in the Kent-Tukwila area.

• The Department of Health confirms that a Snohomish County resident in his 30s is the first case of COVID-19 in the United States.

• Cami Werden is crowned Miss Auburn and Maddy Lindsay captures the Miss Auburn’s Outstanding Teen title at the Miss Auburn and Miss Auburn’s Outstanding Teen Pageant at the Auburn Performing Arts Center.

February

• Auburn Partners Development Associates announces plans to break ground on its Legacy Plaza Auburn Senior Living Apartments project immediately south of City Hall on Feb. 10. That groundbreaking took place later without fanfare because of COVID-19 and restrictions on public gatherings.

• Gov. Jay Inslee declares a state of emergency on Feb. 29 in response to new cases of COVID-19, directing state agencies to use all resources necessary to prepare for and respond to the outbreak.

• The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) announces it will move its Auburn-based Region 10 headquarters to the city of Tacoma in the summer of 2021. The GSA Regional Office Building has been in the Auburn Federal Complex on 15th Street Southwest ever since it was built in 1964.

March

• As of March 4, the coronavirus had claimed 10 victims in Washington state, nine of them from among 31 cases in King County, and one death from among eight cases in Snohomish County.

• The Auburn School District reaches out to parents to inform them that it has no plans at the time to close its schools for cleaning as numerous districts had done in response to the rapidly-evolving pandemic.

• On March 12, Gov. Jay Inslee announces school closures in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties to minimize COVID-19 exposure in Washington counties hit hardest by the virus.

• Gov. Inslee announces “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order on March 23.

• The Auburn Reporter pauses print publication because of COVID-19.

April

• Gov. Inslee extends school closures for the rest of the 2019-20 school year on April 6.

• Former Auburn City Councilman Bill Peloza, 86, dies at home on April 29 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

May

• Public Health – Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issues a directive for the public to use face coverings in public to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The directive goes into effect two days later.

• The King County Sheriff’s Office Marine Unit recovers the body of a 65-year-old man from the White River in Auburn after the small boat he’d been in with another man overturned the previous evening.

• A portion of the Auburn Safeway store’s roof collapses, closing the store, but injuring no one. The store reopened on June 20.

• Following the leads of several other casinos across Washington, the Muckleshoot Casino reopens on May 26 with COVID-precautions and regulations in place.

June

• On June 2, hundreds of people gather on the Auburn City Hall Plaza to protest loudly — here and there obscenely, but in the end peacefully — the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Protesters then marched east down Main Street to the Auburn Justice Center and back again.

• Mayor Nancy Backus lifts a state of emergency she had declared for the city following looting at multiple retail locations on May 31. As part of the emergency declaration, the city enacted an overnight curfew and then extended it.

• The Auburn Farmers Market opens at 10 a.m. June 7 for its third year at Les Gove Park, 1140 Auburn Way S., only with physical distancing and other guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• No one is hurt and a two-story home sustains limited damage in a fire in 3500 block of Orchard Street Southeast.

July

• King County’s Point-in-Time Count of the area’s homeless on Jan. 24 discloses an overall increase of 5 percent from 2019. Of those counted, 53 percent were sheltered and 47 percent were unsheltered. The rates of sheltered and unsheltered individuals who were homeless in 2019 were the same in 2017, 2019 and 2020.

August

• King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg files second-degree murder and first-degree assault charges against Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson for the May 31, 2019 shooting death of Jesse Sarey outside an Auburn grocery store.

• On Aug. 24 in the GA courtroom at the Maleng Regional Justice Center in Kent, Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson pleads not guilty to felony counts of second-degree murder and first-degree assault. Nelson maintains he acted in self-defense.

• The City of Auburn agrees to settle a lawsuit that was brought against it by the family of Isaiah Obet, whom Auburn police officer Jeff Nelson shot and killed in June 2017. According to the signed settlement document, the cost to the city for settling the case with Obet’s estate is $1.25 million.

• King County Executive Dow Constantine and Public Health Seattle King County announce a COVID-19 testing station in Auburn to be operated by the Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority and Valley Regional Fire Authority.

September

• The Auburn Police Department forms a Police Advisory Committee to give the community a chance to make recommendations to its police department about community policing issues.

• Auburn School District classes open Sept. 9, with most of its 17,000 students beginning the year at home by opening their Chromebooks and logging on to meet with their new teachers in virtual classrooms, to stem the spread of COVID-19.

