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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Oakland's public bank feasibility study opens its account

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL
Susan Harman, an Oakland activist and member of an advocacy group hoping to create potential ground-breaking public bank in Oakland held the head of fierce red dragon at Tuesday's city council meeting. The puppet head to Harman represented the group's last obstacle to a month's long push merely to convince city leaders to fund a $100,000 study on the feasibility of a public bank in Oakland and the region.

"That is the last dragon we're killing. No more dragons. We're starting a public bank. No more imaginary dragons," said Harman, in a celebratory move after the Oakland City Council approved an $75,000 allocation toward the study Tuesday night.

A week earlier, the Berkeley City Council voted to pitch in $25,000 toward the study. A number of other small private donors contributed to the fund, said Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, including cannabis business interests. "We have the funds and are ready to go," exclaimed Kaplan.

The inclusion of, at least, some help from cannabis interests is an important development after some Oakland officials questioned why business owners, seemingly awash in cash and potential windfalls in the future, along with great self-interests for creating a legal banking mechanism for themselves, didn't pick up the study's costs.

Additionally, Oakland's public bank study was stymied earlier this summer when other elected officials, including Councilmember Dan Kalb, questioned whether the $100,000 bid for the study was sufficient to complete the study.

The path toward the creation of a public bank in the East Bay has the support of Berkeley and Richmond and the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. However, while public officials in other Alameda County cities, like San Leandro, Alameda and Hayward, have voiced interest in studying the issue, convincing them to join a more-fleshed out regional public bank proposal, on the other hand, may be difficult.

Recently, supporters of public bank have attempted to link its proposal to the wildly successful campaign to lobby Alameda County cities to join the East Bay Community Choice Energy program, which allows the region to pool its demands on energy while controlling whether it comes from green, renewable sources.

Similarly, a regional bank will have lofty goals, such as seeking to take control of lending to local small businesses, underserved communities in the East Bay and the cannabis industry, which is often shut out of traditional banking services due to the federal government prohibition on cannabis.

"Like our recent successful efforts to create Community Choice Energy," Kaplan said in a statement, "we can harness local community support to take action that improves the environment, public health, and the local economy. As distrust in big corporate banks and lack of oversight at the Federal level are growing problems--this is how we can be part of the solution.”

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