The Carbondale Observer

News and commentary about Carbondale, Illinois and SIUC

I Wonder What Happened to the Carbondale Observer

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I wonder what happened to that blog I used to read, the Carbondale Observer. I guess the author must have moved away, or maybe lost interest in Carbondale politics, right?

Wrong. I turned my primary attention to some other priorities during the last year and a half, but I’m still here and I’m still paying attention to Carbondale politics. I also spent some time serving on the Sustainability Commission, and I’m still serving on the Planning Commission.

I’ve also decided to run for City Council in 2015. If you liked my blog, you’d love having me on the Council. I think this election is winnable (otherwise I wouldn’t be running), but winning won’t be easy. If you want to help, I’d appreciate any assistance you can give.

All campaigns need at least four things: votes, volunteers, publicity, and money. If you live in Carbondale and you read and enjoyed the blog when it was active, I am asking for your vote. If you support my campaign and you want to volunteer to canvass precincts or help in any other way, that would mean a lot to me.

You can help with publicity by telling your friends and neighbors about the campaign, and by placing a yard sign in your lawn. You can also help by liking or following the campaign Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ pages, and sharing or retweeting updates. If you are a member of a group that has meetings, you can invite me to speak beginning in January.

What if you want to help, but you either: (1) can’t vote for me because you live outside Carbondale, (2) don’t have the time to volunteer, or (3) can’t help with publicity? Well, you can still help by donating. If you want to help finance the campaign, visit my campaign website and click the red “Make a Donation” link on the upper right part of the page.

Thank you for reading this blog over the years. I hope to earn your vote for City Council in 2015.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

November 18, 2014 at 7:00 am

City Council Meeting 05/21/2013

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I listened to the live stream of the May 25, 2013 city council meeting. It was one of the shortest meetings I can recall, running just one hour and thirty-eight minutes, excluding the closed session. Not much of note happened, but a brief summary and comments are below. The agenda is available on the city’s website.

Before the meeting got started, Mayor Joel Fritzler announced that citizen comments and questions would be moved to the beginning of the meeting, becoming Item 3 on the agenda. That move resulted in the numbers of other agenda items being changed. There were no citizen comments and questions.

Council then turned to the consent agenda. Council member Jane Adams requested that Item 5.5 (formerly 4.5) be pulled for discussion, and council member Don Monty requested that item 5.8 (formerly 4.8) be pulled for discussion. The remainder of the consent agenda passed unanimously.

Council then discussed Item 5.5 (formerly 4.5), appointments to boards and commissions. Council member Adams was concerned with the appointment of former council member Chris Wissmann to the Carbondale Convention and Tourism Bureau (CCTB) board of directors. Adams suggested that a sitting city council member should be appointed to that seat, since no council member currently sits on the CCTB board.

In perfect Carbondale city council style, the council proceeded to discuss a relatively simple issue for an unnecessarily long time. The final result was that the Wissmann appointment was pulled from Item 5.5 and, at a future meeting,  council will consider making a policy requiring the appointment one sitting council member to the CCTB board. The remaining board appointments in Item 5.5 passed unanimously.

Council then discussed Item 5.8 (formerly 4.8), a set of technical corrections to city code. Council member Don Monty pulled the item from the consent agenda because he was concerned that members of the public might not understand what changes council was making to city code. Members of the public can, of course, see the agenda item and the proposed changes online, which makes pulling it from the consent agenda unnecessary.

In the case of Item 5.8, the technical changes involved changing references to Title 15 of the city code. Title 15, the portion of the code dealing with zoning, recently changed. That means that references to Title 15 found elsewhere in the code might not have referred to the current Title 15. Item 5.8 updated all references to Title 15 in the code. It passed unanimously.

Council then turned to the general business agenda. Item 6.1 (formerly 5.1) was a city request to rezone the old high school practice fields on Oakland Avenue back to single family residential. The property in question had been zoned for single family residential use since 1974, even when it was in use by the high school.

In 2010, the property was zoned to PUD (Planned Unit Development) to permit the development of an assisted living facility. The developer was required to submit a final site plan within 12 months of the rezoning. No final site plan was ever submitted, the state funding that was crucial to the project never materialized, and the developer decided not to pursue the project. As a result, city staff requested that the property be returned to its former zoning. Item 6.1 passed unanimously.

