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Assemblyman Miguel Santiago announces that a public bank will be started in Los Angeles. (Evan Symon for California Globe)
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Los Angeles Announces Plans for the First Public Bank In California

LA’s Public Bank will be the second public banking system in the entire country

By Evan Symon, October 7, 2019 1:40 pm

In a press conference celebrating the passage of AB 857 in front of the Los Angeles City Hall, Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson, along with Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles), announced that the first public bank in California would be coming to Los Angeles.

“When we began there were people who thought we were outside our minds,” began City Council President Wesson. “Yet we still stand. You folk made history.”

Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson announcing that the first public bank in California is coming to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson announcing that the first public bank in California is coming to Los Angeles. (Evan Symon for California Globe)

“Within the next 48 hours it is my intention to put forward before the LA City Council a motion to put out a request for a banking expert to help put together a public bank here in Los Angeles.”

Assemblyman Santiago also confirmed Los Angeles’s commitment.

“Los Angeles will lead this. We’ll be the first to set up a bank. Well paid lobbyists will walk these halls trying to get other council members not to vote for it. But if we can take them in Sacramento, we can take them in LA.”

Supporters, such as Assemblyman Santiago, also noted the unusual way that AB 857 was passed.

“We didn’t have a lobbyist,” remarked Assemblyman Santiago. “It was a people-powered movement to take on the banking industry. People power prevailed.”

“The old system simply isn’t working. 1% of the population owns most of the wealth. There are people living in the streets. This will change that.”

“This bill laid out public confidence. We can beat Wall Street and we can put people before profit.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, co-author of AB 857, at press conference
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, co-author of AB 857. (Evan Symon for California Globe)

AB 857, co-authored by Assemblymen Santiago and David Chiu (D-San Francisco) was signed earlier this month by Governor Gavin Newsom. While supporters such as Public Bank LA joined those in office in front of the City Hall, those not for the bill were also in attendance.

“This is something every Californian has to worry about now,” said Bill Shanahan, a bank representative. “There is a lot of confusion over what public banks can actually do and what they can, quote, “Give back to the community”. 

“They aren’t really attacking Wall Street. They’re attacking banks that provide the cheapest and sometimes only banks in poorer areas, where government services doesn’t even want to go.”

“How can a public bank be good when they aren’t even helping the public?”

Despite detractors, supporters remain optimistic about the future of public banks in California, especially in Los Angeles.

“Two years ago we got the city of Los Angeles to move over $100 million dollars out of Wells Fargo,” said Trinity Tran, a lead organizer for Public Bank LA. “Wall Street had little interest to change. But we don’t need a for-profit bank. We need socially responsible institutes for public dollars, and the wealth reinvested back into the community.

Los Angeles Public Bank supporters. (Evan Symon for California Globe)

We saw the same system work and be profitable for 15, 20 years in North Dakota, but we’re bigger. They have 700,000 people, about the same as San Francisco. LA alone has 4 million. We need to better address redevelopment needs. We need to address affordable housing. We need to better address rebuilding, like in Santa Rosa after the fires.”

When built, the Los Angeles Public Bank will be the second public bank in the nation after North Dakota, and the first city public bank in the US. A rough timeline for the Los Angels public bank is expected at the next Los Angeles City Council meeting.

Evan Symon

Evan V. Symon is the Senior Editor for the California Globe. Prior to the Globe, he reported for the Pasadena Independent, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and was head of the Personal Experiences section at Cracked. He can be reached at evan@californiaglobe.com.
Evan Symon
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