Feds, landlord had power to bump charter school out of SoWhat
Here's a bizarre twist in the saga of the SoWhat immigration jail. The folks at the charter school that's right next door to the site of the proposed maximum security holding tank say there was a clause in their lease that allowed their landlord, an outfit called J.D. Watamull, to kick them out if the feds challenged the school's right to operate in that location:
"It is understood," the lease read, "that if the G.S.A. takes specific land use or legal action to contest the occupancy of the space by the Tenant in the subject property, the Landlord may terminate the lease within the first 12 months."That's an extraordinary provision if you think about it. If the feds so much as raised a challenge -- meritorious or not -- the landlord could throw the school out.
The feds never took the type of action specified in the lease. That clause has now expired, and the school is finally free to speak its mind in opposition to the jail, which the feds are still hellbent on siting there.
But true to form in this drama, neither the federal immigration folks nor the landlord will say whose idea it was to put that clause in the lease:
GSA spokeswoman Chelsea Turnbull, asked about the school's lease provision, said, "We have no idea where or why that came into being in their lease."
Watumull said he couldn't recall why that clause was added, either, other than he wanted to notify the school about the proposed facility next door. Asked about adding a clause that could force the school out, he said, "You don't want to fuss with the federal government, do you?"
Does that sound like an honest, complete answer to you? Me neither.
The school officials also say that the owner of the jail site, Lindquist Development, which has vague ties to Watamull, threatened them if they testified against the jail at the Portland City Council back in January:
[T]hey say a representative for Lindquist, whom they declined to name, gave them a warning in a conference call. School office manager Marlene Dorfman can't remember the exact wording but said the remark was to the effect of, "You need to control your people."
But school parents testified the next day, Jan. 19, at a City Council hearing on the ICE proposal. So did students at the K-8 school, including a fifth-grader who told politicians she wanted to "feel safe while I'm playing" outside.
The next day, work on the school building stopped, school officials say....
Watumull, asked whether work stopped after parents and students testified, said, "not to my recollection." He said it was his company that served as the general contractor on the school renovations but Lindquist "was helping me out with some subs," which he said meant giving him names of subcontractors.
Threats, intimidation, implausible explanations... all par for the course for the immigration people, whose reputation is legendary. And alas, not atypical of a certain city commissioner who's been the ramrod behind this deal from the start. Some days it seems as though nobody's safe when one of his developer pals wants to make some money.
What I don't understand is where the school's congressional representatives stand in all this. Hey Merkley, Wyden, Wu, Blumenauer! Do you really think there should be a high-security federal deportation tank -- so sensitive that its proposed floor plan must be kept secret -- right next door to a grammar school? And where are the local champions of the children, Dan Saltzman and Jeff Cogen? As the kids say, LOL.