Still circling

Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond sat with the small clump of activists wearing bright red “Stop the Loan Sharks” T-shirts as her colleagues in the Law and Legislature Committee considered an ordinance banning Sacramento from doing business with predatory lenders (see “Circling the Sharks,” SN&R, August 16).

Mindful that Oakland had just been slapped with a lawsuit for passing its own ordinance making predatory lending illegal within that city, Hammond recommended an ordinance that would protect Sacramento by leaving out the regulatory component.

Though it’s unknown whether Oakland can get away with regulation, Sacramento’s Treasurer Thomas Friery claims, “It is well within the ‘home rule’ authority of the City to enact legislation delineating the lenders with whom the City will do business.”

The city ordinances would go further than Assembly Bill 489, which Governor Gray Davis signed on October 10 (See “Gobbling up Predators,” SN&R, November 1). That new law outlaws particularly heinous abuses against sub-prime borrowers, but many believe it doesn’t go far enough.

One of the ongoing issues with crafting legislation against predatory lending has been the definition of the term itself. To clarify, Sacramento’s ordinance includes 35 definitions. Among them: misleading marketing, leaving blanks in contracts to be filled in later by the lender, “flipping” an existing loan into a costlier new one, and quoting different terms and conditions to minority, elderly or low-income borrowers.

Although the committee members had pushed for a compromise between consumer groups and the financial services industry during a hearing on the measure over the summer, Hammond said there has been little common ground. The exception was a public education program, which both sides deem necessary, though neither side wants the other to be involved.

After some discussion, the ordinance passed the Law and Legislature Committee and will be considered by the full City Council in coming months.

Organizing hospitals

Touted as the biggest union organizing effort in the Sacramento area in years, health-care workers at four area hospitals will finally get to decide on November 13 and 14 whether to join Service Employees International Union.

The five-year campaign at Mercy General, Mercy San Juan, Mercy Folsom, and Methodist hospitals has been fought hard by Catholic Healthcare West, the hospitals’ parent company.

Last May the National Labor Relations Board set aside an unsuccessful election held two years ago, citing several accounts of supervisors engaging in “objectionable conduct.”

By that time, however, workers and CHW had arbitrated a fair election agreement, and since then, workers say, things have been smooth. Workers say the best way to improve patient care, which they claim has suffered because of recent trends in health-care management, is for them to have a voice.

Look for results of the election in an upcoming issue of SN&R.