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PD Editorial: Troubling signs
Sonoma, Sebastopol banners tell dour story of economy

  • Robert and Kim Wardwell-Hynes put up a sign in front of their Sebastopol home blaming GMAC for the high interest rates on two loans taken out on the house. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

Here are two clear signs that Sonoma County, and the nation as a whole, are not out of the woods with economic troubles.

One sign shocked customers arriving at the three branches of Sonoma Valley Bank Saturday morning. The banner read: “Sonoma Valley Bank is now part of Westamerica Bank.”

Federal regulators shut down the locally owned bank on Friday, making it the first Sonoma County institution to go under since the banking crisis began in late 2007. Its assets were acquired by San Rafael-based Westamerica.

The other sign is clearly visible to passersby on South High Street in Sebastopol and was posted by Robert Hynes and his wife, Kim Wardwell-Hynes, and their children. It reads: “Another family displaced by subprime lies and corporate greed. Shame on you GMAC and Chase.”

As with Sonoma Valley Bank, the Hynes family had run out of time. Both the family and the bank believed they deserved more. But, in the world of federal bailouts and housing assistance programs, neither was too big to fail.

In January 2008, President Barack Obama set aside $30 billion to create a loan modification program to help homeowners bring down their mortgage payments. Unfortunately, only $321 million of that money has been spent. The goal was to help as many as 3.5 million America homeowners. Fewer than 400,000 homeowners have received assistance.

Meanwhile, the federal government has poured trillions of dollars into helping banks following the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers.

Which banks have been assisted and for how much? The public so far has been prevented from finding out. But that could change.

In March, a federal appeals court upheld a lower-court ruling that ordered the Federal Reserve Board to release that information to the public. On Monday, the court refused to reconsider that decision, meaning the Fed will have to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court or release the data.

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