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Op-Ed: Bob Brown is "an affordable housing activist" and not right for Novato

There are at least two sides to the interim appointment of Bob Brown as Interim Community Development Director. Here, a 30-year resident lays out her opposition.

Editor Note: The will meet on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 6:30 p.m. and will be taking public comment on the. This is the one of several letters from readers on Bob Brown's apppointment to the . Patch will publish an exclusive interview with shortly.

On February 15th, Novato city manager, Michael Frank, announced his plan to hire two highly experienced part-time individuals to replace recently retired Dave Wallace as Novato's Directors.  Of the two, Bob Brown is the more controversial when you evaluate his position on high density affordable housing and the need for local government to "fill the void" of national leadership regarding climate change. 

Though Mr. Brown's values are admirable I do not agree that his is the only route available to address homelessness or environmental conservation.  My greatest concern is that Mr. Brown sees himself as an activist and therefore will be unwilling to explore options that veer from his stated beliefs. If that is the case then the people of Novato will not be getting what they asked for in this critical area of an updated housing element and general plan.

In the past year, Novato has taken a stand against the imposition of high density affordable housing going so far as to challenge the Association Of Bay Area Government's (ABAG) quotas by putting together a prospective housing element that favors low to moderate density and maintains the rural/suburban character of Novato's existing neighborhoods.  However, Mr. Brown's vision supports ABAG's One Bay Area Plan.  One Bay Area emphasizes the addition of high density low income housing clustered around transportation hubs throughout Marin.  In this regard Mr. Brown's views are radically different from the ones established by last year's affordable housing working group and by the city council. 

"Novato residents and officials have expressed concerns about One Bay Area housing projections that will eventually be linked to state-mandated allocations. One Bay Area figures released in March 2011 called for growth of 778 households in that city, or 3.8 percent by 2035; but a series of new figures drafted in August doubled the projection to between 1,570 and 1,610 households....By comparison, San Rafael's projected growth was cut from 21.8 percent, or 5,045 households in March 2011, to anywhere from 11 to 17.6 percent growth in August — 2,500 to 4,000 households...While the city still plans to accommodate what could be the county's densest development, officials from San Rafael suggested a "more equitable distribution" of housing after the March figures were released, Brown said." Marin Independent Journal 1/15/12

The Novato city council recently challenged ABAG's arbitrary transfer of increased numbers of affordable housing units from San Rafael to Novato.  Mr. Brown seems unperturbed by San Rafael passing its numbers north even though Novato specifically did not accept MTC funding to avoid a responsibility of this kind. 

"Bob believes that government must be a catalyst in moving residents and businesses towards more sustainable lifestyles and business practices.  He is a strong advocate for coordinated local action to fill the void of national leadership." Resilient Neighborhoods.org

The Novato City Council in their January 30, 2012 letter to ABAG, made clear their objections to regionally compelled density requirements and to rising numbers of homes being built with little regard for local control or a reasoned process behind the numbers themselvesMr. Brown seems like the last person to advocate for goals of limited growth within a community framework that uses lower to moderate density and attempts to seamlessly integrate new affordable housing into an existing scheme of predominantly single family neighborhoods. 

Mr. Brown appears to favor new development that will increase the urban character of a city without balancing the tax base that will be needed to financially support growth.  One time funds supplied by MTC or HUD do not offer sufficient income to cover the ongoing costs of city services provided to residents who will not contribute to the property tax base.  Affordable housing is funded through non profits.  Non profits do not pay property taxes.  The percentage of low income housing incorporated into each city is dependent on property taxes paid by higher income households and by sales tax revenue.

