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Demands for minorities made by bank protesters Fresno action comes as a surprise to officials of Westamerica branch.



Jim Steinberg THE FRESNO BEE, March 8, 2002, Friday


A dozen protesters, including members of the Mexican American and Hmong American political associations, demanded better service for low-income and ethnic populations Thursday inside the Westamerica Bank branch in downtown Fresno.

Westamerica Bank officials said the company is the fourth-ranking small business lender in Fresno County and that the bank funded $9.9 million in community development loans in 2000-01. That money helped build affordable housing, revitalize Kerman schools and improve the water district, the bank said.

Ben Benavidez, founder of the Coalition for Rural Pueblos Economic Development, and Lindsay Imai of the Greenlining Institute in San Francisco, organized the protest.

Asked his demands, Benavidez listed appointment of more ethnic directors to Westamerica's board, establishment of a community advisory board, a 30% share of contracts executed with ethnic minorities, easier home loans and bank contributions of 1% to 3% of assets to Self-Help Enterprises and the United Farm Workers.

Officers of the bank said they were surprised by the protest.

"When you think about a bank doing its fair share, you have to think in broad terms," said Brian Scrip, Westamerica vice president. "Lending, service, where you put the branches, and investments. Do you buy school and redevelopment bonds? It is how you put your deposits back into the community."

The reporter can be reached at jsteinberg@fresnobee.com or 441-6637.