January 28, 2023
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OCB Bancorp taps Ortega to open Santa Barbara branch


Dave Brubaker, left, recruited longtime South Coast banker Eloy Ortega to open a Santa Barbara branch of Ojai Community Bank. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)

Dave Brubaker, left, recruited longtime South Coast banker Eloy Ortega to open a Santa Barbara branch of Ojai Community Bank. (Nik Blaskovich / Business Times photo)


The parent company of Ojai Community Bank is tapping veteran South Coast banker Eloy Ortega to open a new Santa Barbara branch.

Ortega, most recently CEO at The Bank of Santa Barbara, will serve as market president for the new division, which will be called Santa Barbara Community Bank.

“As a lot of banks exit the market, there’s a need for smaller banks to continue to serve customers,” OCB Bancorp President and CEO Dave Brubaker told the Business Times.

Since the financial crisis, the number of community banks headquartered in the Tri-Counties has dwindled to 11, down from more than 20 before. Many smaller lenders have merged into larger institutions that are more competitive in a highly regulated and low-growth banking environment.

Brubaker said the decision to move up to Santa Barbara was largely based on the ability to recruit Ortega.

“We feel that we need the right people to run a business, rather than building a business and waiting for the right people to come,” he said. “If there was a key person in San Luis Obispo, we would have looked there. But Eloy was here in Santa Barbara, and it turned out to be a great fit.”

The bank still needs its final regulatory approvals for the new location, but Brubaker and Ortega said they expect to receive those within the next month. The new branch will be located in downtown Santa Barbara’s financial district, they said.

Ortega’s banking career began with City Commerce Bank in 1991. He went on to lead the firm as president and CEO until Mid-State Bank & Trust acquired City Commerce in 1999. He then went on to start Business First National Bank, which was later purchased by Paso Robles-based Heritage Oaks Bancorp. In 2006, he was recruited to found Promerica Bank, the first Latino-owned bank to start in Los Angeles in more than 30 years.

In November 2009, Ortega gathered a team of prominent business leaders including Kinko’s founder Paul Orfalea, philanthropist Tom Parker and Venoco CEO Tim Marquez to purchase The Bank of Santa Barbara from its struggling parent firm, Michigan-based Capitol Bancorp.

During Ortega’s tenure, The Bank of Santa Barbara returned to profitability and its assets grew three-fold to more than $157 million.

In May of this year, Ortega abruptly stepped down from The Bank of Santa Barbara. His departure came as the bank revealed that it was racing to comply with the Bank Secrecy Act, a complex set of regulatory reporting requirements that has greatly expanded in scope in recent years. The Bank of Santa Barbara has not yet announced a permanent CEO, but Chief Operating Officer Joanne Funari is filling the position on an interim basis.

Ortega is known for his community involvement, including previously serving as president of the Santa Barbara Region Chamber of Commerce. He has been named Executive of the Year by the South Coast Business and Technology Awards and has received a Latino Business Award from the Pacific Coast Business Times.

“This is a market I know. That made it a very easy decision for me,” he said. “It will be a good cultural fit.”

Ojai Community Bank was founded in 2005. In 2008, it purchased two branches from the struggling parent company of Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, now part of Union Bank, that allowed it to expand into Santa Paula. There, it operates under the brand Santa Paula Community Bank. In 2012, it opened a Ventura branch, called Ventura Community Bank. Last year, the bank created the holding company OCB Bancorp and merged all of its brands under that umbrella.

With about $150 million in assets, OCB Bancorp is one of the smaller community banks based in the Tri-Counties.

The bank earned $442,030 in 2013, compared to $1.6 million in 2012. Its assets grew 9 percent last year as total loans rose 31 percent to $97 million.