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Latest News - August 2010

August 10, 2010
Protesters march on Watsonville bank, demand repayment for indiscretions
By: Kurtis Alexander - Santa Cruz Sentinel

WATSONVILLE -- Frustration with the banking industry became so great for a group of Central Coast residents Tuesday they paraded into a Chase bank and demanded payback for the financial havoc wreaked by the nation's foreclosure crisis.

"We had a conversation with the branch manager, and he decided he didn't want to talk to us. And he threw us out," reported activist Erik Larsen. "(But) we'll be back." Larsen was met outside by some 50 cheering people, part of an event staged in several California cities this week to highlight the alleged indiscretions of banks. Though it's been two years since a taxpayer bailout helped rescue the industry from overly risky behavior, organizers of Tuesday's event sought to show that bank actions are continuing to burden average American households.

A report by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, released in tandem with this week's rallies, suggests that the financial industry is shorting taxpayers billions of dollars.

Among the group's claims is that banks that changed hands during the bailout have not paid their updated property tax bill. No bank, according to the group, has settled up for the foreclosure toll they put on local governments for such expenses as additional neighborhood maintenance and public safety.

"We have all played by the rules," said demonstrator Veronica Rodriquez out of a bullhorn at Tuesday's demonstration. "It's time for banks to do the same." Statewide, the cost of foreclosures on local government is $13.9 billion, according to the new report. In Santa Cruz County, banks and equity firms, including Watsonville's Chase Bank, should have paid $734,943 more in property taxes, had their recently acquired properties been reassessed and their tax bills updated.

The Main Street Chase Bank branch manager declined an interview Tuesday, and officials at the company's corporate office did not return phone calls.

Chase has acquired several properties owned by Washington Mutual Bank. The properties may not have been reassessed since the purchase, according to the Santa Cruz County Assessor's Office, but county officials say reassessments of corporate property can take years and are done only with the consent of the state Board of Equalization. The companies, however, will have to pay any back taxes they owe once new property is reassessed, according to the Assessor's Office.

Teresa Garbini was among Tuesday's demonstrators. The Aptos resident recently had her hours cut at work and has been unable to make her home mortgage payments. The bank is scheduled to foreclose on her property at the end of the month, she says.

"I've been trying to get a loan modification with Wells Fargo Bank... but I've been denied," she said. "How can a bank that was saved from bankruptcy by us, the taxpayers, be so insensitive to people's needs?"

Police monitored Tuesday's demonstration, which kicked off around noon, but the event remained peaceful.



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