In the city of San Rafael Mr. Brown added 400 units of high density low income housing to the downtown area.  Now San Rafael is asking ABAG to push a significant piece of its housing allotment to Novato because they recognize the size of the burden they have assumed by accepting MTC money.  Novato specifically did not take money from MTC because they did not want their totals exponentially increased

"Encouraging Housing: A fundamental strategy for meeting these goals was to build more housing downtown (San Rafael)…For example, in some areas the city doubled height limits from three to six stories, halved residential parking requirements to one space per, apartment and increased density limits from 42 to 72 homes per acre. Between 1993 and 2006, nearly 400 homes were built downtown, adding 50% more housing." Grow Smart Bay Area Greenbelt Alliance

In a letter dated May 24, 2011, to Novato's former Community Development Director, Dave Wallace, Mr. Brown specifically recommends that Novato:  increase housing density to 30+acres, add affordable housing (AH) density bonuses, and zone extensive mixed use high density housing to be built along the Redwood transportation corridor as well as on sites at 1901 Novato Boulevard and 1787 Grant Avenue.  Mr. Brown insists that anything less than 30+ acres of density + AH bonus, will be rejected outright by ABAG, negate certification of the housing element and lead to costly legal battles. 

Nowhere in Mr. Brown's letter does he acknowledge the significant difference in tax base between Novato with 5% land zoned commercial and San Rafael with 11% land zoned commercial.   Without considerable sales tax revenue increases Novato cannot make up the losses incurred when affordable housing is built lacking a sufficient property tax base.  Mr. Brown's vision though compassionate, does not provide balance with a city experiencing multimillion dollar structural deficits.  The question remains:  Why are we hiring an affordable housing activist to create our next housing element and update our general plan?

In his work for San Rafael, Mr. Brown produced affordable housing with density bonuses ranging from 25% to, 45% to 53% to 62% in different projects.  Mr. Brown is noted for his participation in a strategy of sustainable communities that ties transportation, to high density multistory housing.  Mr. Brown advocates the "Mayor's Protection Climate Change Agreement" which is tied to the Kyoto protocol which has not yet been ratified by the United States and which Canada has sought withdrawal from due to its significant financial penalties for not meeting stated goals.  Mr. Brown has strong beliefs in many areas of government where regulation is tied to planning.  He appears to have integrated those beliefs with his work in San Rafael.  Will he do the same with Novato?

Mr. Brown's contributions in the area of climate change and sustainable high density development have been commended by many local advocacy groups. However, his position as a Novato Co Director of Community Development requires a willingness to support the views of the community and the council for which he works.  In Novato this would appear to differ from his stated position of social and environmental advocacy. How will Mr. Brown rationalize this conflict?  Will he be more likely to try to bring city planners to his way of thinking?  Even the county of Marin has made a request to have ABAG's density quota's reduced to reflect Marin's suburban character.  Where will Mr. Brown's loyalties lie if in his heart he believes in a high density strategy to eliminate homelessness and protect against climate change?  

In a recent letter to ABAG the council reiterated a stance that Novato did not want San Rafael's surplus housing and would not agree to a sustainable community vision that foisted housing beyond Novato's fiscal capacity.  After more than a year of community input the council recognized the need to retain local control over planning issues including the development of low income affordable housing. 

The question remains how Mr. Brown will reconcile what the community and council have requested with his own view that affordable housing mandates have not gone far enough to increase the supply of low income homes in Marin.

Has Mr. Brown been chosen to assist in the completion of the updated housing element in order to bypass last year's community workshops?  Is Mr. Frank's vision for Novato more in line with what Mr. Brown has done in San Rafael?  Is Novato ready for multi-story buildings resembling downtown San Rafael or Novato's Millwork's project throughout the Redwood Corridor that increase our population to the degree that our structural budget deficit triples or quadruples in the next ten years?  Why would Mr. Frank specifically choose to add an individual to our planning department who is clearly a leader in the affordable housing community?

On February 28th, Mr. Frank has asked the city council to confirm Mr. Brown's position as co-community development director.  We need answers to these questions before considering any continued involvement with Mr. Brown in such a vital aspect of our city government.