The rezoning will come as a relief to residents in the vicinity, many of whom opposed the proposed development. The Northwest Carbondale Neighborhood Association (NCNA) also opposed the development, and its members and supporters will also be relieved to learn that the property has been returned to its former zoning.

Council then considered Item 6.2 (formerly 5.2), which was a discussion of official city council order. This item was the result of a set of perceived slights by Mayor Joel Fritzler to council member Lance Jack. The official order was also the subject of some discussion at the May 7 council meeting.

I’m not going to summarize the entire dispute or the discussion. The result was that council approved a resolution asking staff to draft an ordinance setting order of signature on city resolutions and commendations to alphabetical order by last name. Council member Lance Jack voted against the resolution; all other council members voted in favor.

I didn’t have strong feelings about how the order should be conducted, but I do prefer that roll calls use the same order every time. I keep track of the votes and it would be easier to do if the names were called in the same order at every meeting.

There is one other item worth noting. Mayor Fritzler’s decision in 2011 to unilaterally move citizen comments and questions to the end of the agenda was controversial when it was announced. A few people spoke in opposition to that decision and I criticized it on the blog. At the end of the meeting, the mayor announced that citizen comments and questions will be permanently moved back to the beginning of the meetings. The likely result is more citizen comments and questions.

After council comments, the city council went into closed session at 8:38.

Comments are welcome.

City Council Meeting 04/16/2013

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I did listen to most of Tuesday’s city council meeting. The council approved an annual budget, which is one of the most consequential things council does all year, and yet the meeting was surprisingly civil. Most of the votes were unanimous and there was none of the bickering that has dominated some recent council meetings. Since almost every vote was unanimous, and since there is a liveblog at the Carbondaze Gazette where you can read the play-by-play, I’ll just mention a couple of items that stood out.

First, retiring council members Chris Wissmann and Corene McDaniel are both possibly going to have streets renamed for them. My understanding is that these will be honorary renamings, and the streets will officially retain their current names. Hospital Street (between University and Illinois Avenues) will become Chris Wissmann Way, and East Jackson Street east of Wall Street will become Corene McDaniel Court. These honorary renamings are subject to council approval. I don’t have strong feelings either way about this, but it is the first time in my memory that retiring council members have been so honored. As far as I am aware, there is no Steven Haynes Avenue or Mary Pohlmann Boulevard.

Second, during discussion of the Park District’s fair days request for the annual Sunset Concerts, Mayor Joel Fritzler asked why there are never fair days requests for the concerts held on the SIUC campus. The city attorney replied that SIUC was granted some leeway as part of the agreement allowing the university to be annexed into the city. Council member Don Monty pointed out that SIUC is part of the State of Illinois and, since the state is a higher unit of government, is not subject to regulation by the city. The mayor argued that SIUC should not be above the law and asked the city attorney to investigate the issue. My suspicion is that Monty is correct, but we will see.

The final and most important thing I wanted to note is that the planned revision of the city’s subdivision ordinance is now going to be handled mostly in-house. The original plan was to hire the same consultant who worked on the recent rewrite of our zoning ordinance to help rewrite the subdivision ordinance. Now the plan is for city staff to rewrite the subdivision ordinance themselves and possibly hire a consultant at the end to help tighten up the new ordinance.

This is extremely important. Along with the zoning ordinance, the subdivision ordinance controls the form of the city. There are a lot of changes that should be made to the existing ordinance, but for now I’ll point to just two. First, the current ordinance requires a minimum block length of 800 feet and a maximum of 1200 feet. This is too large. We should be looking at something in the neighborhood of 650 feet as a maximum block length, with something around 500 feet being preferred. Second, the existing subdivision ordinance features what I consider unreasonable limitations for on-street parking. We should be trying to encourage on-street parking rather than discourage it.

Comments are welcome.

