Norwest Corp. and Wells Fargo & Co. have had a relatively easy time with community activists who have vocally opposed other pending bank mergers.

As of last Thursday the Federal Reserve had received 36 comment letters- well below the more than 300 on Banc One Corp.'s proposed deal with First Chicago NBD Corp. or the 1,600 on NationsBank Corp.'s with BankAmerica Corp.

Those and Citicorp's planned merger with Travelers Group have preoccupied protesters, and Wells' goodrelations with California community groups may be working in its favor.

"We have been up to our ears with mergers," said Kevin Whelan, organizer for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now in Minnesota.

Unlike the high-profile Greenlining Institute, which refrained from formally protesting, Acorn filed a protest with the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco a day before Friday's deadline for comments. It said Norwest has a poor low-income and minority lending record and charges excessive fees.

The Minnesota chapter of the group known as Acorn has a history of tangling with Minneapolis-based Norwest, which would be the nominal acquirer of Wells and plans to assume the San Francisco company's name.

It was unclear whether the Fed would extend the comment period or schedule a public hearing as it has on the other major deals.

Norwest and Wells do not seem to generate the same kind of venom.

Robert Gnaizda, policy director of San Francisco-based Greenlining Institute, said his group generally opposes megamergers but was swayed by the decision to keep the headquarters in San Francisco.

Also, Wells is ahead of the goals of a 10-year, 10-state community reinvestment pledge of $45 billion, made in 1995.

Alan Fisher, executive director of the California Reinvestment Committee, said it did not file a protest, adding, "We hope to get a commitment for California."

But the United Steelworkers of America said last week it would protest because of Wells' record of lending to low-income and minority communities.

Kenneth Thomas, a Miami-based banking and community reinvestment consultant, said it will take many more than 36 comment letters to get a hearing.

Besides the Minnesota chapter of Acorn, Sen. Paul Wellstone, Rep. Bruce Vento, and state Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey 3d, all Democrats, have asked for a hearing in Minneapolis. The Minnesotans' concern revolves around the headquarters move.

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