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San Francisco Strikes Blow to Wall Street: City May Now Get Its Own Public Bank

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Politics and Democracy page, Organic Transitions page and our California News page.

When the Occupiers took an interest in moving San Francisco's money into a city-owned bank in 2011, it was chiefly on principle, in sympathy with the nationwide Move Your Money campaign.  But recent scandals have transformed the move from a political statement into a matter of protecting the city's deposits and reducing its debt burden.  The chief roadblock to forming a municipal bank has been the concern that it was not allowed under state law, but a legal opinion  issued by Deputy City Attorney Thomas J. Owen has now overcome that obstacle.

Establishing a city-owned San Francisco Bank is not a new idea. According to City Supervisor John Avalos, speaking at the Public Banking Institute conference in San Rafael in June, it has been on the table for over a decade. Recent interest was spurred by the Occupy movement, which adopted the proposal after Avalos presented it to an enthusiastic group of over 1000 protesters outside the Bank of America building in late 2011. David Weidner, writing in the Wall Street Journal in December of that year, called it "the boldest institutional stroke yet against banks targeted by the Occupy movement." But Weidner conceded that:

Creating a municipal bank won't be easy. California law forbids using taxpayer money to make private loans. That would have to be changed. Critics also argue that San Francisco could be putting taxpayer money at risk.      

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