The closing credits are ready to roll on an unforgettable, often regrettable year.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a true global disaster, killing millions across the Earth.
Though the West Valley’s year was largely shaped by the devastating spread of the coronavirus, and the shutdowns and slowdowns called by state, county and school officials, there was quite a bit of “non-COVID news” in 2020.
Here are 20 of the top stories of the year in the West Valley:
20. Jackie Meck retires
The longtime mayor’s life could share the same title as a history book written by his wife, Verlyne Meck: “Buckeye Then and Now.”
Many wonder what Buckeye “now” will be like, without the soft-spoken Meck, who quietly helped shepherd the explosive growth of Buckeye over the last decade.
Before retiring from public life, Meck was Buckeye’s mayor since 2008, winning three consecutive four-year terms. (He was previously mayor from 1973-75 and served on Buckeye City Council from 1968 to 1975.)
At age 79, he decided not to run for reelection in 2020: “It’s time for younger people to be the leaders of Buckeye.”
The new mayor of Buckeye, Eric Orsborn, faces the unenviable task of following in Meck’s footsteps.
19. Bank robber busted
An alleged serial robber was nabbed after Goodyear police found a discarded shirt that had DNA linked to a man who served 18 years for previous bank-heist convictions.
On Aug. 28, FBI agents arrested Scott David Williams, 59, in Peoria.
According to the FBI, Williams robbed seven banks in the West Valley, including West Valley National Bank in Goodyear.
18. Actor arrested
Bryshere Gray, an actor from the show “Empire,” faces charges of domestic violence, kidnapping and aggravated assault July 13.
His wife was treated at a hospital after Gray allegedly beat and strangled her at a Goodyear home.
17. The robots are coming
Amazon added to its accelerating West Valley imprint in a futuristic way, launching a robotic facility in Goodyear.
At the new 855,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Goodyear, humans “work alongside innovative technologies, including Amazon robotics, to pick, pack and ship small items to customers.”
16. NASCAR in Avondale
Due to COVID-19, it was something of a “yellow flag party.”
Even so, NASCAR Championship Weekend coming to Phoenix Raceway helped put Avondale on the map.
And the big races are scheduled to return to Phoenix Raceway Nov. 7, 2021—by which time COVID-19 hopefully will be in the rearview mirror.
15. City projects planned
Goodyear and Tolleson moved closer to building multimillion-dollar city halls, with both cities combining new libraries and other amenities.
Avondale City Council approved the building of a $12.5 million fire station at Van Buren Street and 127th Avenue.
14. Goodbye golf course
Much to the chagrin of neighbors who cried “bogey!,” the Falcon Golf Course will become a FedEx “cross-dock” transportation center.
Despite protests from dozens of Goodyear and Litchfield Park residents, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors gave the development on West Camelback Road the green light.
13. Local elections
Though hardly as contentious as the presidential election, new school board members were elected and most school funding requests passed by West Valley voters.
COVID-19 put a dent in competition, with many local and state officials uncontested in their reelection bids.
Going door to door to collect signatures during a pandemic was simply too daunting for many would-be candidates.
12. Buckeye schools struggle
Buckeye Elementary School received a third consecutive “D,” which by state guidelines translates to an “F.”
Three of the seven Buckeye Elementary School District schools received “D” grades.
Despite the pandemic, the district is committed to bettering school grades.
11. Heroic save
On May 21, Avondale Fire Capt. Chris Spire, out for a quiet family meal, dashed out of a restaurant into the danger zone after hearing multiple gunshots.
Spire charged into action, and his efforts helped save the life of Alfredo Jaime, 19, one of the Westgate shooting victims.
“I knew that you were their angels that protected them that day, that God sent you,” said Magdalena Jaime, Alfredo’s mom.
10. State reps test positive
State Sen. Lupe Contreras of District 19 tested positive for COVID-19 in April. He recovered at his Avondale home.
Months later, his neighbor and fellow District 19 Rep. Lorezno Sierra was on a ventilator in an East Coast hospital, where he was diagnosed with COVID-19 while on a family visit.
After a few frightening days, Sierra was breathing on his own and released from the hospital.
