U.S. Bancorp's planned acquisition of California Bancshares is more of an opportunity than a threat, say some Northern California community banks.

The merger, announced in mid-February, would remove nine locally based institutions from the region and further consolidate an area that has already been through a spate of acquisitions, driving customers into the arms of the smaller banks.

"Obviously, we're pleased," said Warren Wegge, executive vice president of Delta National Bank, Manteca, Calif. "From a community banker's point of view, we'd love to see a large bank come in every week. They're a great source of customers for us."

The merger between Alameda, Calif.-based California Bancshares and Portland, Ore.-based U.S. Bancorp, expected to be completed next year, would leave six communities between the San Francisco Bay area and the San Joaquin Valley without a locally based bank.

"The opportunity's there, it's up to us to take advantage of it," said Tom Mantor, president of the Bank of Walnut Creek, which has branch offices in several communities served by California Bancshares banks. "This puts us in a pretty good situation if we can make it work."

Mr. Mantor said his bank didn't plan to expand its offices, but would make an effort to reach out to new customers, especially small-business clients.

"We have to put together a really aggressive marketing campaign to target customers," he said. "It's a matter of getting out there and planting the seeds."

Mount Diablo National Bank, Danville, is planning to expand its community banking activities. The bank is working on setting up three new offices within the year, including branches in Pleasanton and San Ramon.

Delta National, whose Manteca office is between Tracy and Modesto, will take a close look at surrounding areas when it evaluates its strategy, according to Mr. Wegge.

"We're always open to attractive opportunities and Tracy has been mentioned before," he said. "We'd certainly consider looking at it."

But Robert A. Santin, president and chief executive of the Bank of Livermore, which was absorbed into the California Bancshares chain last year, said he doesn't anticipate a great deal of change as a result of the U.S. Bancorp deal.

"I believe staffing is going to remain intact and the banks will be, in effect, used as branches," Mr. Santin said. "U.S. Bancorp has said there will be no layoffs because there's no duplication of competition here."

Not every area banker was pleased by the deal. Fremont Bank president and chief executive Morris Hyman, who has worked in the community of nearly 200,000 for more than 30 years, said he's disappointed.

"Actually, I don't think it's that great," he said. "Competition is what strengthens you and makes you a better bank, and we've just lost some of our competition."

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