Harvey, Fronabarger, and Bradshaw Elected

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Here are the numbers. All the precincts are in but, as I understand it, there are enough uncounted early votes and absentee ballots to potentially change the outcome between Bradshaw and Ritzel. The likelihood is that Bradshaw has been elected, but that is not certain yet. I expect these to be the final numbers for tonight, but I will update if I get any additional information.

UPDATED: The early votes are in, the totals have been updated, and Bradshaw is elected. My understanding is that there are still some absentee ballots that have not been counted, but there are not enough to change the result. You can view all the results for Jackson County here (pdf).

Carbondale City Council

  • Carolin Harvey – 942 (20.77) — Elected
  • Lee Fronabarger – 773 (17.05%) — Elected
  • Jessica Bradshaw – 697 (15.37%) — Elected
  • Brent Ritzel – 641 (14.13%)
  • Navreet Kang – 482 (10.63%)
  • Jerrold Hennrich – 229 (5.05%)
  • Blaine Tisdale – 177 (3.9%)
  • Tony Holsey – 170 (3.75%)
  • Pepper Holder – 163 (3.59%)
  • Karim Abdullah – 130 (2.8%)
  • William Graham – 73 (1.61%)
  • Luke L. Adams, Jr. – 58 (1.28%)

Carbondale Park District

  • Carl R. Flowers – 1031 (34.64%) — Elected
  • Harvey Welch – 999 (33.57%) — Elected
  • Kathryn Hollister – 946 (31.79%) — Elected

Carbondale Community High School District No. 165

  • John Joseph Hudgins – 2045 (23.40%) — Elected
  • Francis Tsung – 1889 (21.62%) — Elected
  • Brian Woodard – 1754 (20.07%) — Elected
  • Kathy Booziotis – 1729 (19.78%) — Elected
  • William Sherwood – 1322

Murphysboro Mayor

  • Will Stephens – 847 (56.96%) — Elected
  • Ron Williams – 640 (43.04%)

Written by The Carbondale Observer

April 9, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Council Candidate Coverage Roundup

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Remember to vote today, and remember to come back to this site after the polls close at 7:00 p.m. for updates on the election outcome. In the meantime, here is a roundup of all the coverage of the election and the candidates so far. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, check the links and make your choices.  Read the rest of this entry »

Written by The Carbondale Observer

April 9, 2013 at 7:00 am

I Am Voting For Jessica Bradshaw and Carolin Harvey for City Council

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Last week, the Carbondaze Gazette reported that Mayor Joel Fritzler sent an email to supporters endorsing Jessica Bradshaw, Carolin Harvey, Jerrold Hennrich, and Blaine Tisdale for city council, and asking supporters to vote for three from that list. This weekend, Council Member Jane Adams sent an email to supporters naming six candidates (Lee Fronabarger, Carolin Harvey, Navreet Kang, Brent Ritzel, Jessica Bradshaw, and Tony Holsey) as “worthy of your consideration.” Adams noted that her list was specifically not an endorsement.

Two candidates appear on both lists: Jessica Bradshaw and Carolin Harvey. Coincidentally, I am planning to vote for both candidates. I’ll explain why below. I’ll also name the candidates I am considering for my third vote, and I’ll explain why I rejected the candidates I am no longer considering.

I wrote a lot about the 2011 election, but I haven’t had time to cover this one at all. I have been following the election, though, and I’ve given careful thought to which candidates I should vote for. I have changed my mind during the course of the campaign based on the performance of the candidates, which I believe is an indication that I have approached this election with an open mind. First let’s look at the two candidates I have decided to vote for. I’ll follow the practice I used last time and bold each candidate’s name the first time I mention him or her.

The Candidates I am Voting For

Jessica Bradshaw ran for city council in 2011 and, as I said at the time, I did not vote for her. At the beginning of this election season I didn’t expect to vote for Bradshaw, but her platform and understanding of the issues have improved so dramatically in the last two years that fairness compelled me to consider her. I was impressed with her performance in both the League of Women Voters candidate forum and the Arbor District forum. For the last year, I have served with her on the board of a local organization, and as a result I’ve had the chance to have several substantive conversations on city issues with her. I am convinced that she will make a good Council Member. If I only had one vote instead of three, Bradshaw would get it. View her platform at her website.

