Demonstration outside, comments inside, at GGNRA Advisory Commission Meeting, Fort Mason Tue. March 21

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Advisory Commission Meeting

March 21, 2000, Fort Mason, Bldg. 201

Transcript from audiotape of public comments regarding Fort Funston (transcribed by, please send comments, questions, & corrections to: Michael B. Goldstein )
(very brief portions of the audiotape that could not be understood after repeated playing are shown as: .......... ; in no case does this change the overall meaning of the statement involved, and the missing sections are never more than a few words in length)
7:30 p.m. -   Meeting called to order.

                     Eight agenda items were discussed. 

11:17 p.m. - Beginning of comment period on non-agenda items:


Andrea O'Leary:

I guess I'm here basically to say that I think it's really important that we take a really good and long look at the whole context of sacred places. I grew up on a ranch in New Mexico of thousands and thousands of acres but yet there were sacred places on all... this land -- one family, lots of land, there are sacred places. And it was because my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and now my brothers, knew that these areas were so special and had such wonderful creatures on them, that they had to be preserved. And I still plan my trips home at certain times of the year so that I can tip-toe through those areas, at those given times when we're allowed to, because there are special species: quail, vertebrates, invertebrates, and creepy-crawlers, that you basically cannot find anywhere else, and this is in the middle of nowhere, in New Mexico. And I think that people tend to forget that we do have even those sacred places here in this urban environment. I've spent a long time trying, volunteering, going out with people from San Francisco State and other places, just to see what kind of creepy-crawlers have come back. And so I see for myself with my novice eyes, a lot of the creatures that are falling away, little insignificant little creatures, simply because we are running them out, we are stomping them into the ground. I can tell you areas where lots of dog activity does not happen where there are a lot of these creatures coming back, slowly, and there are others areas where you just, year after year, you just don't find them anymore. So that, there are places that are inappropriate for lots of dog activity, for lots of people activity, for activity that is going to, indeed, ....... over these very precious creatures. So Fort Funston isn't any different than any other place in the middle of San Francisco, Mount Davidson, ........., anywhere else, or in the middle of New Mexico. Thank you.


John Cranshaw:

I'll make this very quick. First of all, I want to say thank you very much.

I'm a longtime San Francisco resident and a physician, and I'm here to speak... to Fort Funston as well, particularly with regard to two issues: one is access, the other is process. I care for approximately 40 chronically ill, wheelchair-bound patients. The facility where I work endeavors to provide these patients opportunities for outdoor recreation, and there are few areas in San Francisco accessible to these patients. Fort Funston is one such area, and the recent removal of the paving in the Sunset Path area makes this area inaccessible to my patients, as well as to other sick persons. I would request this committee, if at all possible, to request that the GGNRA -- that they re-pave that. The decision to close the Sunset Trail, ostensibly for safety reasons, only to re-open it, in worse condition than before, I believe highlights major problems in the decision-making process that goes on at Fort Funston. This has repeated itself many times, over the years, whereby, instead of consulting with the affected parties before plans have been implemented, the GGNRA implements the plans, then a controversy develops -- in this case a lawsuit develops -- and then some or all of the actions that the GGNRA has taken have to be reversed. This is in nobody's interest. I would submit that by excluding the participation of the majority of individuals who actually visit Fort Funston, the GGNRA has set the stage for continued acrimony and legal......, which is not in your interest, not in my interest, is not in anyone's interest. I would request that you work with, rather than against, those who use Fort Funston, so that it can remain the beautiful, multi-use area, that it has always been. Thank you very much.


Linda Shore:

Thank you, members of the commission, members of the public. My name is Linda Shore and I'm a native San Franciscan. I'm also here to speak about the controversy at Fort Funston. The parks that made up the GGNRA have been an important part of my life for over 40 years now. I literally took my first steps at Crissy Field, and I walk my dog every day at Fort Funston. By the way, I also generously contribute to the Audubon Society and to native plant conservation efforts. Let me say then that the controversy at Fort Funston is not about dogs, it's not about birds, it's not about native plants. It's about people. It's about the manner in which the GGNRA makes its decisions, and about how these decisions impact people. And it's about how people are forced to react when their needs are ignored and all avenues for input are literally closed off. The people you see here tonight -- those who are left! -- and the people you saw outside when you came in, represent just a small fraction of the number of people profoundly hurt by the decisions made to close certain areas of Fort Funston. We love Fort Funston because it's an integral part of our lives. When the fences went up, people got frightened -- I got frightened. We watched helplessly as an important part of our lives was literally stripped from us. And while the closures represent a very small, albeit extremely popular part of Fort Funston, we have absolutely no idea how these decisions were made, whether these decisions were grounded in sound scientific research, and more importantly, we have no idea where it will ultimately end. I submit that when the GGNRA makes decisions in secret, unilaterally, and without meaningful input from the public, you get what you're seeing now: rumors are generated and propagated, conspiracy is seen everywhere, factions become more polarized, and positions become entrenched. Surely no one's interests -- not the dogs, the swallows, the plants, or even the GGNRA, are served when this happens. I urge this advisory board take action to fundamentally change the way the GGNRA makes and carries out its decisions about the parks. Advise the GGNRA to make its intentions public. Tell them to hold open meetings. Include all stakeholders in the decision-making process, even those stakeholders you think you may not agree with. Doing anything less condemns the GGNRA and the public to do battle indefinitely. Thank you.


