San Francisco closer to divesting $10B cash flow from Bank of America and $1B investments by Jacqueline FielderTweet
On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, the indigenous-led San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition pressured the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to unanimously pass a resolution urging the Treasurer to implement a DAPL screen in the City’s Social Responsibility Investment Policy. The following day, the Treasurer informed The Coalition that he will, indeed, add “DAPL investments” to the screen his office uses to evaluate investment products and financial contracts (i.e. depository services contracts) each month.
The City currently has $1.3 billion worth of investment products with banks financing or owning shares in the Energy Transfer family of companies (Energy Transfer for short). The City also has a five-year financial contract with Bank of America that entrusts $10 billion in City cash flow to the bank. The contract is set to expire August 31, 2018, and has already been in jeopardy under a San Francisco ordinance barring contracts with companies based in anti-LGBTQ states (Bank of America is based in North Carolina).
The unanimous vote came after The Coalition, joined by Madonna Thunder Hawk of Lakota People’s Law project, provided resounding testimony on the environmental effects of the Black Snake, the greed of corporations who use taxpayer money to violate indigenous rights and treaties, and the resilience of Water Protectors at Standing Rock and beyond protecting Ina Maka, Mother Earth, and the next Seven Generations.
(Watch the testimony and the audience erupt after the vote here—click “Public Comment.”)
The Coalition’s goals are to get the City to:
(1) divest the $1 billion in City funds that are invested with banks financing the Energy Transfer family of companies building and operating the pipeline; and
(2) formalize the City’s intent to break up with Bank of America and entrust $10 billion in City cash flow each year to someone not financing Energy Transfer.
The resolution urges Treasurer José Cisneros to “update the socially responsible investment matrix by adding the Dakota Access Pipeline as a screening factor” and “move with expediency in exploring divestments from issuers that do not meet the socially responsible investment criteria, as updated.” This resolution does not end San Francisco’s depository services with Bank of America and does not immediately trigger divestment—which is why The Coalition is not yet truly celebrating (see divestment checklist). However, it does pave the way for San Francisco to become the fifth city in the country to end depository services with a bank over their DAPL ties, and the first to withdraw investment products from banks financing DAPL.1
In November 2016, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution proclaiming solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Despite the City’s proclamation of solidarity, the City currently invests $1.3 billion dollars with financial institutions financing or owning shares in the Energy Transfer family of companies, including
• Toronto Dominion Bank,
• MUFG UnionBank/Bank of Tokyo-MIT UFJ,
• US Bancorp,
• Royal Bank of Canada,
• Bank of Nova Scotia,
• Morgan Stanley,
• Blackrock, and
• Bank of Montreal.
Additionally, San Francisco has contracted with Bank of America since 2013 to handle more than $10 billion in cash flow each year. Some sources say the cash flow is closer to $13 billion. The Board of Supervisors contradictions go back to 2013 when they passed a resolution urging the public pension board to divest from fossil fuels, without first divesting the City’s own portfolio from fossil fuels.
The Coalition came together in early February, not as a coalition of organizations, but of regular individuals from various Native Nations, climate justice organizations, and pockets of progressive San Francisco. There are no lawyers, no investors, no former policymakers on the board—it’s a group of people who care about indigenous rights, climate justice, and can’t sleep at night knowing City taxpayer money is funding the Dakota Access Pipeline and ensuing repression of indigenous rights.
Beginning in early February, The Coalition conducted extensive internet research on the City’s investments, Seattle’s ordinance, San Francisco legislation, and depository services contract. The organizers of the Seattle Defund DAPL campaign and founders of Mazaska Talks, Rachel Heaton and Matt Remle, advised The Coalition using Rachel’s Guide to Divestment and Mazaska Talks’s Campaign Toolkit. In just over a month, they pooled their social networks to get a Facebook page running, signatories to an Open Letter to the Board of Supervisors, and Facebook events inviting anyone who cares about indigenous rights and the next Seven Generations to speak with them during general public comment at the Board of Supervisors meetings. After their first appearance at public comment, they got the ear of Supervisor Fewer. From that point forward, they worked closely with Supervisor Fewer’s and Supervisor Ronen’s diligent legislative aides, Chelsea and Natalie.
