Chase Bank plans to open 18 branches in Los Angeles County this year, executives said last week, generating upwards of 200 local jobs.

The bank, owned by financial conglomerate JPMorgan Chase & Co., currently has 204 branches in the county and about 5,700 local employees, said spokesman Gary Kishner.

The expansion is part of a statewide initiative to open 90 branches this year, more than half of which will be located in Southern California. The move comes on the heels of 20 branch openings in 2009.

“California is an important market for us,” Kishner said. “There’s a lot of opportunity here both for the bank to grow, and to provide products and services to our customers.”

Chase has been aggressively courting the Southern California market since buying Washington Mutual after it was closed by regulators in late 2008.

Washington Mutual had a large local footprint and was the second largest L.A. bank by deposits prior to its closure, while Chase had little presence in the market. As of June 30, though, the most recent date for which data was available, Chase had the fourth largest market share in the county.

Chase officially changed the signs and began refurbishing former Washington Mutual branches in early 2009.

Separately, Wells Fargo & Co. announced last week that it has formally converted the L.A. branches of Wachovia, a banking giant it bought in late 2008, to Wells Fargo locations.

In the process, Wells Fargo closed three of its local branches and 14 Wachovia locations, and converted 23 Wachovia branches, increasing Wells Fargo’s total county locations from 217 to 237.

Foreclosure Fees

A coalition of residents, union members and City Councilman Eric Garcetti is going on the offensive against big banks that fail to maintain foreclosed homes in Los Angeles.

Last week, the group started LAHoodwinked.com, a website allowing Angelenos to report unkempt foreclosures in their neighborhoods. The site includes interactive Google Maps features that display the locations of foreclosed homes, and give users the ability to easily report incidents of graffiti, overgrown grass and other unsightly problems.

According to the Mortgage Relief Bill, signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2008, banks can be fined as much as $1,000 per day for failing to maintain foreclosed properties in California.

The City Council is considering a draft ordinance that would implement an enforcement program for fine collection.

Proper collection of these fines, the group said, could help offset job losses and save city programs at a time of severe budget problems.

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