Carolin Harvey is getting my second vote. The city recently completed a revision of its zoning code, and regular readers know that I am keenly interested in zoning issues. The zoning revision involved the Planning Commission, of which Carolin Harvey is chair, and it is in that capacity that I am most familiar with her. In her role as chair of the Planning Commission, Ms. Harvey showed an ability to run a meeting and an open minded approach to the issues. She also demonstrated an even tempered disposition, which is important in a city council person. I am also impressed with Ms. Harvey’s record of public service during her long tenure in Carbondale.

The Candidates I am Considering for my Third Vote

Lee Fronabarger is the only incumbent running this year. Unlike most incumbents, however, Fronabarger can’t campaign for reelection, because he was appointed to fill Mayor Fritzler’s council seat after the 2011 election. The appointment was moderately controversial at the time because Fronabarger, as a council candidate in 2011, finished near the back of the pack. I’ve always liked Fronabarger’s positions on the issues – in fact, I voted for him in the primary in 2011, although I didn’t vote for him in the general election because I did not view him as a contender. The power of incumbency is strong, however, and Fronabarger does have a chance at being elected this time. I am still considering him. His website is http://ourtowncarbondaleil.blogspot.com/

Navreet Kang is a business owner and a member of the planning commission. I like the three main planks of his platform (Economic Revitalization and Business Development, A Safer and Cleaner Carbondale, A Greener and Diverse Carbondale). I did not agree with several of his recent votes on the Planning Commission, especially his vote against reducing the side setbacks on small lots. I also do not agree with his positions on the Oakland Auto Shop. Like Fronabarger, I initially intended to vote for Mr. Kang. I’ve already settled on Bradshaw and Harvey, so I can’t vote for both Fronabarger and Kang. I’ll have to decide, but I haven’t made up my mind yet. You can view Kang’s website at http://navreetkangforcitycouncil.com/

The Candidates I am Not Considering Voting For

I want to eliminate a couple of candidates right away. William Graham and Luke Adams will be listed on the ballot, but they haven’t attended any campaign events or returned any candidate surveys or questionnaires. They cannot be considered active candidates and I am not considering voting for them.

Similarly, although Karim Abdullah and Pepper Holder both attended the League of Women Voters forum, and Holder attended the Arbor District forum, neither returned their surveys to the Carbondale Times. If they are not serious enough to write the 250 word response and accept the free publicity, they aren’t serious enough to get my vote. (Fun fact: the first time I heard the name Barack Obama was in August of 2003 when he was being interviewed on WDBX by Pepper Holder.)

Tony Holsey would be a good council member. He is originally from Cleveland, Ohio and is a business owner and minister. I thought his performances at the League of Women Voters forum and the Arbor District forum showed competence. I would not be disappointed if Mr. Holsey wins. The only reason I’ve dropped him from consideration is that there are other candidates whose platforms more closely mirror my own interests.

Jerrold Hennrich is a law student at SIUC. Unlike most student candidates, however, Hennrich does own a home in Carbondale. That makes him as permanent a resident as Carbondale has. Hennrich ran for council in 2011, and I didn’t consider voting for him because he didn’t seem to have any ideas for Carbondale. His candidacy this year has the same problem it had last time: lack of vision. I expect a candidate to have an agenda and to be able to articulate it. I can’t tell you what Hennrich’s agenda is, so I am not going to vote for him.

Blaine Tisdale is a law student at SIUC. We always have a few student candidates and, as I will explain below, I don’t automatically eliminate student candidates from consideration. Tisdale does have some good ideas, but I decided that he doesn’t have the long term ties to the city that a member of council should have. I hope he will run again if he stays in Carbondale after graduation, but I just couldn’t vote for him this time.

Brent Ritzel, who ran for mayor in 2011, is a full-time MPA student at SIUC. He is running as a student candidate with the goal of being the first student elected to the city council. Many people in Carbondale flatly refuse to vote for a student. I am not one of them. I will consider a student candidate who is at least in his or her late twenties and who has permanent ties to Carbondale. Ritzel, who is in his forties, is old enough to receive my consideration and, although he is not a homeowner, Ritzel was born and raised in Carbondale, giving him the permanent ties I need to see in order to consider a student candidate.

