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Councilman Rick Wood hopping mad at E. Sierra Community Bank

February 18, 2011

When Mammoth councilman Rick Wood gets angry, he does not pull many punches.

Wood is angry.

At Wednesday’s town council meeting he jumped all over the Eastern Sierra Community Bank, and urged its current customers to “use your best judgment as whether you ought to continue.”

At the heart of his rant was the bank’s policy toward seven unsold condominium units at Aspen Village – the condo project on Old Mammoth Road built with the assistance by Mammoth Lakes Housing (MLH).
Wood, an attorney, acknowledged before he began his remarks that he is the counselor to MLH and therefore he has a seat on its board.

He said the bank is suing MLH for foreclosure on those units because of no sales on those units for the last two years.

“With respect to the Aspen Village condominium project, Mammoth Lakes Housing developed 24 residential units and has sold 17 of them, but has not sold one in the last two years.

“That, of course is consistent with the economy and the real estate market we’ve experienced over last couple of years.

“What the public doesn’t know, and the council should know, is that the construction loan for that project was made by Eastern Sierra Community Bank, which has a local branch and which touts itself as Mammoth friendly.

“That loan, as a result of the fact that there have not been sales, has not paid, principle or interest, in about a year.

“We wrote to the Eastern Sierra Community Bank to try to renegotiate the terms of that loan so that we can get those units sold.

“The problem is that the units are too expensive, and that the bank dictates the prices of the units.”
Bank President Chris Courtney said Wood has his facts all wrong, but would not comment directly until the bank’s attorneys had a chance to look at Wood’s remarks.

“We were looking for the day to set the record straight, so bring it on.”

Wood said he was optimistic that the units would sell if at current market levels.

“We live in a world of foreclosure now,” he said. “I’m disappointed in Eastern Sierra Community Bank, which in my judgment is not acting wisely.

“If they were to allow the prices to go down, the loan could be paid. If the prices can go down to a market level, I believe that the units would sell very quickly.

“From a community perspective it is a very unwise thing to do when it depends on deposits from customers, including businesses in this community, to fund the loans that it makes.

“I do not get the thinking of bankers, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a gigantic bank like CitiBank or whether it’s a small bank like the Eastern Sierra Community Bank.

“I’ll keep you informed,” Wood said, “and for those of you who bank with that bank, you can use your best judgment as whether you ought to continue.”

The bank, meanwhile, notified the gist of Wood’s rant to its regional headquarters, but had no response by press deadline Thursday afternoon.

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