Group of Experts Devising Business Plan for SF Public Bank

Activists rally for a public bank on the steps of San Francisco City Hall in November 2019.

Photo courtesy of the Council of Community Housing Organizations

Activists rally for a public bank on the steps of San Francisco City Hall in November 2019.

The proposal to create a public bank for San Francisco, in order to provide an alternative to big banks for the city’s investing and lending needs, is moving incrementally from concept toward reality. A group of experts in relevant fields, from finance to affordable housing, has been selected to start to devise a business plan for a public bank. Fernando Martí, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and Sylvia Chi, principal co-author of AB 857, California’s Public Banking Act and a member of the California Public Banking Alliance, talked with “Civic” about how a public bank would work — including how it would be run and how it might help in the development of affordable housing — and how long it might take before such a financial institution is established.

“It’s not your Board of Supervisors that’s sitting as the board of the bank. Part of the job that we have is to develop the governance structure, and that will include figuring out who is actually going to be on the board of the bank. Who are they going to be accountable to and how do we make sure that the members of that board are insulated from any conflicts of interest or apparent conflicts of interest? We are going to make sure that the bank governance is something that people trust.”

— Sylvia Chi

“Part of the way that we finance affordable housing right now is through loans through traditional banks. And those loans are not necessarily made because traditional banks love to invest and lend to affordable housing, but because we have laws in place — the Community Reinvestment Act — that require banks to do that kind of lending. That said, those are the same banks that are investing in fossil fuels; are investing in, or have connections to, payday lending institutions, all sorts of kind of bad actors. And so the city’s investments, whether they’re in affordable housing or others, are now tied up with all of these things that at the same time, we’re passing resolutions and saying we as a city don’t support these things.”

— Fernando Martí

A segment from our radio show and podcast, “Civic.” Listen at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 102.5 FM in San Francisco, or online at, and subscribe on Apple, Google, Spotify or Stitcher

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