The Coalition thought they would do exactly what Seattle did, but soon discovered San Francisco’s targets and legislation would have to be different. Seattle’s legislation ends Seattle’s depository services contract with Wells Fargo, as they contract with them for depository services. San Francisco does not invest with Wells Fargo and does not entrust them with depository services. San Francisco does not invest with them because the Treasurer implemented a predatory lending investment screen. Moreover, San Francisco sanctioned Wells Fargo in December and started to back away from them in 2012 when Occupy and news about the Recession dominated local politics. Seattle’s legislation also prohibits new investments with Wells Fargo, and encourages investments with “institutions that, by their charter and ongoing business practices…engage in fair business practices.” In comparison, San Francisco’s DAPL screen (in theory) will discourage investments and financial contracts with banks financing and investing in DAPL. In practice, the Treasurer can’t just wave his magic wand and divest $1 billion dollars. Per California law and San Francisco administrative codes, he has to
• Hire an “independent third party” to evaluate our investments for ties to the Dakota Access Pipeline;
• assess whether withdrawing $1 billion in investments is “safe”;
• ensure that whatever investments the City considers “1) preserve capital, 2) meet the daily cash flow demands of the City, and 3) provide a market rate of return while conforming to all state and local statues governing the investment of public funds.”
Once these three primary objectives are satisfied, his staff then uses socially responsible investment goals to guide decisions about investing. “When faced with investments of the same credit quality, term and yield,” the investment staff applies the socially responsible criteria (the DAPL and other screens) “to select the best option for the City.” It is a complicated process—more complicated than The Coalition anticipated, but the results are worth the due diligence of tracing the process.
That said, The Coalition is not going home until the City provides proof that the City’s investment portfolio is free of ties to DAPL, and until the Board of Supervisors formalizes their intent to break up with Bank of America. The resolution passed on March 14 is one small win in this local-level battle, but federal-level history reminds us to not let up. The history of U.S.-Plains Indians relations has been defined by a cycle of a settler-government making promises and breaking them when they discover something profitable (e.g. gold, oil, coal, uranium, etc). That is exactly what happened in the nineteenth century when the U.S. government sent their army to facilitate settlements on the Great Sioux Nation boundaries they imposed upon us. And that is exactly what happened on December 4, 2016 when the Army Corps announced it would deny Energy Transfer the easement, only to reverse their decision two months later. We are not lawyers, but we know our history. This history is why The Coalition will not be truly celebrating until we see with our own eyes that the Treasurer has rid San Francisco’s investment portfolio of ties to DAPL and until the city formalizes its intent to break up with Bank of America.
Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution establishes treaties as supreme law of the land. The Army Corps’s easement of DAPL and Trump’s advancement of the Keystone XL pipeline violates treaties, thereby, violating the supreme law of the land. By divesting our selves and our local governments from banks financing DAPL, we are alerting local, state, and federal policymakers to the fact that we are in a constitutional crisis—that they need to use the powers we gave them in electing them, to end the normalization of treaty violations and forced Indian removal. At the same time, divestment is a tool to signal to all non-renewable energy corporations that when they sell out indigenous people and the next Seven Generations of all ancestries, their bottom line will suffer—their projects will become increasingly politicized and riskier, and no investor will want to finance their environmentally racist and environmentally destructive projects.
This small victory is due in no small part to generations of environmental and indigenous rights activism and survival of the Ohlone people—the true San Francisco natives—whose land San Francisco sits upon; to the youth who started the #NoDAPL movement by running to DC and setting up the first tepees and tents at Standing Rock; to the resistance of Water Protectors and indigenous rights activists all around the country who joined them in raising this country’s consciousness; the testimonies of concerned Bay Area residents, indigenous and non-indigenous alike; to Madonna Thunder Hawk, other movement matriarchs, and indigenous educators who have preserved our history; and to our ancestors who are with us when we call upon them.
The struggle continues and the tool to resist is right in our investment portfolios, wallets, and checking accounts. Wopila Tanka.
By Jackie Fielder
Jackie Fielder is an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes (Hidatsa), a descendant of Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and was born and raised in Long Beach, CA. Jackie earned her B.A. in Public Policy and M.A. in Sociology at Stanford University in 2016. She is currently an organizer with San Francisco Defund DAPL Coalition and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Depository services are checking accounts, while investment products are things like money market funds, commercial paper, negotiable CD’s, public time deposits, medium term notes, and supranationals.
The Coalition put enough pressure on the Board of Supervisors to get nine of eleven Supervisors to co-sponsor the bill.