-Tina McMillan, MFT is a psychotherapist and consultant. She has lived in Novato for thirty years. She is married with two adult sons.

marym February 24, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Well respected among San Rafael citizens, enviro community etc? NovatoMom - you must be kidding. That's a sweeping statement. Where are you getting your info? I'm hear to tell you, as the land use chair for my San Rafael neighborhood association and a member of some key enviro organizations, that Bob Brown was a highly DISLIKED. He was rude and dismissive of community concerns. The San Rafael Airport soccer complex neg dec prepared under his watch was sloppy, unprofessional, and overlooked key and obvious information. The DEIR was equally bad. We're still dealing with that project proposal, one of the most environmentally damaging of the last quarter century - all developed under his watch. There was huge sign of relieve ALL ACROSS San Rafael neighborhood associations when Bob Brown left.
25 Year Resident February 24, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Affordable Housing is like the children's story 'Give a Mouse a Cookie'. Regardless of how much housing is made available and at what price, it will never be good enough and the advocates will return shortly asking for more. How dense is too dense? 20 per acre? 30 per acre? How much is enough? 1000 units? 2000 units? When will they be satisfied? Simple answer. Never. We spent over a year trying to satisfy these unelected social engineers and I have to give them credit for their ability to pit neighbor against neighbor, and neighborhood against neighborhood. They do not live in our town, they may never have visited our town, and yet they felt that they could mandate changes that will irreversibly alter the face of our city. We tried to meet their demands, and it is not just the financial cost we are paying, we now have Novato residents on both sides of this issue who may never speak to one another because of the divisiveness this has created. As these fences are finally being mended, we find that they are taking a new approach. There have always been those that wish that Novato was more like San Rafael or some other city, but we aren’t. Every effort to change this city seems to have negative consequences and still, those that advocated the changes are back for more. Isn’t it time to stop trying to please those that will never be satisfied, and simply embrace the Novato that so many of us already love? See you on Tuesday.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 24, 2012 at 06:41 PM
For its advocates, there is never enough social engineering, and we all know who the great social engineers of the 20th century were. Yes, I have to keep making that comparison. I only wish that voicing an opinion at city council meetings made a difference. Without a commitment at the ballot box, the social engineers win. Did you know that in 2008 in 50 of the 53 California counties, less than 50% of Republicans even cast a ballot. The social engineers won because the beneficiaries of social engineering do vote; they have to, social engineering pays for their rent, their food, their clothing, their medical care, their public defenders, their beer, and their drugs. Who pays for social engineering? YOU do.
News Replies February 24, 2012 at 06:51 PM
We as Novato homeowners must vote in elections and remove the current City Council and City Manager Frank and replace them with individuals who represent homeowners who want to live in a safe secure town free from felons, who move here from other cities and eat up our resources and only give grief back to the community. These activists and our own elected leaders must be removed!! Liberalism is killing Novato. Talk to your neighbors. Inform them.
Demosthenes February 24, 2012 at 06:55 PM
How do we keep out the felons?
Reality Check February 24, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Social engineers? Do you all even understand what you are saying? The U.S. and any country with organization is "social engineering" if you want to put a term to it. The military is a socially engineered defense system. As are the police, fire, etc. How about the schools? All of these entities are "engineered' for the social good. Why are you all so xenophobic as well? Now we see how far backwards many Novato citizens are...you deserve to live again in the xenophobic 1950s
Reality Check February 24, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Why are you so xenophobic? Who are the felons? Name them. Liberal = freedom (by definition). You are fighting apparently against what you believe in. I see that most commenters do not understand what they are saying. You would rather talk in "sound bites" and have been sold on issues without actually understanding how you are voting against you own self-interests. Would you rather have the opposite of liberalism...that is, authoritary rule? Maybe totalitarianism? Or how about really everyone on their own - anarchy. You better think again.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 24, 2012 at 09:00 PM
"Xenophobic" must have a new definition. If you are speaking of illegal aliens, we should be afraid of people who, by their very illegal presence in this country, live day-to-day violating the laws of the land. That is not xenophobia, it is self-preservation.