Ritzel has a lot of signs up, which many people consider a measure of support. I’d caution against using lawn signs as a measure of support, as candidates sometimes get the agreement of landlords to allow signs to be posted on their properties. Also, by creatively placing multiple signs on a single lot, a candidate can create the appearance of greater support than he or she actually has. Still, because Ritzel has a real chance of winning, I think it is worthwhile to explain at some length why I am not considering voting for him.

Here’s what I said about Ritzel during his 2011 mayoral run:

…Ritzel always seemed to me like the odd man out in this group. His professional experience is different than the other candidates and he lacks elected political experience. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – eclectic experiences bring an eclectic perspective and the public sometimes welcomes political outsiders. And Ritzel had some good ideas, notably the plastic bag tax. But considering the expansiveness of some of his ideas and the limits of his experience, I wasn’t comfortable voting for him for mayor.

I stand by those remarks today. Furthermore, I have watched Ritzel speak at several city council meetings and my impression is that his temperament would not be an asset to the council. Carbondale needs people who can work together to solve our problems; we don’t need bomb throwers.

Finally, Ritzel did not bother to return the Northwest Carbondale Neighborhood Association candidate questionnaire — this despite the fact that he is on the board of that organization (as am I). If he can’t be bothered to return a questionnaire to an organization in which he himself holds a leadership role, then I can’t be bothered to vote for him.

I’ll have a links post up on Tuesday linking to all the coverage of this year’s campaign.

Comments are welcome.

Written by The Carbondale Observer

April 8, 2013 at 7:00 am

Council Approves Neighborhood Business District and New Zoning Code

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I don’t have time to go into this in great detail, but I did watch tonight’s city council meeting. The big surprise is that council approved an amendment to the proposed zoning ordinance adding the Neighborhood Business (NB) district that was the subject of bitter controversy and debate last month. Council then approved the entire zoning ordinance. This means that Carbondale now has a new zoning ordinance and Neighborhood Business (NB) districts are permitted, as they were in the old zoning ordinance.

There were a number of other zoning related issues discussed and voted on at Tuesday’s meeting, and they deserve a longer treatment than I can give them tonight. In fact, my schedule will not permit me to cover this at any length until next week. I’ll just try to enumerate the facts and limit commentary until I can give it the attention these matters deserve. I’m going to restrict my comments to Item 5.6 (pdf) – which dealt with the reformed zoning ordinance –  on this week’s city council agenda (pdf). I’m also only going to talk about the items council discussed, with one exception — I’m going to briefly talk about accessory dwelling units, which did not receive a hearing at the meeting.

Council spent a lot of time discussing the proposed change allowing sharply limited commercial use within the Planned Unit Development (PUD) district. Ultimately I think council increased the complexity of the ordinance and reduced its utility. The proposed change would have allowed 1250 feet of commercial space in a PUD containing at least 25 dwelling units, with the amount of commercial space increasing by 50 square feet per dwelling unit over 25. Occupation of the commercial space would not have been allowed until at least 50% of the dwelling units had been completed, and commercial use would have had to cease if the remaining 50% of dwelling units were not completed within 12 months.

Here are the amendments to the proposed change to the PUD ordinance:

  1. Council member Don Monty Amendment 1: (a) change the minimum residential dwelling threshold after which commercial use is permitted to 50 units (from 25) and change the permitted commercial square feet to 2500 (from 1250 sq. ft.), (b) place a cap of 5000 square feet on any single commercial building in a PUD, and (c) remove the clauses requiring commercial use to cease if 50% of the dwelling units are not completed within 12 months.
  2. Council member Jane Adams moved to split Monty Amendment 1 into its three constituent parts as listed above. This motion was accepted. The votes follow.
  3. Monty Amendment 1(a) – Approved. Yes: McDaniel, Monty, Fronabarger, Fritzler. No: Wissmann, Adams, Jack.
  4. Monty Amendment 1(b) – Approved unanimously.
  5. Monty Amendment 1(c) – Approved unanimously.
  6. Wissmann Amendment 1 – No commercial space for a particular phase of a PUD development may be used until the dwelling units for that phase of the PUD development are 100% complete.  This carried unanimously.

