Grassroots effort launched to save Banco de Sonoma

I am one voice in the grassroots effort to Save Banco de Sonoma.  Here I offer more strategy and technical advice but an army of people are working on the effort most clandestine.

About the group. It formed of itself.  It lived within our hearts and deep within the soul and fabric of Sonoma Valley.  We are a community that cares about remaining independent and quaint. We typically reject large corporate influences like casinos, franchise chains, box stores and large shopping centers, big housing subdivisions, etc.  We have our own identity.  We care about our economy, we respect the wine industry and all the workforce that feeds into it from growers, pickers, bottlers, and suppliers.

When Sonoma Valley Bank failed, it touched nearly every person in the Valley.  When we found out that executives and the board loaned and lost tens of millions of dollars to out-of-area interests up on 101 we were outraged.  Why wouldn’t they invest in The Springs and form partnerships and consortiums to finance redevelopment according to County plans?  And then the perfect storm hit.

When a few of us researching into the causes of the failure heard that Banco de Sonoma was on the brink of being closed, we forced the issue by getting a measure on the City Council agenda urging Westamerica to remain open and become an integral part of The Springs and Glen Ellen.  We heard days before the meeting from Westamerica representatives that “they werenít going to close it,” but we pressed, demanding to hear an official statement from executive headquarters.  When time ran out Westamerica sent branch officer Christy Coulston to address City Council.  When she read the statement/letter on the evening of October 6 in Council chambers in front of the crowd and the press and tape rolling from Sonoma Sun TV Channel 27, she appeased most in the room.  The initiative was never voted upon and is something the grassroots effort regrets and I personally regret to this day.  However, if not for an astute and lone voice from the audience pressing her as to “just how long will it stay open” that’s when she said, “its a business decision, and when the acquisition is completed in February 2011 a final decision will be made.”  This sole statement left doubt in the minds of the grassroots effort such and launched us into a revisiting of the letter and seeking County involvement, letter writing, media campaigns, CRA public file requests from Westamerica, SVB and every other bank in the Valley.

All the while Westamerica continues to ignore our efforts. We will escalate the pressure, continue to organize, continue to communicate with Sonoma Valley community members, continue to assess the needs of the constituents, prepare for a formal appeal of regulators, report instances of noncompliance with socially responsible aspects of business and compliance with The Community Reinvestment Act.  We will continue to work, raising awareness of lending, services and investment needs in The Springs and the entire Sonoma Valley and work to partner with City, County, and Federal Government with residents, developers, investors and banks to finance meaningful projects to revitalize our Valley and redevelop our designated areas according to existing County plans.  The banks that choose to ignore the activity will become outliers and our community and the regulators will take notice and their reputations and businesses will undoubtedly falter.  Those banks that step up to the plate and become leaders in the effort will win the hearts and minds of the Sonoma people and we will vote with our dollars and move our accounts.
Until Westamerica announces publicly their intent to review and adjust the hours so they do not disenfranchise the working class and business owners, the grassroots effort will continue.  Our plan is to continue to escalate pressure “by any means necessary” for all people and businesses within the Valley to ensure they all have appropriate borrowing opportunities, remittance channels, deposits, services and other reinvestments back within the community.  For that matter by Westamerica bank and every other bank operating within our Valley.  It’s not red, blue, liberal, conservative, City or County, east side or west side, itís the right thing for our Valley and our community prosperity.

Ralph Hutchinson

Meeting notice:
The Grassroots Group for Save Banco de Sonoma has scheduled a Town Hall Meeting for Saturday January 8 from 3 to 5 p.m. at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church,16290 Arnold Drive. The group will discuss credit and service needs of the Springs community, the change in hours at Westamerica, Banco de Sonoma and Glen Ellen branches, The Community Reinvestment Act and other protections afforded, and potential solutions and plans for the looming February 2011 decision whether to close Banco de Sonoma.  All are welcome.  Spanish speaking interpreters will be on hand for our Latino contingency.  Consumers, business owners, land owners, special interest groups, developers, bankers/financiers, press and anyone concerned about Sonoma Valley is welcome.

Telephone Conference lines (30 are available and more with reservation) by calling 219.509.8111 conference code: 246320.

E-mail for more information and to reserve a conference line.

3 Responses to Grassroots effort launched to save Banco de Sonoma

  1. Ralph Hutchinson says:

    Unfortunately, after submission of these writings to the Press, some potential “conflicts of interest” have surfaced which may result in a change of venue. Please stand by. Should this prove necessary due to pressures beyond the Grassroots’ control, we will ensure wide publication of any new venues.

    However this in no way dimishes the will of The Grassroots Efforts to support meaningful development in The Springs and our entire Valley, and to ensure Freedoms and Rights of all citizens with zero tolerance on “Redlining.” The need is clear for awareness and continued assessment of needs from all the disenfranchised peoples, businesses, and groups and the solution is to hold an open public Townhall Forum.

    The Grassroots Effort challenges senior representation from Westamerica and Banco de Sonoma to attend and address the citizens of Sonoma Valley and answer the mounting questions we all have. “How will our critical bank lending and services needs be met under current limited hours scenario and what do we do if come February 2011 Westamerica decides to close the branches in The Springs and Glen Ellen?” (Bearing in mind these facilities are located within low-moderate income census tracts and within a Sonoma County designated Redevelopment Zone.

    Perhaps some of the other banks in The Valley can step up at the meeting and assure the people that if all else fails and the branches do close, what are they prepared to do?

    What say you?

  2. Ralph Hutchinson says:

    Potential conflicts for meeting venue have been resolved the meeting will stand. However, we will be researching other locations to host other Townhall meetings between now and the February 2011 decision point.

    The Grassroots Effort is grateful to the people of St Andrew for their support in airing free and open discussion, creating awareness, educating on important issues, and continuing their loving supporting to the entire community.

  3. Ralph Hutchinson says:

    The Grassroots Effort urges all Springs residents and businesses to utilize the Banco de Sonoma branch and Glen Ellen branch for your primary bank deposit account and lending source. This meaningful use will help assure the bank recognizes profits and makes a sound business decision based on lobby traffic and profits to the bank as well as the legal requirements of The Community Reinvestment Act.

    The Grassroots Effort also asks that you write a letter expressing your concerns regarding the reduced hours and potential closing and address it to the Headquarters of Westamerica.

    The Grassroots Effort has made formal request of the CRA Public FIle regarding Customer Comments and Management Responses to review all your efforts and measure the bank’s compliance with CRA for quality of response and timeliness. All these customer complaints are available for public view. We will be requesting one more time shortly before the February 2011 decision point when Westamerica claims the decision whether of not to close the branches will be made.

    Your efforts are appreciated as it makes sense for our entire Sonoma Valley to have strong banking alternatives in as many location as possible. These are the only bank branches within the Westamerica footprint with severely limited hours of noon-4pm as all others have 9-5pm and 9-6pm and are open on Saturdays. Disparate treatment like this for our branches is a tragedy and an obvious outlier disenfranchsing thousands of Valley residents and business owners.