25 Year Resident February 24, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Please use consideration before name-calling simply because someone doesn’t share your worldview. I am bilingual and spent summers doing volunteer medical work in Ecuador and Bolivia. I have a brother-in-law from Argentina and a niece from Guatemala. As a youth my parents drove my sisters and I once to Panama, once to Costa Rica, and I spent a summer living with a family in Mexico. I can also say that before moving to Novato, I lived for two years in the canal in San Rafael and before then I lived walking distance from Watts. This is not NIMBY or xenophobia. I would not want to see anybody’s kids living packed into housing with the kind of density that has been proposed. Novato has changed over the years, but perpetual growth is not sustainable, and increased density is unhealthy. We are an aging community and as some have retired or moved, you can often spot the new families, working in their yards and redoing the landscaping. This should be our future, not larger, taller, and denser building complexes.
Pebes February 24, 2012 at 09:27 PM
25 YR- This sounds very sensible, as the population grows we'll just keep building single family homes on 10,000 square foot lots. of course, no more room left in novato for that kind of building so let them build it someplace else. this sounds much more sustainable and healthy.
Tina McMillan February 24, 2012 at 10:08 PM
25 Year Resident Thank you! Your comments are appreciated as they apply to the point I was trying to make which is to use common sense in planning by hiring a Co Community Development Director that is not an activist but a neutral party who is willing to take the vision of the city council and the residents and make it a reality. The council is no longer arguing against low to moderate density or suburban status. In fact, both the city and the county have submitted requests to ABAG to be redesignated suburban. There is no need to argue a point that we have succeeded in winning at the local level. The real issue is how we get there on a regional and state level. This is a critical year. Both the housing element and the general plan must be updated. Our current plan has made it almost impossible to generate sufficient revenue to keep up with our debts. This is not about xenophobia or illegal immigration. Jerome I appreciate your support for public planning but when you reintroduce illegal immigration to every issue then the dialogue turns to us versus them. In truth, people come to America to have the opportunity to work hard and build a life for their families. Most people are not "felons" and most communities have "felons" regardless of their immigration laws. Pebes your assumption that either we have high density housing or single family homes negates all the options in between. No one is saying that either.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 24, 2012 at 11:59 PM
@ Tina, you are right. It is only a misdemeanor to enter the US illegally. All illegal aliens are criminals, most wait until after they get here to commit felonies. Leopards do not change their spots. A person who has committed themself to break our laws, does not stop at just one law, they keep breaking them, and they keep getting excused by the leftists. Point out one illegal who has not driven a car without a license or insurance. Point to one illegal who has not been involved in a hit who has not also run. Point to one illegal who has been cited for driving without a license who did not get right back into that car and do it again. And, yes, the illegal alien drug gangs in Novato do contain some citizens, but the illegal drugs and the violence comes from abroad right along with the illegals. There aren't any cocaine or poppy fields in Ross. The drugs come from abroad. right along with the illegals. And the FBI has proven that the drug gangs follow right behind the bus boys and nannies. Novato and Marin are targets of opportunity because of their leftist sanctuary policies.
Tina McMillan February 25, 2012 at 12:08 AM
Jerome One issue at a time. The issue here is whether Bob Brown can function in a role that requires him to support a housing agenda that is the opposite of his point of view to date. The council and the county have both asked to change our status to suburban. The council has also asked that we not pick up San Rafael's housing allotment and that we be allowed to determine density based on multiple factors. This was all hashed out last year. Why would Mr. Frank open this particularly divisive wound by hiring Bob Brown?
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 25, 2012 at 12:25 AM
Assemblywoman Torres of Pomona, whose city has a 55% population which speaks no English according to Wikipedia, is the chair of the committee who prevented our Assemblyman Huffman from getting Novato designated as "suburban". The issues are linked. The utopian social engineers work in concert.
Tina McMillan February 25, 2012 at 12:41 AM
Demosthenes I was responding to Pebes who made it an either/or situation. 25 years was discussing the range of options. Not wanting to recreate San Rafael's downtown housing in Novato is a reasonable, non-xenophobic goal. San Rafael has more than twice the commercial zoning as Novato. It has a significantly higher tax base. We can't afford to build in the same manner. Neither do I believe it's healthy or appropriate to build in this manner. I think it is good to have the option of living in a suburban/rural city. One Bay Area is a plan to urbanize the suburbs. Not everyone agrees with this plan. That's why people are speaking out.
