WASHINGTON -- Forget Fresno. Ignore Spokane. Pass by Oakland.

Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, is the site for a government-sponsored conference on the Community Reinvestment Act next week.

The Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco's selection of the luxurious vacation spot has community activists seeing red -- as in red ink.

"What community group can afford Waikiki Beach?" asked Bob Gnaizda, general counsel at the Greenlining Coalition.

The Nov. 17-18 conference is being co-hosted by the San Francisco Fed and the Federal Home Loan Bank of Seattle.

The federal agencies are being joined by Hawaii's business, economic, and tourism department, and the office of Hawaiian Affairs.

"The Road Ahead in Community Reinvestment" aims to provide up to 400 bankers, government officials, and community group representatives with information on evolving CRA rules.

Kelly Walsh, community affairs officer for the San Francisco Fed, was unapologetic Monday, although she admitted the selection of Waikiki Beach has raised some eyebrows.

"We've had a lot of calls," she said.

Noting one from a House Banking Committee staffer, Ms. Walsh said, "They just had the same question. 'Why Hawaii?'"

Her answer: Why not?

The San Francisco Fed has been holding an annual CRA conference since 1981 and it has never had one in Hawaii. The state has the highest median housing costs in the nation and plenty of low-income people who cannot afford a home.

"There's a critical need over there," Ms. Walsh said. Defending the cost of getting everyone to Hawaii, Ms. Walsh said it was just as expensive for Hawaiian banks and community groups to send staffers to conferences on the mainland.

"We're probably going to one in Alaska next, so get ready," Ms. Walsh said.

The CRA conference may attract America's No. 1 citizen, as President Clinton will be vacationing in Hawaii at the time.

Ms. Walsh said White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta "hasn't said no yet. In fact, he keeps asking for more information."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.