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Out of the Blue: Chase away Chase, too many banks

March 13, 2014|By Billy Fried | This post has been corrected, as noted below.

OK, so what's the story on the sudden surge of banks in our town?

Big, hairy ones. The ones we bailed out after they caused the crash and who thanked us by collectively growing 30% bigger and gobbling up the weak.

Four new banks have come to town — U.S., Union and two from Chase — for a 133% increase to seven.

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Did I miss something? Did our economy double since 2008? Are we opening up more canyons to build on? Putting in a harbor? Couldn't we have more of something moral and decent like parklets, lounges and pot dispensaries?

Take JP Morgan Chase for instance, the largest U.S. bank by assets and the newly crowned prince in town, with not one but two conveniently gleaming branches serving downtown and South Laguna, because one shouldn't have to drive more than a mile to bank in Laguna.

First a branch displaced our beloved hometown pizza hero Sid Faranoff's Z Pizza by offering more rent. Shame on you, pushing the little guy out. The community was rightly outraged, and the landlord expeditiously found another space for Sid where Z belongs — next to a yoga studio.

Now Chase just opened a gleaming downtown location on Broadway Street. We don't need a Village Entrance now. We've got it.

At night, when you come around the bend on Broadway after the lovely Festival of Arts, it greets you in a Vegas chapel kind of way, and says, "Come get your money, cause you're gonna need it." Not a bad message, actually.

Furthermore, the new Chase bank moved into what had been an office. Retail banking depends on a steady flow of traffic, so now a place that didn't generate much activity under its former uses will bring more needless congestion.

People have spoken up about the bank's rather garish lighting and wondered how it could be permitted under our codes.

Nonetheless the planners approved the use, rationalizing that it's mainly for residents and serves the downtown community.

Funny, I don't recall anyone ever saying, "Gee, you know what we need more of downtown? Banks. Can't get enough! And they so add to our village character!"

And how exactly do we benefit with five banks downtown when we existed so long with just two?

I'll admit the corporations behind our longtime banks Bank of America and Wells Fargo are no avatars of goodness, but by now they are our community banks and we know and like their employees. But I'm especially angry that Chase is our downtown beacon, especially since we disdain chain stores that dilute our uniqueness.

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