U.S. Bank announces closure of on-campus branch

Bowing to pressure from the campus Occupy movement, U.S. Bank is closing the doors to its Memorial Union (MU) branch for good.

Since January, the branch had been the site of daily sit-ins by Occupy UC Davis protesters, who said they wanted the bank closed.

“It was all worth it at the end,” said Artem Raskin, a junior political science major and active occupier.

For those involved, the blockade became a daily ritual. Protesters — typically numbering around 15 — would arrive around noon, followed by an officer from the campus police department. Thirty minutes later, bank employees would leave and the entire process would be repeated the next day.

University officials contend protesters were in violation of California Penal Code Section 647C, which makes it a misdemeanor to “willfully and maliciously” obstruct the free movement of any person on any street, sidewalk or other public place. However, demonstrators were not arrested. For their part, protesters asserted that a private bank had no place on a public university.

“Days like Nov. 18 may become infamous in the public eye, but the blockade of the U.S. Bank was a real battle against the privatization agenda, and its closure is a victory,” Occupy UC Davis wrote in a statement posted on its website.

In recent weeks, the administration had stepped up pressure on the protest, first by distributing notices of violation and then by threatening to refer demonstrators to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Thus far, six cases have been sent to the D.A., but the office has yet to complete its review.

“We didn’t want a flashpoint at the bank,” said UC Davis spokesperson Barry Shiller. “Although it may appear to have been inaction, it was simply a different type of approach. We wished the bank had hung in there.”

U.S. Bank sent out a letter March 12 to the approximately 2,500 customers of the MU branch notifying them of the closure on Feb. 28. The letter did not cite a reason for the closure.

Bank spokesperson Nicole Garrison-Sprenger released a statement confirming the closure.

“We have closed the branch at the University of California, Davis after several weeks of business interruption that risked the safety of our customers and employees,” she said. “Despite our best attempts, we were limited in our ability to resolve the matter and therefore decided to close the office.”

U.S. Bank arrived in September 2010 after Student Affairs explored the idea of welcoming a bank on campus as an alternate source of funding. After surveying the campus, many students and faculty expressed interest in having a bank on campus. The 10-year agreement was expected to generate $3 million for the university. The campus received $167,000 last year to go toward student activities, on top of the $8,000 in rent paid each month.

Bank officials have said that they were upset with the university’s handling of the situation. At one point, the bank hired private security guards to stand watch outside, but they were recalled after the university intervened.

The final tipping point came in a March 1 letter notifying UC officials of the bank’s intent to terminate the agreement. In the letter, Senior Vice President of U.S. Bank Daniel Hoke called the situation “intolerable,” noting the bank had been “constructively evicted” and that its employees were “effectively imprisoned.”

“The Regents have refused to remove or arrest the persons participating in the illegal gathering even though the Regents have used available laws to disperse protesters who have congregated elsewhere on the University’s campuses,” Hoke wrote.

In addition, he said U.S. Bank would seek damages for business losses and the initial cost of outfitting the branch.

According to Steven Drown, chief counsel for UC Davis, the university is in negotiations with the bank, but he noted it would be premature to speculate on what would happen next or how much this would ultimately cost the university.

“Our position is that the termination is not effective; they didn’t follow the requirements,” he said.

But Drown expressed hope for a resolution satisfactory to both sides. When U.S. Bank arrived in 2010, all students were required to get new ID cards with the U.S. Bank logo on the back. With the departure of the bank, some wonder what this will mean for the campus.

“We don’t want to unduly burden the campus with expenses, such as having to re-do the ID cards,” Drown said.

Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Emily Galindo, who is involved in the negotiations, expressed frustration with the closure.

“It’s disappointing to see us lose funding in a time of budgetary trouble,” Galindo said.

Though members of Occupy said they were overjoyed to learn the bank had been shuttered for good, one bank customer said they were less than enthusiastic.

“The movement has become destructive to our academic environment,” said junior genetics major and longtime bank customer Melissa Marovitz. “There has to be a better way to go about it.”

The daily blockades prevented students from accessing their money, Marovitz said.

“I was trying to pay rent, and I had to call the management office to explain the situation. Luckily, they were lenient with me,” she said.

The MU branch was one of 21 branches U.S. Bank operates on college campuses across the nation. Among other University of California campuses, UC Irvine also has an on-campus bank — a Wells Fargo operates in the student center.

Supporters of Occupy say the bank’s departure is a good step forward. But many are now wondering what’s next. Raskin, speaking for himself, didn’t rule out expanding the movement’s goals to include ousting UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.

“The Berkeley chancellor resigned. Katehi could be forced out too.” he said.

RICHARD CHANG can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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