The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

January 6, 2010
Lynch mob or seekers of school equity?

Lawmakers at 3:30 p.m. took the final steps to pass and send to the governor two education bills to make California competitive for President Barack Obama's "Race to the Top" funds.

One bill has a revolutionary new provision allowing parents to petition school boards to turn around a failing school. These boards then would have to implement one of four aggressive strategies by the next school year -- including closing the school, turning it into a charter school or reconstituting the school.

Unfortunately, the California Federation of Teachers has chosen to label this parent trigger as the "lynch mob provision."

This led one observer in the Capitol to wonder, "Is it racist or just flat out ignorance that the CFT thinks of parents, largely Latino and African-American parents, as a lynch mob?"

And now, the Los Angeles chapter of the National Action Network founded in New York City in 1991 by Rev. Al Sharpton, has called for an "immediate and public apology":

For teachers to refer to parents' desire to assist in the education reform process as a "Lynch Mob provision" is extremely divisive, repulsive, and horrifying, said Pastor K.W. Tulloss, president of Los Angeles National Action Network. Teachers using belittling language when referencing African-American and Latino parents is not accepted from people that teach our children. This debate must be about ideas, not twisting and abusing racially charged language. We're saddened that an organization that represents so many teachers of higher learning would use such an inappropriate name when referring to parents. This is an historic day for parents in California. We demand a public apology from CFT.

The letter is signed by nine religious and civic leaders: Rev. K.W. Tulloss, National Action Network Los Angeles; Pastor Max Rodriguez, Weller Street MBC; Pastor Bill Hemphill, Concord Community Church; Pastor Torrey Collins, St. Rest Baptist Church; Pastor Al Johnson, True Samaritan Church; Pastor Fredrick Howard, South Side Bethel Family of Purpose Church; Melvin Snell, Los Angeles Humanity Foundation; Pastor Nathaniel Haley, United Christian Baptist Church; Pastor John Navarro, Praise Chapel, Boyle Heights.

Parents are tired of having their kids stuck in failing neighborhood schools and they deserve to have real recourse, as the newly passed bill gives them. These long-suffering parents certainly do not deserve the abuse that has just been heaped upon them (we can all hope in error) by the CFT.

January 5, 2010
Legislators head toward finish line in Race to the Top bills

After months of haggling, the Assembly finally has gotten to the final stages in moving "Race to the Top" education legislation.

The Democrats took out two parts that were controversial for some members, and placed them in a separate bill, SB X5 4: 1. allowing students in low-performing schools to "open enroll" in higher performing schools; and, 2. allowing parents to petition to require school boards to implement an aggressive turnaround strategy for a failing school. Both are essential to put real pressure on underperforming schools and give students real options for a better education.

In the Assembly Education Committee, this separate bill passed 11-4 with Assembly members Julia Brownley, D-Woodland Hills; Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco; Wesley Chesbro, D-Santa Rosa; and Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez, voting no. Joan Buchanan, D-San Ramon, abstained, continuing a disturbing pattern of abdication of her duty as a legislator. Bonnie Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, didn't vote.

The main bill, SB X5 1, on turning around the lowest performing schools; using data to evaluate teachers and principals; and linking preschool to K-12 to college to work force data passed 11-2. Ammiano and Torlakson voted no. Buchanan and Jeff Miller, D-Mission Viejo, abstained. Chesbro and Dan Logue, D-Chico, didn't vote.

Significantly, Speaker-elect John Perez voted yes on both bills.

The bills are being heard right now in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. Then it's on to Assembly floor.

Wednesday is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's State of the State address at 10 a.m.

Assuming the Assembly passes the bills today, the Senate Education Committee will meet at 9 a.m. to deal with them. Then the Senate Appropriations Committee will meet. Then the bills go to the Senate floor. Can all this happen before the governor's 10 a.m. speech? Senators are supposed to meet at 9:45 a.m. in the Senate Chamber to proceed over to the Assembly for the 10 a.m. speech, so we'll see. It would be a nice gift to get this done.

It has been a long haul on this since July.

January 4, 2010
Will decline of Thomas empire affect Sacramento Railyards?

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has a fascinating news feature on the man behind Thomas Enterprises, the current developer in Sacramento's Railyards project: "Stan Thomas: An Atlanta developer with outsized dreams faces outsized debts" (Dec. 18). As the story recounts, his projects are in bankruptcy, he hasn't paid partners and vendors.

Last month, the wave crashed over Thomas. On Nov. 2, Thomas -- a longtime shopping center developer whose success led him into ever-larger ventures -- put three major projects into bankruptcy protection. He also narrowly averted foreclosure on The Forum Peachtree Parkway in Norcross, one of his signature retail developments.

A stake in the London property is up for sale, and about a dozen other projects, including those in Sarasota and Orlando, are virtually dead, he said Friday, until he can find new financing. Former business partners and vendors have sued Thomas for nonpayment and filed dozens of liens against him.


While Americans loaded up on easy mortgage and credit card debt earlier this decade, Thomas and developers like him took on debt of astounding proportions.

Wachovia Bank, his main lender and now a primary creditor in the bankruptcy cases, treated him as a "tier one" customer, Thomas said.

One jumbo loan Thomas personally guaranteed was for $125 million on The Rim, a 2 million square foot destination shopping center in San Antonio. He owes $63 million on Prospect Park, a speculative retail development that was supposed to attract luxury retailers to Alpharetta. Today it consists of a half-built parking deck.

Both of those projects, along with another in Smyrna, are in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.


In recent years, Thomas had graduated to mega-developments. The Rim, in San Antonio, was envisioned as a destination retail-residential center with a Bass Pro Shops and a future phase bringing several hotels and luxury condos.

Long used to spending his days arranging financing, flying lawyers and brokers to his properties in his private planes and schmoozing tenants, Thomas now deals with bankruptcy lawyers and tries to hold together what remains of his empire.

What does all this mean for Sacramento? Work on the Sacramento Railyards project has begun largely because of large injections of public money for basic infrastructure - such as building roads. A key railroad track relocation agreement has been signed. But Thomas continues to delay in signing key agreements that are needed before any work can begin on the seven historic Central Shops buildings as a public marketplace, a new Railroad Technology Museum and other cultural/entertainment venues. Thomas still has not signed on to a key land swap involving 25 acres in the northern part of the 244- acre site (where Thomas originally planned to place a Bass Pro shop).

Who truly is calling the shots? The developer?  Or the developer's lenders? Sacramento probably will find out soon enough whether Thomas can still deliver.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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