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CALIFORNIA

U.S. Bancorp Accused of Avoiding Poorer Areas

September 14, 1999|EDMUND SANDERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Some consumer groups are criticizing U.S. Bancorp's recent acquisitions in Southern California, accusing the Minneapolis-based bank of focusing on suburban neighborhoods and avoiding low-income and minority areas.

The California Reinvestment Committee, a network of more than 200 community organizations and public agencies, is calling for a public hearing by the U.S. Comptroller of the Currency to determine if U.S. Bancorp is circumventing its responsibilities under the Community Reinvestment Act.

By focusing on small acquisitions, such as the pending purchases of Newport Beach-based Western Bancorp and San Diego-based Peninsula Bank, U.S. Bancorp is able to expand into the California market without the public attention and scrutiny involved in a larger merger or acquisition, according to Alan Fisher, executive director of the CRC.

Bank regulators have offered to meet privately with community groups but will not allow media coverage or conduct a formal public hearing.

A spokesman for the comptroller said the agency believes that consumer groups will have adequate opportunity to raise their concerns at the private meeting or by submitting written comments.

U.S. Bancorp officials said that they would continue to work with community groups and plan to invest more than $2 billion in California over the next three years, including new branch locations in low-income neighborhoods, according to Wendy Raway, a bank spokeswoman.

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