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Humboldt County Groups Consider Public Banks

Ryan Quintal/ Unsplash

There’s only one public bank in the United States. It’s in North Dakota, and it was built over a hundred years ago. Now, some people in Humboldt County are working to open another.

A public bank is owned and operated by a government jurisdiction, like a state or city.

Early last year, California passed a law that allows up to 10 local and regional public banks. Right now, some people in Humboldt County are working to open one in their region.

David Cobb is the executive director of Cooperation Humboldt, a nonprofit working to create an equitable local economy.

He thinks a decentralized public system is better than standard, privately-owned banks.

“There are no shareholders who return a demand on investment," he says. "A public bank is literally owned by the public and therefore its entire operation and business plan is how to benefit the public.”

Cobb says that unlike big California cities, the North Coast has to think cooperatively if they want to successfully decentralize their banking.

"Humboldt County is too small to be able to capitalize a public bank," says Cobb. "We don’t literally have enough deposits to create a public bank. So we’ll need to create a regional public bank, and we’re imagining it will probably be the public bank of the North Coast.”

Advocates of public banking include Humboldt Democratic Party and the North Coast People’s Alliance. They also support a new bill that would allow for a state-run bank, rather than just regionally or locally.

Although Cobb says Humboldt County isn’t big enough to open a public bank on its own, he expects cities like Sacramento and San Francisco will have enough deposits to open public banks first.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly named the Executive Director of Cooperation Humboldt. His name is David Cobb, not David Hobb.