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Santa Paula Bank to Merge With Bigger Santa Barbara


Citizens State Bank of Santa Paula has been on course to mark its 70th anniversary this fall. But the institution may not make it to that milestone.

Bank officials last week signed an agreement with Santa Barbara Bancorp to merge into its holding company, Santa Barbara Bank & Trust. The deal is valued at $16.17 million.

Upon completion of the transaction, which would amount to a straight cash purchase, the Ventura County bank's two branches in Santa Paula and one in Fillmore would be renamed Santa Barbara Bank & Trust.

"The community is no doubt going to miss the legacy that Citizens Bank has had," said Steve Voelker, president of Citizens State Bank, who would serve as an area manager under the new arrangement. "But from the perspective of banking services, we're confident the community will be pleased."

The merger, which is awaiting regulatory approval and approval from Citizens State Bank shareholders, would give Santa Barbara Bank 24 branches--seven in Ventura County and 17 in Santa Barbara County.

Santa Barbara Bank entered Ventura County in 1995 with the opening of a Camarillo branch.

"We've had discussions with institutions up and down the central coast," said William Thomas, president of Santa Barbara Bank. "We're looking forward to continuing the service and increasing the service of Citizens State Bank and expanding our Ventura County franchise."

Santa Barbara Bank has assets of $1.34 billion. With the addition of Citizens State Bank assets, that would rise to more than $1.43 billion.

Despite the hefty numbers, Thomas said his institution would continue to operate like a hometown bank, something with which residents of Fillmore and Santa Paula have grown familiar over the years.

"The real proof will be what we can demonstrate to the communities as we get larger," Thomas said. "Acting like a community bank means doing as much decision-making as we can within the community."

In addition to continuing to offer the services provided by Citizens State Bank, Santa Barbara Bank would offer international banking, letters of credit, a trust and investment division, a debit card and other new services.

"Our board was very thoughtful prior to accepting the offer [from Santa Barbara Bank]," Voelker said.

"They considered not only the shareholders, but they considered very carefully the impact that it would have on the community and the impact on our customer base and the impact on our employees," he said. "We feel very, very confident that Santa Barbara Bank & Trust will do not only as well as we have been doing, but better, because they have a larger array of products from which to choose."

Voelker, who became the fifth president in the history of Citizens State Bank when he was named to the position in early 1996, said Santa Barbara Bank made the initial overture.

"We were not soliciting a merger. We are quite fat and happy, so to speak," he said. "They asked if we would be interested. Our bank has not been for sale and the board was quick to say that the bank was not for sale, but if we were to sell, Santa Barbara Bank is one that we would be interested in. They are substantially larger than us, but we are very similar."

Voelker said Citizens State Bank soon will begin modifying its services to ease the transition.

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