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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Oakland public bank study put on hold while city passes the hat around to cannabis interests

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL
During the Oakland City Council committee stage, at least one Oakland councilmember consistently urged stakeholders in the city's cannabis business community to fund a proposed $100,000 public bank feasibility study rather than using the depleted general fund. Councilmember Noel Gallo's idea was never elaborated upon by his colleagues until Tuesday night and the suggestion appears to have led to the City Council's postponement of the allocation to the July 18 meeting.

Funding for the public bank study appeared on the path to approval until Councilmember Abel Guillen suggested the city attempt to recoup the $100,000 from the cannabis community, which is bound to greatly benefit from a banking system decentralized from Big Banks. Access to banking services are difficult for many cannabis businesses to attain since the federal government still views cannabis production and sales as illegal.

"Oakland cannot go at this alone," said Guillen. "I think a regional approach might make the most sense and any risk we are exposed to needs to be shared with a geographical area."

Oakland would definitely be treading on somewhat unprecedented territory if a public bank is ever created in the East Bay. Although, prevalent in some countries, the only other public bank in the U.S. is in North Dakota.

Richmond, Berkeley, Emeryville and possibly Alameda County have already shown interest in joining Oakland in a proposed public bank. "Ask them to put their money where their mouth is," said Guillen. The public bank issue, he added, is being framed as a benefit for the cannabis industry in Oakland. "Ask some in that community to reimburse the city."

Others on the council appeared to latch onto Guillen's remark.

"I don't want to waste $100,000, if in fact, Emeryville and Alameda County wants to do this. They should step up to the plate," said Council President Larry Reid. Don't burden the city of Oakland." Councilmember Lynette Gibson McElhaney offered a similar argument, saying the county has more than ample reserves to cover the study or wait until other cities are fully on-board with the plan before moving forward.

Earlier, City Administrator Sabrina Landreth urged the council to wait until a similar study in San Francisco was released before acting to spend money on a feasibility study of their own.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, perhaps the public bank's most enthusiastic supporter, tried to urge her colleagues to move forward with Tuesday night's agenda item, saying the consultant for the study has already been vetted and ready to begin its work.

The feasibility study's price tag is a bargain, said Councilmember Dan Kalb, and will get more expensive if the city waits. He equated the regional aspect of the public bank proposal to the recently formed Alameda County Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program that allows its city's to buy clean energy for residents through the existing utility company.

 "CCA didn't wait for everybody to chip in," said Kalb. "Reality is we're the biggest city in the county. San Francisco is not who we should be partnering with."

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