Protesters in Watsonville target Wells Fargo for foreclosures

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By JONDI GUMZ — Santa Cruz Sentinel
Posted: 03/17/2011 06:21:14 PM PDT

WATSONVILLE — Save our homes. Stop foreclosures now.

More than 50 people gathered at noon on Main Street, across from a Wells Fargo Bank branch, protesting the devastation of foreclosures in Santa Cruz County and calling for solutions.

The rally was organized by a coalition of the Monterey Bay Central Labor Council, Service Employees International Union Local 521 and United Long Term Care Workers, Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, Pajaro Valley Cesar Chavez Democratic Club, Temple Beth El and Communities Organized for Relational Power in Action, a network of faith-based and nonprofit institutions.

“It’s in front of Wells Fargo because Wells Fargo has a lot of loans,” said Kathy Goldenkranz, who is active in Temple Beth El and the COPA network.

Goldenkranz said she and her husband are among the few locally to obtain a loan modification from their lender.

“We had $50,000 of health care bills the insurance company wouldn’t pay,” she said.

Lauro Navarro, 55, a construction worker, said his family was evicted Tuesday from what was its dream house.

“I built it myself,” he said.

It took him two years to construct. He finished in 2007, shortly before the economy crashed and construction work became hard to find.

He said he had a $650,000 loan with First Horizon and a $96,000 line of credit. When he took out the loan, there was no need to show any proof, he said.

His monthly payment was $6,000.

“We paid it for six months and then we couldn’t pay,” he said. “We asked to extend the time. They didn’t give us an opportunity for a modification.”

Now the four-bedroom house at 640 Lewis Road in Royal Oaks is listed for sale for $624,797.

The family has temporarily split up, with Navarro and his wife Yolanda staying with a friend, their three sons living with someone else.

Francisco Rodriguez, who heads the Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers, fears more families will face the same situation.

He pointed out that 209 Pajaro Valley teachers got layoff notices this month.

“The banks have record profits and people are losing their homes,” Rodriguez said. “It is time for a change.”

Local SEIU leader Veronica Rodriguez said foreclosures are hurting the state budget and impacting public services.

Attorney Henry Martin, who works at the Watsonville Law Center, blamed large corporations for the crisis.

“Memories of the Great Depression faded and they bought their way out of the rules,” he said. “If local families are foreclosed, they can’t pay taxes and their children can’t go to college.”

“This is a real crisis that hits home,” said Mayor Daniel Dodge.

He said more than 8,000 homes locally have been affected since 2008, homes valued at $4 billion with $26 million in property taxes lost.

He encouraged residents to attend a community forum at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Hyde Elementary School in Watsonville to discuss the crisis and work together to find solutions.

Asked to comment, Wells Fargo spokeswoman Michele Ashley provided this statement: “Wells Fargo is committed to supporting our local communities succeed. We care about the community and just last year alone, Wells Fargo donated a total of $57 million to local nonprofits in the state of California, including many on the Central Coast. We are pleased that last year’s philanthropic give is a 5 percent increase from 2009. In addition, since the beginning of 2009 through Jan. 31, 2011, Wells Fargo had in place 635,260 active trial and completed mortgage loan modifications in an effort to help as many people stay in their homes.”

The SEIU sponsored a similar rally outside Chase Bank in Watsonville last August.

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Our Community in Crisis forum to find solutions

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: H.A. Hyde Elementary School, 125 Alta Vista St., Watsonville.

INFORMATION: Erik Larsen, 206-4914

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