The Time Is Right for S.F. to Get a Public Bank

Supervisors took a significant step toward launching a publicly-owned bank with a unanimously co-sponsored resolution seeking a state banking charter.

Kurtis Wu, an organizer with the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition, speaks outside City Hall before the Board of Supervisors voted on a resolution for a banking charter on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)(Photo courtesy SFPD)

The Board of Supervisors urged the state to create a public banking charter on Tuesday, its first formal show of support for a movement to break from Wall Street.

Supervisors unanimously co-sponsored and approved a resolution that backs publicly-owned bank and called for state legislators to allow local jurisdictions like San Francisco to proceed. Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer introduced the resolution days the same week the Treasurer’s Office released its draft report of what a public bank could look like.

A public bank is enticing to advocates like the San Francisco Public Bank Coalition who say the city’s $11 billion budget would be better invested in affordable housing, small business, clean energy, and student loans. Big banks have been known to invest customer funds in things San Francisco opposes like oil pipelines, immigrant detention centers.

Former Supervisor Malia Cohen set off a municipal bank task force that began meeting in 2018, culminating in a report supervisors will weigh in the next couple of months. Days before leaving office, she held a hearing on banking options presented in an initial report that was criticized for not going far enough and instructed them to think big.

The Treasurer’s Office updated the draft report, which task force members took up at their final meeting on Thursday. Though there’s still details left to be worked out, three models could see a bank that purely invests, purely divests from Bank of America and US Bank, or does both.

“In Sacramento, they really are eager and curious to know what stance San Francisco is going to take on this,” said Sushil Jacobs, a task force member who works with the California Public Banking Alliance. “We’re looking to pass legislation and counties to pursue charters to pass their own legislation.”

The resolution clarifies that it doesn’t lock commit the city to specifics of a public bank. Still, it’s not often that the Board of Supervisors unanimously co-sponsors legislation and doing so for a publicly-owned bank sends a strong message that San Francisco is serious about the transformation.

A copy of the resolution will be sent to representatives Mayor London Breed, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Scott Wiener, and Assemblymember David Chiu.

“A public bank for public good,” Fewer said Tuesday. “It’s about time.”

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