City Council unanimously passes Wells Fargo divestment plan

Edward Booth/File

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Berkeley City Council unanimously passed a plan to divest from Wells Fargo at its regular meeting Tuesday night.

The current contract with Wells Fargo Bank will be extended for a year, until May 2018, according to the agenda item, replacing the three-year extension previously specified in the contract.

The city manager will now make semi-annual progress reports to council on new banking service contracts, aimed toward institutions in line with responsible banking policies, according to the agenda item.

The item is set to “establish socially responsible investment policies,” and states that the council will work alongside Mayor Jesse Arreguín’s Responsible Banking Task Force and the city manager to develop a list of criteria to define socially responsible banking.

Wells Fargo is criticized in the item for allegedly opening about 1.5 million potentially fraudulent deposit accounts, purportedly transferring funds without client’s knowledge or consent, and financing the private prison industrial complex and the Dakota Access Pipeline, or DAPL.

Members of the public crowded into the council chambers in support of divestment, many holding black and white signs reading “DIVE$T from Wells Fargo,” some holding homemade signs and a few raising printed letters in tandem to spell “No DAPL.”

Some members of the Indivisible Berkeley Economic Justice Team, a local activist group, handed out “DIVE$T from Wells Fargo” signs to the audience. The team created a petition calling for divestment about a month before the meeting. On Monday they sent out a press release calling for people to attend a press conference before the 7 p.m. start of the meeting.

“Local activist groups … support this resolution because it lays critical groundwork to shift the City’s banking business to local community banks or credit unions to support local business and better reflect Berkeley’s values,” read the press release. “The Berkeley effort is part of a national movement to divest from Wells Fargo and resolve to bank with socially and environmentally responsible financial institutions.”

The council also unanimously passed the first reading of an amendment to the One-Percent for Public Art on Private Projects Ordinance, eliminating an exemption for commercial mixed use district projects above 75 feet. The ordinance requires 1 percent of the construction costs of newly built apartment, industrial and commercial buildings to be spent on publicly accessible art, or alternatively pay a 0.8 percent “in lieu fee.”

Councilmember Kriss Worthington framed the situation as a moral issue. He asked the council to consider the equity of the five tallest Downtown buildings being exempt from the ordinance. Councilmember Susan Wengraf supported the item, but argued the change wouldn’t provide sustainable financial backing.

“This is really not a sustainable source of funding,” Wengraf said. “As a council, I would really like us to look long and hard at finding sustainable sources for the arts.”

Edward Booth covers city government. Contact Edward Booth at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Edward_E_Booth.