25 Year Resident February 25, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Tina, Thank you for speaking out on this issue and keeping the discussion focused. From your op-ed, it appears that Brown was directly involved in the planning in San Rafael that overcommitted by 100%. If this is the case, how can Frank claim he is at all qualified? It appears that San Rafael is just now realizing the negative impact that his commitment requires and they are now trying to clean up after him by trying to push his mistakes up here. Is this a fair assessment?
Tina McMillan February 25, 2012 at 02:56 AM
San Rafael accepted Marin Transportation Commission (MTC) money to become a Priority Development Area (PDA) which involves accepting significantly higher housing numbers. Novato did not accept MTC money or put a SMART station in Old Town for this reason and yet when ABAG redid their numbers housing was transferred from San Rafael to Novato regardless. Here are links to letters written by the Novato City Council objecting to the transfer: City Letter to ABAG on the Strategic Community Strategy Posted Date: 1/31/2012 http://www.ci.novato.ca.us/Index.aspx?page=637&recordid=1156&returnURL=%2fIndex.aspx%3fpage%3d1 To Novato City Council's credit they stood up and said, "NO", to ABAG... "Fundamentally, the City of Novato cannot endorse the increase in projected housing units that have been redistributed to Novato as a result of the three new Scenarios. The increase in the projected number of housing units for the City of Novato in the Initial Vision Scenario (778) has more than doubled in the three new scenarios – Focused Growth (1599), Constrained Core Concentration (1574), and Outward Growth (1605), respectively. This doubling in the projected number of housing units is not acceptable to this community, as the housing numbers for the SCS will be incorporated into the Regional Housing Needs Allocation process (RHNA)."
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 25, 2012 at 03:05 AM
ABAG is the uncontrolled prince of social engineering. Not elected by anyone, ABAG should be disbanded. ABAG makes up their rules ex post facto and as they go.
Novato Chess Club February 26, 2012 at 03:48 PM
Amen
Tina McMillan February 26, 2012 at 05:41 PM
http://www.paloaltoonline.com/news/show_story.php?id=24402 http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_20040476 Two articles discussing numbers used by ABAG in their recent allotment of homes to bay area cities. It looks like Palo Alto is challenging their numbers and looking for other cities to join them in questioning ABAG quotas. Mr. Brown is responsible for San Rafael having two PDA's, downtown and civic center. This was driven by the desire to access more funding through MTC but the housing was pushed to Novato by ABAG in its new vision scenarios. If Marin contains PDA's, essentially it is saying that it is a metropolitan community and that it's designation of 30+ acres is far short of need. Marin County Supervisors recently wrote a letter to ABAG asking to be redesignated suburban to reduce the base housing mandates. It looks like Marin communities are working at cross purposes with one another. If we are going to challenge ABAG then we all need to work together.
Trish Boorstein February 26, 2012 at 07:08 PM
More evidence that Bob Brown is not a good fit for Novato. Bob Brown has proven by example that you don't even have to ask for a PDA to get dumped on! San Rafael gets the best of both worlds, funding for their PDA with just the right amount of housing. Since Bob Brown might be responsible for Novato's new added housing numbers in this new scenario, how can we be sure he's not going to push for this rezoning and permitting (two jobs on his job description)?
Eleanor Sluis February 26, 2012 at 08:56 PM
Thanks to Pam and Tina for emphasizing certain criteria in the hiring of managers and consultants. The City Council has agreed to a rural/suburban designation for Novato. It has agreed to 20 units per acre for low-cost housing units. With the bonus, this means building 26-30 units per acre. By hiring Bob Brown who worked to get more units in San Rafael, the question needs to be raised then is this how the city manager feels? If the city manager is unwilling to find a qualified person who fits into Novato’s vision of a small rural/suburban town then does he need to resign? Many people resign from their jobs in government and in the private sector when their vision does not correlate with the current employers. Do Michael Frank and Bob Brown both need to look at the inconsistency of their views as differing from that of the city council and of the many neighborhood-housing groups? Thereby, will they realize that neither of them appear to be a good fit for Novato and would possibly do better working for an urban area in which their potential can be better put to use? Resignations might be a way to go.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 26, 2012 at 10:51 PM
It was my campaign pledge to get rid of Mr. Frank. But 20,000 Novato voters did not even take the trouble to cast a ballot, and 4,000 voters-knee jerk-voted for "incumbents". Novato voters are going to wake up after Novato is long gone as a community.
