January 31, 2023
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Branch bidding war looms for Ventura County


PacWest Bancorp’s $231 million acquisition of Westlake Village-based First California Bank will push numerous Ventura County branches onto the market, and the CEO of the next largest independent bank in the region says she’s taking a hard look.

“It’s a market we’re very interested in expanding into,” Simone Lagomarsino, CEO of Paso Robles-based Heritage Oaks Bank told the Business Times. “If we put San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties together in terms of deposits, Ventura [County] equals those two put together. The sheer size of the market makes it very attractive.”

Heritage Oaks Bancorp reported a $3.7 million first-quarter profit, up 131 percent over a year earlier, and said it is gearing up to repay $25 million in bailout funds it took at the height of the recession. The repayment comes with the announcement that two sets of banking regulators have lifted an order over the bank.

The parent company of Heritage Oaks Bank and Business First Bank said quarterly income before taxes was $6.1 million for the three months ended March 31, a $4.9 million increase from $1.2 million for the same period a year earlier.

Heritage Oaks’ memorandum of understanding with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the California Department of Financial Institutions was terminated effective April 24.

Heritage Oaks said it has since filed a request with its regulators to approve a $25 million dividend that would be used to repay the U.S. Treasury the bank’s debt under the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or TARP — the federal bank bailout program was rolled out at the height of the financial crisis. The bank remains under an MOU with the Federal Reserve Board and is expecting an on-site inspection from those regulators later this year, she said.

Heritage Oaks said first-quarter total gross loans were up 9.2 percent to $704.9 million, an increase primarily driven by commercial, residential and agriculture lending business.

The bank operates along the Central Coast and in Santa Barbara and recently opened an Oxnard loan office with an eye toward expanding into Ventura County.

Lagomarsino told the Business Times that Heritage Oaks made $75 million in agricultural loans last year; Ventura County’s massive farm sector, which is focused around strawberries, lemons and avocados, therefore makes it an especially attractive new market.

Paso Robles-based Heritage Oaks is tied with Santa Barbara-based Montecito Bank & Trust as the largest bank based in the Tri-Counties as ranked by assets.

Possible players

PacWest’s $231 million acquisition of Westlake Village-based First California is expected to close in coming weeks. When it does, Los Angeles-based rival PacWest has said it will close about a dozen branches to gain an estimated $31.5 million in cost savings.

PacWest last month laid off an estimated 50 people at First California’s headquarters, which will be consolidated into its Los Angeles offices.

PacWest has not said where the consolidation will occur or how many jobs will be affected, but in the Tri-Counties, the areas of overlap appear to be in Camarillo, Ventura and San Luis Obispo. That makes Ventura County a hot spot for rival banks to snap up market share.

“Whenever there’s an acquisition of a bank, there are always opportunities for other banks in that process,” Lagomarsino said.

Other potential entrants in the new Ventura County market include Oregon-based Umpqua Bank, another firm that focuses heavily on agricultural lending.

The Portland-based lender is opening a de novo branch in Templeton in June. It decided to open the SLO County location after a failed bid to buy San Luis Obispo-based American Perspective Bank last year. (PacWest, an aggressive acquirer, topped Umpqua’s bid for the SLO bank and ultimately purchased it for $58.1 million).

Umpqua Bank spokeswoman Eve Callahan said the bank has no immediate plans to expand down the coast, but that it views the entire region as a potential market. “Our agricultural lending team in the market now in Templeton has incredible expertise and is looking to cover a fairly broad part of the region,” she said.

Mission Community Bank, a mid-sized community lender based in San Luis Obispo, has also said it’s interested in expanding throughout the Tri-Counties as opportunities arise. The bank more than doubled in size after its 2011 acquisition of Santa Lucia Bancorp in late 2011.

“Ventura County is a very attractive market place and for this reason Mission Community Bank is currently present in Oxnard with a loan production office,” Chief Financial Officer Tom Tolda told the Business Times via email. He declined to comment specifically on possible further expansion in Ventura County.

The latest banking moves come after Union Bank last year purchased Santa Barbara Bank & Trust for $1.5 billion, the largest corporate deal in the region’s history. Unlike PacWest, Union made the purchase to increase its footprint, adding 31 branches to its network through the deal.

The San Francisco-based lender laid off more than 400 people at SBB&T’s administrative offices on the South Coast as it merged back-end operations, but branch operations in the Tri-Counties remained intact.