WASHINGTON - Robert L. Gnaizda is looking for commitment ... in the form of big bucks.
As general counsel of the San Francisco-based Greenlining Coalition, Mr. Gnaizda spends much of his time trying to coerce bank, into making formal commitments for community development activities.
He believes that banks have a responsibility to play a big role in community lending because of their crucial role in capital formation. And he wants the industry to demonstrate its commitment to economic development up-front with written contracts.
"We believe that economic development in California and in the nation is dependent on banks' greenlining, and not in the narrow sense," he said. The group adopted the term "greenlining" as a contrast to accusations of industry redlining, or excluding minority and innercity neighborhoods from service.
The Greenlining Coalition, founded in 1979, is made up of 19 community advocacy groups. The group has devoted most of its energy to California, but its influence appears to be moving eastward.
The group's members can often be seen in Washington, testifying before Congress or meeting with banking regulators.
Mr. Gnaizda and his group appear to know what they're doing. In 1992 and 1993 so far, the Greenlining Coalition has negotiated six CRA agreements that the group ays will finance almost $20 billion in low-income housing and inner-city business loans during the next decade.
The deals include a $12 billion CRA commitment from Bank of America; a $5 billion commitment from Wells Fargo; a $2 billion commitment from First Interstate and a $500 million commitment by Japaneseowned Sumitomo bank.
And the deals go well beyond dollar commitments. For example. Sumitomo Bank agreed to award 25% of its contracts to minority firms and to provide two-thirds of its philanthropic contributions to inner-city economic development.
The bank also agreed to give minorities 50% representation on its U.S. board of directors and to create a paid, minority advisory board that reports to Sumitomo's president.
"Our goal is to have banks be the leaders in economic development," Mr. Gnaizda said. "We want them to assume a leadership that historically the government has been unable or unwilling to commit to."
Calling on Investment Banks
Mr. Gnaizda believes there is a role for other financial institutions as well. He recently held a round of meetings with investment bankers in New York to encourage them to commit to inner-city development.
Mr. Gnaizda has an undergraduate degree from Columbia College and a law degree from Yale. He spent five years "as a tax attorney in Beverly Hills," before turning to civil rights issues. A trip to the Deep South in the mild-'60s to study civil rights violations gave him his mission life.
"I don't believe vou can have effective civil rights or political rights without economic rights," he said. "And I strongly believe minorities must have much greater access to capital."
In addition to working with the Greenlining Coalition, the 57-year-old isco-founder and senior partner of Public Advocates. a San Francisco-based public advocacv law firm. He's been involved in banking litigation for 22 years.
And he's no stranger to politics. In 1975, he served as California Gov. Jerry Brown's chief deputy secretary for health, employment, welfare and prisons. He briefly served as that state's acting director of health.
Despite the industry's avowed commitment to economic development, bankers haven't necessarily embraced commitments warmly. But when threatened with CRA protests on bank expansion applications to regulators or negative public relations, banks grow more receptive to at least sitting down with community groups.
The key to generating commitments has been sound relationships with the CEOs of institutions, Mr. Gnaizda said. When members are able to frame their concerns not as legal battles but rather as a question of commitment to communities based on sound business judgment, success is more likely, he said.
"Every bank that has entered into an agreement with us will tell you they are very happy they did so because it has altered their priorities and focus," he said. "And it makes good business sense."