Paulina Gonzalez might be the most feared person in California banking. She’s executive director of San Francisco’s California Reinvestment Coalition, opposition from which has been instrumental in drawing out the time line of a proposed merger between Pasadena’s OneWest Bank and CIT Group in Livingston, N.J.

She’s doesn’t miss an opportunity to blast OneWest for what she feels is the bank’s inadequate service to the community, but has recently also adopted a good-cop role for banks she feels are doing the right thing.

Her newest gig doubles down on that approach: She’s partnered with former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Irvine’s Banc of California Inc. to oversee a proposed $200 million fund that will make investments in lower-income communities.

Gonzalez and Villaraigosa will co-chair the fund’s community advisory panel, which will help direct capital to businesses they feel are overlooked despite being growing and creditworthy.

“We have to dispel the myth that most of these loans are high risk,” Gonzalez said.

The investment fund, which Banc of California said will include contributions from at least 12 other California lenders, is part of the bank’s Community Reinvestment Act plan, something institutions must put together when seeking a merger or acquisition. Banc of California made a CRA commitment as part of its acquisition last year of the local assets and branches of Puerto Rico’s Popular Community Bank.

Banc of California Chairman Steve Sugarman announced the creation of the fund at a Clinton Global Initiative conference in Denver earlier this month.

Sugarman credited the ex-mayor with emphasizing the importance of working with community groups – and OneWest’s experience has certainly underlined that.

“Villaraigosa really raised to our attention the need to partner to key community groups,” Sugarman said.

Gonzalez said the current plan took shape through a series of conversations she had with Sugarman earlier this year.

“In February, Steve and I began to bounce around some other ideas, one of which was the investment fund,” she said. “One of the things we remain very interested in is how and where the funds get spent to ensure they have maximum impact. The fund could be a game changer for how banks partner with community groups.”

Through her engagement with Banc of California, Gonzalez has shown a willingness to play ball when a bank makes a good faith effort. She said that hasn’t been the same for her boogeyman, OneWest. Officials there declined to comment.

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