Wells Fargo Adds ‘Grinch’ to PR Problems
ATWATER VILLAGE—Amid multiple high-profile national scandals including the mid-August resignation of three prominent board members and an investigation by the California Dept. of Insurance, Wells Fargo has drawn local ire for its recent decision to stop hosting the neighborhood’s annual holiday tree lighting ceremony.
Shelli-Anne Couch, one of a handful of local volunteers who organize the tree lighting each year, said she was surprised when Wells Fargo, who had hosted the ceremony in their Glendale Boulevard parking lot without issue for 25 years suddenly pulled out recently, citing liability insurance issues.
According to Couch, she and another volunteer met with the bank’s branch manager, Carely Rojas, and district manager, Luanna Lindsey, who told her they would need to purchase $5 million worth of liability insurance to continue holding the event there.
“We’re just volunteers,” said Couch, of the group organizing the tree lighting. “We’re not a 501(c)(3) [nonprofit organization]. We raise enough money to light the tree and keep it lit, but we can’t afford to buy insurance.”
Couch said she asked Lindsey and Rojas to consider sponsoring the event, which would allow the bank’s insurance to cover it. She had not yet received an answer at press time.
When reached for comment, Lindsey declined to be interviewed and instead referred questions to the bank’s corporate communications department, who issued the following prepared statement: “Wells Fargo is currently in communication with the Atwater organizers. At this point no decision has been made.”
Meanwhile, Couch said she and the other volunteers will continue to look for alternate locations for this year’s tree lighting, and are considering closing a side street off of Glendale Boulevard or holding it in a local park. But, she said, she doubts they will be able to find a location as ideal as the Wells Fargo lot.
“There’s no other place that big or that natural for a gathering of that size,” said Couch.
Moreover, Couch said, the tree’s prominent placement on Glendale Boulevard makes it a sort of festive “welcome mat” for the neighborhood during the holiday season.
“When you go over that bridge [from Los Feliz into Atwater Village] and see that tree all lit up, it’s just beautiful,” said Couch. “It’s like a big twinkly hug.”
Atwater Village is represented by Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who in March filed a motion requesting the city divest its $40 million in holdings from Wells Fargo, citing a 2015 lawsuit over fraudulent accounts and the bank’s support of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A spokesperson for O’Farrell refused to comment on this story.