Steps Towards a Public Bank in Oakland

Oakland, like so many other big cities, spends almost as much money paying for its money as it does using its money, yet no existing community bank can handle the size of the city’s budget.

September 2017

We’re on the move!

On September 19, the Oakland City Council voted unanimously to fund the feasibility study!! Susan Harman brought a dragon’s head to the meeting and reminded the Councillors that we slew the dragons they asked us to slay. The Oakland City staff is now negotiating the contract with the team we recommended. Aside from the Berkeley money, both Richmond and the County of Alameda have indicated interest in contributing.

On September 12, the Berkeley City Council, in a noncontroversial quiet vote, contributed the $25,000 we needed for our Oakland-based feasibility study. Thank you, Berkeley!

July 2017

Less than a week before we were scheduled for a vote at the July 18 City Council meeting, the Council moved our item to the September 19 meeting. So we have an unnecessary two-month delay, and we continue to ask you to pressure your City Councilmembers and, if you are able, to donate to our drive to make up the missing $25,000 (see below). If you are able to donate, please be sure to select “other” from your choices, and put “Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland” in the “in honor of” box, so our fiscal sponsor can keep things straight.

June 2017

On June 29, the Oakland City Council passed a controversial and contentious budget at a raucous meeting. Thanks to some last minute amendments from Councilmember Dan Kalb, $75,000 of the $100,000 we requested is in that budget.

On June 27, the City of Berkeley passed a resolution supporting the Public Bank of Oakland!

On June 20, the City Council downchecked our $100,000 request for a feasibility study. Abel Guillen, who is theoretically a sponsor of the resolution calling for the money, opened a conversation about getting other jurisdictions and the cannabis industry to help pay for the study. Noel Gallo has been singing that song for a long time and immediately jumped in. Lynette Gibson-McElhaney joined the chorus, and then Annie Campbell Washington, who voted for us in the Finance Committee, came along. In the end, Guillen did vote for the study, as did sponsor Rebecca Kaplan. Dan Kalb abstained and everyone else present voted no.

On Tuesday morning, June 13, the Finance Committee of the Oakland City Council voted to move our resolution funding the feasibility study forward to the full City Council for approval. Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Abel Guillen, and Vice-Mayor Annie Campbell Washington voted for the resolution; Councilmember Noel Gallo voted against, expressing support for the concept but not on board with using city money at this point.

May 2017

We have an awesome promo video, from Friends member Maren Poitras:


We also have an endorsement from neighbor city Richmond. On May 23, Friends member Craig Brandt presented our case to the Richmond City Council. The Councilmembers voted 6 to 1 in favor of:

  1. supporting Oakland’s efforts to create a public bank;
  2. directing the Richmond City Manager to investigate the possibility of forming a mutually beneficial partnership; and
  3. to consider, if Oakland’s initial feasibility study yields positive results, providing funds for a future business plan

If that wasn’t enough good news, we also had fine press from The Nation:

When Craig Brandt marched into the City Council chambers in Oakland, California, in the summer of 2015, he was furious about fraud. The long-time local attorney and father of two had been following the fallout from the Libor scandal, a brazen financial scam that saw some of the biggest banks on Wall Street illegally manipulate international interest rates in order to boost their profits. By some estimates, the scheme cost cities and states around the country well over $6 billion. …

After the City Council turned him down, he started looking for other ways to wean Oakland off Wall Street. That’s when he fell in with a group of locals who have been nursing an audacious idea. They want their city to take radical action to combat plutocracy, inequality, and financial dislocation. They want their city to do something that hasn’t been done in this country in nearly a century, not since the trust-busting days of the Progressive era. They want their city to create a bank—and, strange as the idea may seem, it’s not some utopian scheme. It’s a cause that’s catching on.

The Nation article was also picked up on Daily Kos.

April 2017

First the good news: the community-based public-banking-friendly group that wants to work with us (and that we want to work with) is the City Administrator’s choice for the public banking feasibility study.

Then the bad news: the City Administrator recommended that the City not fund the study now, but wait until the new budget is in place starting in July of this year. The Finance Committee referred the report back to the City Administrator with more questions. We could have answered their questions, but they didn’t ask us!

