Councilmember Kaplan Reports on Oakland Public Banking Forum

Our February 9 Public Banking Forum at Oakland City Hall was a huge success with overflow crowds, great speakers, and lots of audience questions. We’re receiving many requests for more information and how to volunteer. To get involved, click here.

Oakland Councilmember At Large Rebecca Kaplan emceed the evening. Here is her post-event wrap-up.


Last night I along with the Friends of the Public Bank hosted a full house at City Hall for a Public Banking forum.

The forum featured public banking experts from across the United States, all of whom support the goal of developing socially responsible financial institutions, that are responsive to the needs of the local community, and help save money for tax payers.  In Oakland, a public bank could also help solve the problem of access to banking with the strong and growing cannabis industry.

Last November, I initiated Oakland’s public banking effort by authoring a Resolution calling on city staff to research the costs of a feasibility study of a public bank for the City of Oakland and/or the larger region (in partnership with other cities). A status update on the feasibility study, which is co-sponsored by myself and Councilmember’s Kalb and Guillen, is scheduled to return to the Finance Committee on February 28th, which commences at 9:30am in Hearing Room 1. (To read the Resolution, click here.) Click here for a map to Oakland City Hall.

In introducing the forum last night, I voiced to those in attendance that creating a bank that is accountable to the community is one of the ways we can put our money where our mouth is, fund needed projects, and invest in accordance with our values. We can protect our cannabis community by not forcing them to use cash transactions, and, like our recent successful efforts to create Community Choice Energy, 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.

Since the financial crash of 2008-09, there has been an uptick in efforts to create public banks at the state, county, and city level. These efforts are borne out of many reasons, including a demand for socially responsible investments and dealings within the community and the environment.

Nichoe Lichen, a lead advocate for public banking in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a panelist last night, says, “The goal of a feasibility study of a public bank, is ultimately to receive a bank charter.”

When public banks are chartered, they can fund locally needed projects, directly give back to its community, and uphold its social responsibility, including for projects such as affordable housing and offering direct lower interest loans.

Panelist Marc Armstrong, President of Commonomics USA and co-founder of Public Banking Institute, says that a public bank will increase economic development, “…it is important when a financial institution is funding their values, and how do you implement your values? You fund them!”

“Instead of seeking to regulate the financial institutions that we already have, why not create one with credible ethos. Start the institution that way and not the other way around.” says Tom Sgouros, author of Checking the Banks and former senior advisor to the Treasurer of Rhode Island.

Currently, the permitted cannabis industry is not able to utilize banks due to Federal regulations, therefore, forcing the exchange of cash for all transactions, including when paying their taxes.

“Not allowing the industry to use banks creates multiple problems with the law. Think about having to only use cash. This creates a healthy environment for unfortunate events to happen, and there are unnecessary targets for crime and harm.” says panelist Henry Wykowski who is the lead attorney for Harborside Health Center dispensary and also worked as a past federal prosecutor.

Also in attendance as a panelist was Mayor of Berkeley, Jesse Arreguin who said, “Berkeley, Oakland, and the Bay Area need to lead the way to move our country forward, especially under the Trump administration.” Arreguin also stated that there needs to be a financial institution that is socially responsible which will serve the needs of the community, including affordable housing, allowing the cannabis industry to bank, and divest from the Dakota Access Pipeline and the prison industry.

Thank you

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