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By Peter Dreier | Alternet
It’s time to name the top executives whose decisions ripped off consumers and put cities and states at the precipice of fiscal ruin due to declining property values and revenues.
Across the country, families facing foreclosure and homeowners with “underwater” mortgages are fighting back against the big banks that stripped them of their one valuable asset and crashed the economy.
The resistance takes many forms – homeowners refusing to leave when the sheriff arrives with an eviction notice, community groups engaging in civil disobedience at bank offices and lobbying campaigns to get city and state government to enact protections from banks foreclosing on owners for missing one or two payments, often as a result of banks making unscrupulous loans.
Occupy Wall Street provided Americans and the media with a new framework for explaining the nation’s economic hard times – the “1%” vs. the “99%.” But veteran community, union and faith groups that are mobilizing against Wall Street know that to hold big banks accountable, they need to identify and name the top executives whose decisions ripped off consumers, plunged the nation into a deep recession, plummeted housing prices and put cities and states at the precipice of fiscal ruin due to declining property values and revenues.
One of the banking industry’s ruling elite is Timothy J. Sloan. Sloan has spent 25 years working his way up the Wells Fargo corporate hierarchy. After heading the bank’s commercial real estate and securitization business, in March 2011 he was named Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer. Sloan lives in a 5,804 square foot, 8-bedroom Spanish-style mansion at 1320 Woodstock Road on a cul-de-sac without sidewalks in San Marino, a wealthy Los Angeles suburb. He purchased the home in 2007 for $5.15 million. Last year, Sloan made $8.4 million, according to Wells Fargo’s proxy statement.
For several years, Sloan’s bank has been trying to kick Ana Casas Wilson, a wheelchair-bound homeowner, out of her modest home. Wilson, a court interpreter, lives with her husband (a school janitor), her mother (a retired factory worker who now works as a home health aide), and her 17 year old son in the gritty working class city of South Gate, only 10 miles away – but worlds apart – from tony San Marino. The family has lived in their tiny 949 square foot house since 1975 which, thanks to plummeting housing prices brought about by the Wall Street mortgage collapse, is now worth no more than $175,000.
2009, Wilson was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She also suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. Her husband James quit his night job as a security guard – and reduced his income – to tend to her. While Wilson was in the hospital and undergoing chemotherapy, the family fell behind on its mortgage payments and the bank started to foreclosure on their property.
Once the family’s financial situation stabilized, they sought to resume making payments and asked Wells Fargo to renegotiate their mortgage. But the bank refused to accept the Wilsons’ checks and pursued legal proceedings to foreclose on the house and evict the family from their home.
Last October, the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE, a community organizing group), the Service Employees International Union and other activist groups showed up in front of Sloan’s mansion to protest Wells Fargo’s predatory lending practices. In response, the five-member San Marino City Council adopted a new law, requiring protesters to keep 150 feet from a target residence, or 75 feet from the curb adjacent to the home, whichever is farther.
“The purpose of the ordinance is not to reduce picketing, but to protect the people who are the victims of picketing,” San Marino city manager John Schaefer told the Los Angeles Times. “We’re a prime target. We have a lot of people who fit the profile to be the victim of this type of crime.”
In April of this year, after Wells Fargo repeatedly refused to help the Wilsons stay in their house, Wilson and over 100 supporters from ACCE and SEIU showed up at his house again, this time to demand that the bank stop foreclosure proceedings. Wilson, 49, brought a check for her mortgage payment, which she hoped to deliver personally to the Wells Fargo executive.
Instead, she got arrested.
While the protesters carried signs and chanted “Wells Fargo, shame on you!” in the street in front of Sloan’s home, Wilson crossed a police cordon in her wheelchair to deliver the check to Sloan. She knocked several times, but nobody opened the door.
According to the Los Angeles Times: “Just before 8 p.m., about 90 minutes into the demonstration, police formed a line around the home, declared the assembly illegal and ordered the group to move 75 feet up the street.”
Wilson refused to go and was taken to San Marino police headquarters with the assistance of San Marino Fire Department paramedics.
Police departments from nearby Pasadena, South Pasadena, Alhambra and San Gabriel, many in crowd-control gear, were called to back up the San Marino cops.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca hasn’t yet sent his deputies to evict Wilson and her family. His office has been reluctant to do the banking industry’s bidding in the face of mounting protests by community activists. Baca obviously doesn’t want TV cameras showing up to film his deputies throwing people out of their homes, particularly if their supporters have linked arms to resist the evictions, as has happened a number of times in the past year.
But San Marino – which in 2010 had a population of 13,147 and a median income of $154,962, three times the state’s median income – has had no second thoughts about using the full force of the law against protestors like Wilson. This month, the town’s City Council upped the ante, introducing another ordinance to stop protests directed at local residents. The new law gives city officials the authority to steer protesters away from homes to the median strips along the city’s major street, Huntington Boulevard, or to public sidewalks away from the target’s home.
At the meeting where the Council discussed the proposed law, city manager Schaefer explained, “I kind of think the Occupy thing is dying out,” according to a front page story in Sunday’s Pasadena Sun. “But this does give staff a tool if there’s a next generation of this sort of thing.” Schaefer told me that he expects the October 10 Council vote on the ordinance to be unanimous. “A slam dunk,” he predicted.
No doubt the Council would have preferred a total ban on any protests at all, to protect its wealthy denizens from the unruly mob who can’t afford to live within its walls.
Indeed, Schaefer considers part of his job as protecting the privacy of San Marino’s elite. He told me that other influential residents – including a board member of a prominent hospital and the president of a major university – have faced protests in the past, and that John Bryson, the former CEO of Edison International and one-time Secretary of Commerce in the Obama administration – lives in the cozy community. When I asked Schaefer about the protest at Sloan’s house, he said, “I’m trying to save this guy from having his name in the paper.”
But just a few days before I interviewed Schaefer, Sloan did have his name in the local Pasadena Sun – not once, but twice. On the front page was a story about the City’s ongoing prosecution of Wilson for trespassing on Sloan’s property. And on page 13 was a photo of Sloan in his tuxedo, smiling for the camera at a fundraising ball for the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, a San Marino institution housed in the former estate of one of America’s most despicable robber barons, Henry Huntington, owner of the powerful Southern Pacific Railroad and a real estate speculator who died in 1927.
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