• The Muckleshoot Development Corporation begins preliminary construction work to transition the Muckleshoot Market and Deli and its surrounding property on Auburn Way South into a new store to be called The Big Nation Station.

• King County Emergency Management sends out an emergency alert on Sept. 11 with informational links owing to wildfire smoke making air quality “unhealthy” to “unhealthy for sensitive groups” in the area through the following week.

• Strong winds and a hot weekend set Washington state on fire, setting hundreds of thousands of acres across the state on fire, and sending smoke billowing over the Cascades to the Snoqualmie Valley.

October

• FBI Las Vegas assists Kent police with the arrest Sept. 28 of a man wanted for attacks on a woman in Auburn and a 15-year-old girl in Kent.

• U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran announces a $499,848 Department of Justice grant to the Muckleshoot Tribe to fight elder abuse and financial fraud targeted at seniors in a Western Washington Tribal community. The grant is part of more than $9 million in funding to 15 recipients nationwide.

• Gov. Jay Inslee eases a slew of restrictions on Oct. 6 that will allow indoor dining with friends, browsing book racks in libraries and getting served in bars a little bit later into the night. In addition, eateries are able to seat as many as six at a table, and a requirement they all be from the same household is eliminated.

• Dhotson’s grocery store celebrates its grand opening to grand community aplomb at 12722 SE 312th St. in Auburn, the site of the former Lea Hill Market. Its official opening was Sept. 26.

• Dick Brugger, former director of Auburn Youth Resources and Auburn’s first poet laureate, dies at age 92 at his Lea Hill home on Oct. 23.

• Two suspects from Auburn are charged with first-degree robbery and a hate crime in the severe beating of a Black man in Federal Way.

November

• The Auburn City Council approves an exclusive, 10-year solid waste contract with Waste Management, making it the sole hauler of solid waste in the city of Auburn between October 2021 and September 2031.

• With new coronavirus cases soaring and hospital intensive care units filling up, Gov. Jay Inslee calls Nov. 15 the state’s “most dangerous public health day” in the past 100 years, and issues new public health guidelines restricting gatherings at businesses and homes.

• Seven senators and two representatives sent Inslee a letter the following week in which they agreed on the need to respond to a recent explosion in coronavirus infections, but argued that shutting down indoor service “is not the right first step.”

• The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board awards the city of Auburn a $1.75 million state grant that will enable it to complete the $4.86 million 4th Street Southeast project, which is part of the city’s overall arterial preservation program.

• The former Cool’s Cafe building in Pacific succumbs to fire.

December

• Fire brought on by an overheated circuit in the junction box of a ceiling light scorches the East Main Street business complex that houses Athens Pizza and Pasta, Salon Focus, Cascade Chiropractic and Nail Master. No one is hurt. The VRFA estimates damage to the building at $175,000 along with $75,000 to the interior contents.

• The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) announces COVID-19 vaccines are on the ground in Washington state, and that the first doses will be administered to high-risk health workers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities within days.


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Bees in the Burbs, run by proprietor Andrew Kim, was among the vendors at this year’s Auburn Farmers Market, which opened in June, but with several COVID-19 related rules including masks and social distancing for customers. Photo by Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

Bees in the Burbs, run by proprietor Andrew Kim, was among the vendors at this year’s Auburn Farmers Market, which opened in June, but with several COVID-19 related rules including masks and social distancing for customers. Photo by Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

2020 pageant winners Miss Auburn Teen Madison Lindsay, left, and Miss Auburn Cami Werden celebrate on stage Saturday night. RACHEL CIAMPI, Auburn Reporter

Bees in the Burbs, run by proprietor Andrew Kim, was among the vendors at this year’s Auburn Farmers Market, which opened in June, but with several COVID-19 related rules including masks and social distancing for customers. Photo by Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

A December fire brought on by an overheated circuit in the junction box of a ceiling light scorched the East Main Street business complex that houses Athens Pizza and Pasta, Salon Focus, Cascade Chiropractic and Nail Master. Photo courtesy of Valley Regional Fire Authority

A December fire brought on by an overheated circuit in the junction box of a ceiling light scorched the East Main Street business complex that houses Athens Pizza and Pasta, Salon Focus, Cascade Chiropractic and Nail Master. Photo courtesy of Valley Regional Fire Authority

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