Council next heard some miscellaneous amendments. Their substance and the vote counts are below.

  1. Monty Amendment 2: removed the right of anchor stores in shopping centers (think Macy’s at the University Mall) to have their own freestanding signs. Approved unanimously. 
  2. Wissmann Amendment 2: empower staff to define or illustrate exactly what counts as corrugated metal siding for the purposes of the design standards in the BPR (Primary Business) district. Approved unanimously.
  3. Wissmann Amendment 3: reduce minimum side yard setbacks in residential districts to 10% of the lot width, not less than 5 feet and not needing to exceed 15 feet. Approved. Yes: McDaniel, Wissmann, Adams, Jack, Fronabarger. No: Monty, Fritzler.

Next came the night’s big surprise, Lance Jack’s amendment reinserting the Neighborhood Business (NB) district into the new zoning code (it is already part of the current zoning code). Jack used the alternative language Don Monty proposed at last month’s council meeting, with the exception that Jack’s Amendment would permit NB districts within one quarter mile of one another, rather than the one half mile Monty had proposed.

Council member Jane Adams made a motion to defer the question. It was this motion that ended discussion of the NB district at the last city council meeting. The motion was defeated, with Adams, Fronabarger, and Monty voting to defer and Jack, Wissman, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to continue the discussion.

Council member Jane Adams then made a motion to amend Jack’s amendment by deleting auto repair shops from the list of special uses allowed in an NB district. The motion was defeated, with Adams, Fronabarger, and Monty voting to delete auto repair shops as a special use in an NB district, and Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting not to delete auto repair shops as a special use in NB districts.

Next came the vote on Jack’s Neighborhood Business amendment. It was approved, with Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to include Neighborhood Business (NB) districts in the proposed zoning ordinance, and Adams, Monty, and Fronabarger voting against including NB districts. At this point, council member Don Monty announced that he would now vote against the entire zoning ordinance — an ordinance he had planned to vote in favor of — because of his opposition to the NB districts.

Next, council voted on the entire proposed zoning ordinance, as amended. The ordinance was approved, with Jack, Wissmann, McDaniel, and Fritzler voting to approve the ordinance, and Adams, Monty, and Fronabarger voting to oppose the ordinance.

Normally, this is where I’d weigh in with a couple thousand words of commentary. Unfortunately, as I said above, I don’t have time for that tonight, and I won’t until next week at the earliest. I’ll just give you a few quick bullet points that I can possibly expand on later.

  • I think council messed up the PUD ordinance by limiting the size of commercial buildings instead of limiting the size of individual commercial establishments.
  • I think the reduction in minimum side yard setbacks is a great improvement and council was right to approve it. This bears some explanation, so I may get into this in a future post,
  • I think the hysteria over the Neighborhood Business districts is not justified by the facts. I also think that the ordinance as approved isn’t perfect, but it can be improved in the future. Specifically, it might be worthwhile to restrict NB districts to parcels on major intersections or fronting a major thoroughfare. We could use some other method to deal with former institutional properties like old churches and schools or the old National Guard Armory.
  • In general, I think the anxiety over mixing business and residential uses, which we saw in the discussions of the PUD amendment and the NB amendment, is misplaced. The important thing is to have design and performance standards that produce good outcomes. This can be achieved.

Finally, I want to briefly highlight one item that did not receive a hearing at tonight’s meeting: accessory dwelling units (ADUs). These are sometimes called “granny flats,” which led some council members to erroneously conclude that they were meant only for people to house relatives. ADUs had been under consideration for several months and were pulled out of the ordinance largely due to the influence of one council member and a handful of vocal citizens. I think and hope that this is an issue that people simply don’t understand, and that with better information, people will not be fearful of a well-designed ADU ordinance. I plan to write more about this topic in the future.

If I get the time, I may write another post about the issues at stake in the April 2, 2013 council meeting. That will not happen until next week at the earliest.

Comments are welcome.

UPDATE: If you’re interested in everything else that happened at the city council meeting, check the liveblog at The Carbondaze Gazette. 

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