9. O.K. Fulton passes away
The West Valley lost one of its legendary figures when Orin “O.K.” Fulton died in Litchfield Park Jan. 17. He was 87.
Fulton spent 36 years at Agua Fria Union High School as a teacher, coach, athletic administrator, assistant principal and principal.
His name will live on for generations, as the Agua Fria High School gym is named after him.
And his personal touch will be long remembered.
“His mentoring of students and personal leadership style has had a profound impact on our profession,” said Dr. Dennis Runyan, the Agua Fria superintendent.
8. Sun Health ‘grows’
In Litchfield Park, Sun Health will grow—a farm as well as senior-living homes.
Litchfield Park City Council approved an expansion for 70 more independent-living homes, dubbed the Orchard at Rancho La Loma.
In a reversal of the farms-to-buildings trend that has swept over the West Valley in the last five years, Sharon Grambow, CFO of Sun Health, said the company’s Litchfield Park plan includes a farm on 25 acres in Litchfield Park.
“We are talking with a local farm that will have a farm there with a stand and a farm-to-fork restaurant,” she said.
7. Luke flies high
With more F-35A Lightning II jets on the way, Luke Air Force Base is set to take off—and take the West Valley economy along for the ride.
A mission expansion revolving around 144 new fighter jets will pump up Luke AFB’s population—as well as the surrounding areas, including Goodyear, Litchfield Park and Avondale.
Luke is gradually ramping up for the F-35A Lightning II jets over the next six years.
By 2026, the defense spending in support of Luke AFB is expected to support approximately 13,900 total jobs, $820 million in total compensation, and $1.5 billion in value-added impacts to the West Valley, according to a Maricopa Association of Governments study.
6. Trouble at Goodyear PD
After months of investigations and appeals, the Goodyear Police Department had quite a shake-up.
Former Chief Jerry Jerry Geier was terminated for lying during an investigation that started with complaints about him.
Former Deputy Chief Justin Hughes and former Officer Kyle Cluff were also investigated. Cluff resigned after being found guilty of lying to Hughes—who took medical retirement after a report blasted his handling of Cluff.
5. The BLVD
In 2019, Avondale City Council announced a huge stretch of farms and fields on both sides of Avondale Boulevard would be known as “The BLVD.”
In 2020, the leaders’ vision for the area started to come into 20/20 focus.
A hotel was launched and construction started on an apartment complex, with developers announcing more plans for an area Mayor Kenn Weise promises will make Avondale a destination for visitors—and a place to eat, shop and play for locals.
4. Buckeye booms
After earning the title “America’s fastest-growing city,” Buckeye showed no signs of slowing its extraordinary growth, with new residential projects and extensions of ongoing developments throughout the still largely undeveloped city.
And it’s not just Buckeye.
Goodyear kept pace, with multiple large-scale residential developments, including several apartment complexes.
And here comes Avondale: The first residents moved in at Alamar, a colossal development in the south part of the city that plans 3,695 homes across 1,127 acres.
Goodyear’s economy was boosted by the construction of Amazon and several other massive warehouses.
Nike backing out of a giant deal? That might have devastated some cities, but Goodyear merely shrugged it off while signing off on dozens of construction permits.
Goodyear continues to flip farms into warehouses—while some locals cry out, “No more warehouses! Too much traffic!”
2. The classrooms yo-yo
In March, Gov. Doug Ducey closed all schools in Arizona.
With kids learning online, classrooms stayed closed for months before tentatively reopening … only to close again in November and December.
After winter breaks, all West Valley public schools will be online only when classes resume Monday, Jan. 4.
With post-Christmas COVID-19 cases expected to rise even more, no one knows when kids will be back in classrooms.
The coronavirus was a wrecking ball, knocking down much of the year and destroying the word “normal.”
West Valley cities raced to keep pace with the pandemic, issuing mask orders, making meetings online only, closing facilities and canceling events from Fourth of July to Christmas celebrations.
Restaurants and other businesses struggled to survive during lock-down periods, with some receiving much-needed Paycheck Protection Program federal funding.
As Abrazo West and other hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe, the most devastating impact of the disease was on families that lost loved ones.
Through Dec. 26, 4,902 people in Maricopa County died of COVID-19.
The good news: COVID-19 vaccinations began in mid-December.