Tina McMillan February 26, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Jerome I understand your frustration. However, it doesn't help to keep saying, "I told you so." It took Eric two tries to get elected and he came in first. Leslie was only 150 votes behind Madeleine in third. I don't know the stats but I believe fewer people vote in years in which there are primarily local issues because they assume that everything is being handled. Here are some links to articles being written about Stockton going into potential bankruptcy: Road ahead for Stockton will be rocky and ugly By Mike Klocke Record Editor February 26, 2012 12:00 AM http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120226/A_NEWS0801/202260306/-1/a_news05 For you 300,000 or so Stocktonians trying to figure out what it all means, let's simplify things: Stockton is NOT about to immediately embark on bankruptcy. Instead, it will be Bankruptcy Lite. Or Diet Bankruptcy.
Tina McMillan February 26, 2012 at 11:50 PM
Continued California’s Stockton May Ask Bondholders to ‘Suffer,’ City Says February 26, 2012, 1:22 AM EST By Alison Vekshin and Michael B. Marois http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-26/california-s-stockton-may-ask-bondholders-to-suffer-city-says.html "Shrinking Current Budget….Stockton’s council will be asked to reduce the current budget by $15 million because of newly uncovered accounting errors and mismanagement that have left the city almost broke, City Manager Bob Deis told reporters yesterday. To keep the city solvent through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, the council will be asked to default on $2 million of debt payments" City may be guinea pig for new law By Michael Fitzgerald Record Columnist February 24, 2012 12:00 AM http://www.recordnet.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120224/A_NEWS0803/202240326/-1/a_news03 "Stockton's bond debt is at least $137 million. On Thursday, Bloomberg reported Stockton bonds were trading at 88 cents on the dollar. "Bond holders are buying Stockton cheaply to insulate themselves against potential problems and further credit deterioration in Stockton," one Massachusetts bond expert said. "People are watching closely to see what they do."The 506 law gives mediation 60 days to work - plus 30 more, if a majority of parties agree. Only if they can't resolve the crisis can the city proceed to bankruptcy. The city must pay half the cost."
Tina McMillan February 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM
I bring up Stockton because I believe everyone needs to pay heed to how local tax dollars are being spent and what new debts are being incurred. Remember we currently have a $2.5 million dollar structural tax deficit and yet we are still building class A offices downtown, without needed parking for merchants, at a currently declared cost of $15 to $17 million, not including the value of the land or the RDA bond interest payments. There was some question about whether we would have to pay back the $6 million in cash we took out of the RDA before it closed and how the bonds will be managed is up to the successor agency that will be taking over. The next community development directors will have their hands full with both the housing element and the general plan. If we don't increase our commercial zoning we will be hard pressed to find ways to overcome our structural debt other than increasing taxes. We continue to cut back on city services and employees and this year our school district has yet again to cut back on teachers, support staff and survive with the closure of one of three middle schools. We may not be going bankrupt but we are certainly struggling with serious financial constraints. Who we hire and how they propose to help overcome these difficulties is the most important issue we face in the next year.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 27, 2012 at 02:27 AM
@ Tina, yes, it is worthwhile to say, I told you so. And, yes, the city elections are intentionally held in odd numbered years; specifically so that most people do not vote. All of this dialog is spinning straw into gold unless the writers herein can do two things; 1-change city voting to even numbered years, 2-find some way to wake up 71% of the Novato population. If I am not mistaken, governor moonbeam just changed the election code so that all initiatives are on the ballot in even numbered years. So even gov moonbeam recognized that odd numbered year elections are ignored. Leslie had a huge issue and a huge following. What will it take to wake up that 71+% who thinks that everything is just fine?
Renee February 27, 2012 at 04:25 AM
Mr. Ghigliotti Jr. Please GO AWAY the voters have indeed spoken! you were not elected and I seriously doubt with your very negative sentiments you NEVER will be. ADIOS
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 27, 2012 at 05:21 AM
Sorry. I will not go away. I will stick around and point out all of our follies until such time as people will have to sit up and listen. No the voters have not spoken, The voters are still asleep.
Jerome J Ghigliotti Jr February 27, 2012 at 05:22 AM
Thanks. I look forward to meeting with you, but not this Tuesday. I will bide my time.

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