About 70 anti-foreclosure activists gathered Saturday afternoon outside the San Marino home of Wells Fargo Chief Financial Officer Tim Sloan, testing a city law against political protest in residential areas that was enacted after a previous demonstration at the bank executive's house.
Members of Occupy Fights Foreclosures and the nonprofit Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment staged a circular picket line in the 1300 block of Woodstock Road for about an hour. The group dispersed quickly and without incident after San Marino police declared the assembly unlawful.
Officials in the tony bedroom community passed an ordinance requiring demonstrators to stay 150 feet from a protest target's home or 75 feet from the curb after a similar October 2011 protest at Sloan's home.
National Lawyers Guild attorney Carol Sobel, who attended Saturday's demonstration, said the law goes overboard in restricting constitutionally protected speech and is laughably impractical: Woodstock Road is about 40 feet wide, meaning demonstrators would have to gather outside a neighboring home to comply.
San Marino City Manager John Schaefer said the ordinance is intended to balance the rights of demonstrators and homeowners and was based on laws in other cities that have survived court challenges.
A protest at Sloan's house in April 2012 resulted in a two-hour standoff with police and the arrest of Ana Casas Wilson, a disabled woman fighting to stop Wells Fargo from foreclosing on her South Gate home.
Casas Wilson had planned to challenge the ordinance but died before her case made it through the courts.
This time, demonstrators said they were focused less on challenging the ordinance than on pressuring Wells Fargo to grant loan modifications for struggling homeowners.
Despite state and federal regulations enacted after the collapse of the subprime loan industry, the bank moves properties into foreclosure too swiftly and often refuses payments from delinquent borrowers trying to get back on track, organizer Peter Kuhns said.
"The point is big banks like Wells Fargo get bailouts from taxpayers, but they don't show compassion when people need it, especially disabled people like me," said Richard Castaldo, who is losing his Hollywood condominium to foreclosure.
Castaldo, 31, lost the use of his legs when he was shot eight times during the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Wells Fargo granted Castaldo an adjustable-rate mortgage with interest-only payments in 2008 and later sold the loan to another broker, he said.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Diana Rodriguez said the bank has "an excellent record when it comes to taking care of our home-lending customers" and "respects the rights of people to peacefully demonstrate."
During Saturday's demonstration, a woman exiting a home on Woodstock Road shouted at demonstrators to leave but declined to be interviewed.
Protester Peter Dreier, an author and political science professor at Occidental College, countered that activists must take the foreclosure fight to the banks and even their executives' homes in order to provoke change.
"This is how you get government to respond and bankers to do the right thing: by holding them up to public scrutiny and embarrassment," Dreier said.