A conversation with Ron Onslow

City Councilman Ron Onslow summed up the state of Ridgefield in one word:
But not a man of few words, he continued.

“Ridgefield is growing, it’s all going really well and it’s quite rewarding,” Onslow said, sitting on his comfortable living room couch. “I love being here. I love my house, I love my cul-de-sac, I love this community.”

Onslow is a familiar face in Vancouver. And if not a familiar face, certainly a familiar name.

The Onslows have been in the restaurant business here since 1901, and Ron’s father Emmet and Uncle Harold jumped in during the 1940s with Onslow’s Restaurant at 611 Main St., which started as a tavern and grew into a full-service restaurant.

Ron began managing the restaurant in 1963 after graduating from the University of Portland then working for a grocery outlet in California.

The restaurant closed in 1976, although the olive green building remains, and Onslow went on to build Ron’s Steak Out in Hazel Dell, which he sold to The Holland Co., next building the Century House restaurant, across from the Academy where El Presidente Mexican Restaurant Cantina now resides.

Onslow’s last conquest was Ron’s Sports Page in Garrison Square, which he ran until his retirement three years ago.

“The family business is no longer,” he said. “It lasted 104 years.”

Onslow, now 68, has served in a handful of clubs and committees and coached countless kids at St. Joseph Catholic School in swimming, fast-pitch and football.

After his retirement, the avid skier and sailor and his wife, Sandy Schill, bought a lot in Ridgefield and built a home filled with talismans from world travels, sculpture and historical stained glass.

It wasn’t long before he became active in town and began meeting folks.

Interested in the city government, which for the past few years has been steeped in controversy, Onslow began attending city council meetings. When an opening on the council presented itself, Onslow stepped forward and said he thought he could help.

“The first meeting I ever went to, a councilman presented a report and said ‘I thought about doing something, but I didn’t,’” he recalled. “I told them I will never give a report like that.”

He was appointed in January and is running unopposed for reelection in November.

Because of his business background, Onslow said he is a crackerjack researcher, good decision maker and analyst.

“As a businessman, the buck stops with you,” he said. “I’ve learned to be very tolerant, keep my temper in, and I’ve found it’s better to listen until all of the facts are out.”

As a newcomer to Ridgefield, Onslow said he has no ax to grind – “The only thing I own here is my house. I have nothing to gain or lose by being on the council, although it does hinder my sailing time a bit.”

But Onslow said Ridgefield is entering a bright era.

Though small – pop. 3,229, as of Nov. 1 – it’s growing.

In 2004, the town saw a 20 percent hike in population over the year before.

In 2005, it grew 23 percent and in 2006, it grew 16 percent – and it’s on track to do the same this year.

The availability of building lots and easy accessibility from Interstate 5 are attractive to industrial and commercial businesses, which in turn provide jobs with little commute for local residents.

Southwest Washington Health System, the parent of Southwest Washington Medical Center, in February bought 75 acres along the Discovery Corridor, where it plans to build a ‘super clinic.’

Perkins Pacific very recently opened its new headquarters there and the 26,600-square-foot Parr Lumber retail/warehouse/office complex was just completed.

With growth comes issues of infrastructure, which the city is dealing with now. The council is debating whether to expand its sewer to the north or to the south.

Onslow credits City Manager Justin Clary as young, aggressive, honest and responsible – someone who truly has the town at heart.

The council is pushing to be a proactive entity, rather than reactive, as it’s been in the past. One last lawsuit is on its way to being settled, and the city is ready to move forward – and Onslow has a policy of openness in government.

“I really, really don’t want to see any executive sessions,” he said. “When I was appointed, I told them I would challenge any executive session.”

With the town’s growth, Onslow said he doesn’t want to lose the charm of a small downtown. He would like to see continued growth there in small, niche-type businesses with owners who take an interest in downtown as well as their own businesses.

There are two prominent lots downtown that have been contaminated by past businesses and will need an environmental clean up – a gas station and dry cleaner. Even so, both local and outside developers have shown interest.

The city is working in conjunction with the Columbia River Economic Development Council and the Port of Ridgefield to recruit strong commercial and industrial businesses, especially along the Discovery Corridor.

The Cowlitz Casino, proposed for Ridgefield’s neighbor La Center, is a hot topic, although Onslow said it’s almost unfortunate that small city governments are asked what they feel, as their opinions seem to have no bearing on the outcome.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s a good thing, overall, for this community, but I think things could be proven wrong by the actions of the Cowlitz,” he said. “It’s not something I envisioned for this county, but my opinion doesn’t carry much weight with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.”

Local communities ought to have more say, but they don’t, Onslow mused. The feds don’t live or act in the communities for which they make decisions.

“It would be nice if the nation came to a healing point and there was no more sovereign land,” he said.