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2 Calif. Banks Restrict ATM Use

November 11, 1999

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (AP) _ George Safaris was out of luck Thursday when his quest for cash got caught up in a battle over ATM fees between this trendy seaside community and California’s two largest banks.

Safaris wanted to withdraw $100 for lunch with his wife, a trip to the beach and ``hanging out,″ but a Bank of America automated teller machine rejected his Canadian bank card.

``It’s just a total inconvenience,″ said the Pacific Palisades resident. ``Now I have to go find another bank.″

Bank of America and Wells Fargo began limiting ATM access on Thursday to customers only, the same day a Santa Monica city ordinance took effect banning surcharges on ATM use by noncustomers.

The retaliatory lockout of ATMs couldn’t have come at a worse time for consumers. Thursday was Veterans Day, a federal holiday when most banks were closed.

That left David Brito scrambling.

The Santa Monica resident usually banks with his credit union, but because it was shut for the holiday he tried to use a Bank of America ATM.

Inserting his card to get $20, Brito instead was greeted with a notice advising him that: ``Due to a recent vote by the Santa Monica City Council, the convenience of this ATM is now available to Bank of America card holders only.″

``That means I can’t get no money today. It’s terrible,″ said Brito, who was running low of cash.

Because Bank of America and Wells Fargo are the state’s largest banks, choices for noncustomers are limited. Combined, the banks have 33 ATMs in Santa Monica.

The banks have said they should not be prohibited from charging fees and that they need the money to offset the cost of operating a 24-hour cash network.

San Francisco voters passed a similar ban Nov. 2, and both banks said they plan to limit ATM use to customers there too. That ordinance takes effect next month.

The bankers, arguing that cities do not have authority over national banks, go to federal court on Monday seeking to overturn the ban on ATM surcharges.

Officials with both banks said the ordinances in Santa Monica and San Francisco will cost them about $3 million a year each in noncustomer ATM fees.

Some of those stopping at a Bank of America ATM in Santa Monica said they didn’t object to the surcharge.

``If you want the convenience of using someone else’s bank, you should have to pay for it,″ said Santa Monica resident Philip Cummins.

Safaris, too, said he doesn’t mind paying the fee, typically $1.50 a transaction.

``I’m happy to pay the small fee for convenience _ you spend $5 just to park your vehicle,″ he said.

Bank officials said Santa Monica’s ATMs will be reopened to noncustomers if they succeed in getting a court to block the ordinance.

But that would come too late for Imanuel Muller of France and Pamela O’Kello of England, vacationing together in California.

A Bank of America ATM rejected O’Kello’s credit card _ issued in England.

``Do you know where we could go?″ O’Kello, 25, asked a passerby.

``It’s completely inconvenient, especially since we don’t know the place.″

They said they were trying to retrieve $300 for shopping.

``If (the ban) is repeated in all of Los Angeles, it would be bad for the tourists,″ Muller, 23, said. ``And it would be very bad for the economy.″

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