We need everyone in Oakland to heavily lobby the City Council, starting now. This is a two-year budget, so it  must include both the “pre-feasibility study” and the actual business plan. City Councilmembers are holding budget hearings:

Wednesday, May 10: 6:30 – 8:30 pm, District 4, Councilmember Annie Campbell Washington (member of the Finance Committee), Bret Harte Middle School, 3700 Coolidge Avenue, Oakland

Saturday, May 13: 10:00 a.m. – noon, Districts 1 and 3, Dan Kalb and Lynette McElhaney (both members of the Finance Committee), Beebe Memorial Cathedral, 3900 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland (location subject to change)

Wednesday, May 17: 6:30 – 8:30 pm, District 7 and at-large, Councilmembers Larry Reid and Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland Zoo, Snow Building, 9777 Golf Links Road

Thursday, May 18: 6:00 -8:00 pm, District 6, Councilmember Desley Brooks, Eastmont Police Department Substation, 2651 73rd Avenue, Oakland

Monday, May 22, 6:00 – 8:30 pm, District 3, Councilmember Lynette McElhaney, West Oakland Senior Center, 1724 Adeline Street, Oakland

Thursday, May 25, 2017, 6:30 – 8:30 pm, District 2, Councilmember Abel Guillen (member of the Finance Committee) [Cantonese interpretation available], Lincoln Recreation Center, 261 11th Street, Oakland

City Council Budget Meetings (open to the public). Oakland City Hall, One Frank Ogawa Plaza (aka Oscar Grant Plaza), 3rd floor. Meetings may be viewed on KTOP TV 10

  • Tuesday, May 16, 5:00 p.m., budget presentation
  • Tuesday, May 30, 5:30 p.m., special budget meeting
  • Monday, June 12, 5:30 p.m., special budget meeting
  • Monday, June 26, 5:30 p.m., special budget meeting

Please come to as many of these as you can, and speak for public banking!

February 2017

Applications for the feasibility study were submitted on February 24. One was submitted by friends of Friends of the Public Bank of Oakland, and we now know there was one other. The City Administrator will report back to the Finance Committee on April 25 with her office’s recommendations for who to choose. We want it to be sooner (does it really take two months to decide between two 15-page applications?).

Along with three Oakland City Council members, we hosted a hugely successful forum on public banking at Oakland City Hall on February 9. The full video is just above this paragraph. The Oakland Post’s report on the evening is here and their photo is just above. Hoodline also provided a good write-up.

January 2017

On January 5, 2017, our own Susan Harman spoke at the City of Oakland’s housing forum. Here’s a Twitter video clip of her speech, thanks to TDL:


On November 29, 2016, the City Council passed this resolution, written by City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, and cosponsored by City Councilmembers Dan Kalb and Abel Guillen, requiring the City Administrator to provide a report on the scope and cost of a feasibility/implementation study for a public bank.. City Administrator Sabrina Landreth‘s report is due in 90 days, or by the end of February, 2017.

On November 27, 2016, our own Susan Harman and City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan’s Policy and Legislative Director Laura Holtan talked about public banking on Kitty Kelly Epstein’s radio show, Education Today on KPFA.

The Refund and Rebuild Oakland Coalition provides background here.

This white paper lays out exactly what a public bank could do for Oakland, and how it can be done.

Oakland can use liquid assets it owns as part of the capitalization base required to create the bank. Other funds necessary to get the bank up and running will come from the General Fund or a small bond levy, ultimately repaid many times over as Oakland prospers. A total of some $20 million to $30 million in capitalization will be required.

Oakland will deposit some or all of the over $1 billion a year that flows into the City from taxes, fees, and State and Federal government grants into the Public Bank of Oakland.

The Bank will make various types of loans – described in part below – that are both financially sound and in the public interest. It may also provide certain services. Interest from these loans and reasonable fees for services will generate a flow of funds into the bank to pay for its operations, build its capital, and create its profit. This profit will not go to pay for million-dollar bonuses to already-wealthy executives as happens on Wall Street. (As of 2013, the President of the Bank of North Dakota, a civil servant, made just over $200,000.) Instead, because the City of Oakland will own the stock of the Public Bank of Oakland, the profit the bank makes will be returned to the City of Oakland as dividends or be re-deployed to make more publicly-beneficial loans.