In a show of support to activists protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Santa Monica City Council moved forward with plans to end the City’s banking relationship with Wells Fargo bank.
The City currently has $1 billion in annual transactions with the bank, including deposits and payments, according to spokeswoman Constance Farrell. Santa Monica’s investment portfolio includes $4.6 million in Wells Fargo bonds.
During a midnight discussion and a lengthy public comment period, Mayor Ted Winterer reminded supporters of the divestment that applause is forbidden at City Council meetings, so when five out of seven members voted to move forward with the motion a wave of jazz hands shot up into the air – a vigorous sign of approval from attendees who pushed for the motion into the early morning hours.
“I’ve been to Standing Rock twice. I was on the frontline every time. It made me very angry to see my people treated in such a manner,” said Walter Ruiz, also known as Graywolf. Ruiz was one of 25 activists who spoke to support cutting ties with Wells Fargo. He runs the Chumash Indian Museum in Thousand Oaks.
“I’ve always heard that Santa Monica was a very progressive city but I didn’t realize how progressive. I am surprised.”
With the passage of the motion, staff in the City’s finance department will look into removing funds from Wells Fargo and issuing a Request for Proposal (RFP) to other banks. A new RFP is scheduled for spring 2018 but may be expedited, according to City Manager Rick Cole.
Wells Fargo is one of 17 banks providing credit to Energy Transfer Partners in order to build the pipeline, according to financial documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Other creditors include Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Compass, HSBC, Citibank and Morgan Stanley among others.
Native Americans who live on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation say the pipeline threatens their sacred lands and water supply. Protesters from across the country have traveled to the reservation to help keep the Army Corp of Engineers from beginning construction. They have also focused on the creditors behind the pipeline. So far two other West Coast cities, Seattle and Davis, have moved to cut ties with Wells Fargo.
The motion for Santa Monica to change banks came from Councilmembers Tony Vazquez and Terry O’Day.
“If you’re paying any attention to national media today or in fact global, you know one of the most symbolic fights for our future is happening at Standing Rock over the Dakota Access Pipeline,” O’Day said. “It is a fight over sovereignty and respect for native people. It is a fight over the respect of humanity and the future of humanity.”
The City Council received more than thirty emails in support of the motion and just one in opposition. All five Councilmembers who were present for the vote supported the motion. Councilmember Pam O’Conner went home before the vote and Councilmember Sue Himmelrich recused herself because both she and her husband have represented Wells Fargo as attorneys.