Rich Bartke, Advisory Commission Chair and meeting moderator:

Before we go on, I'm going to do something I probably shouldn't do, but I want to remind people that this was on our agenda in January, a number of dogwalkers from Fort Funston did address us on that issue, that last month we extended another invitation to the leadership of the dogwalkers to get a formal spot on our agenda so they could speak to us on this issue, and that invitation has not been accepted. To say that we've been taking actions in secret is simply not fair. So let's talk about facts, how they actually happen.


Linda McKay:

Hi, I'm Linda McKay. Thank you for listening to us so late in the evening. I want to correct a couple of points. I am a member of the Fort Funston Dog Walkers. We represent one of the factions that apparently was invited to get on your agenda, and, honestly, I never received an invitation. So there is a communication failure if you think you submitted an invitation to us; it was simply not known by our membership. We need to work on the communication. The other part I'd like to clarify is that we did have meetings, we've been meeting frequently with the GGNRA, on other issues. We had a walk-through in December of '98, we had a walk-through in December of '99, to talk about things like: we wanted to fund a water fountain, we need more garbage cans, you know, that kind of thing, and the bank swallow issue came up as a very peripheral discussion. We did not understand that our input was being elicited, we did not understand that it was a happening thing, we thought it was a submission of what might be. And at the meeting of January 18th was a "not for public comment" presentation by the GGNRA. So the decision had been made without our input. I think that's an important point.

The second point I'd like to say is, I think there's more points of interest than there are of disinterest. I think with out input, and if we work with the factions that represent the other points of view, we could do a better job. What I brought is a color picture of what we call the "internal" fence. This fence is going to enclose the permanent enclosure, which completely closes off the valley that is very commonly used by recreational users. And I think that, had we worked together, we could have done a much better job on this; this is not attractive, and it doesn't do anyone any good.

The third point I'd like to make is that we are asking for your help. We would like to have public hearings -- we think that we're entitled to it because we think that this was a major change in recreational use, and we think because of that, we were entitled to a hearing, with all groups present, with all facts at the table. And public comment at the end of your meeting at 11:30 at night is probably not the best way to hear us. ...


Anne Farrow:

Good evening, although I think it's time to say goodnight, well, several hours ago! My name is Anne Farrow. I'm also here to address the closures at Fort Funston. I was at Fort Funston the day it opened as a San Francisco city park, October 29th, 1961. It was an open space to explore and enjoy. In 1972, my daughter and the GGNRA were born. The GGNRA was a vision of open space recreation for an urban population. It was a promise to keep that space open for recreation. The GGNRA has grown to more than 74,000 acres, now... 75,300 -- or soon to be, including Fort Funston. In 1995, my children were grown, and I started visiting Fort Funston on a daily basis with my dog. However, the vision had changed. Two large areas had been recently fenced, apparently without consulting park users. The promise had been broken. This year, 2000, a popular trail was destroyed, and a popular dune area was fenced. The fence is not only unpopular, but unnecessary. It's not designed to preserve and protect resources, a mandate in the scope of the National Park Service, but in fact has destroyed recreational resources, and is designed to create resources that probably never existed. Protecting the bank swallows on the cliffs, and protecting the occasional clueless visitor from the cliffs, would require a fence in a different location: near the cliff. The fence in its current location is visual pollution and is, well, offensive. Those of us who visit Fort Funston daily are in tune with the park. We're involved in its natural rhythms. We understand the weather, the erosion, the work of the tides, the storms. We respect the park. We keep the park clean, we police the park. We ask to be involved and included in the earliest phases of the decision-making process affecting the park. We want the vision back, and we want the promise kept. Thank you very much.


Jeff Ward:

Good evening. Again, I'm here to speak about Fort Funston. My name is Jeff Ward. I'm one of the founding members of the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, a member of the Fort Funston Dog Walkers, author of the FreeDog website, and the proud alpha-male of three Weimaraners, age nine, four, and five months. But I don't want to talk about dogs, I want to talk about waste. And the waste that I want to talk about is the waste that occurs when we don't follow the process that we set down in law, with the inevitable results. And has been previously mentioned, one of those is the Sunset Trail. An area of about ten to fifteen feet of the paved trail was endangered by intrusive erosion -- a V-shaped cleft in the cliff structure -- and because of that, an area of approximately the size of PacBell Park was marked for closure. There was a great public outcry, as there was over the fences that have recently gone up, but that outcry, which resulted in the re-opening of that area, came too late: we had already destroyed the paved trail, we had taken out two benches, and we'd removed all garbage cans. Now, to make that usable again, you're going to have to re-pave the trail, put back the park benches that were a favorite whale-watching spot, and put back the garbage cans, at a cost to the taxpayers. So, I would put forward that the same process is going on in regarding the closure of the bank swallows. The San Francisco Dog Owners Group, for example, was never informed of that, although we have frequent contact with the GGNRA. As Linda pointed out, the Fort Funston Dog Walkers got involved very late in the game, when it was basically a fait accompli. At the meeting that I spoke at before, what we were responding to was not the request of input, but a plan that was being delivered to us... Now we've ended up in courts, which is a place that is a horrible use of my time, it's a horrible use of my money, it's a horrible use of the money of the organizations, the sad thing is, it's a horrible use of taxpayers' money. It could have been avoided if we had worked more closely together, if the people who walk dogs were considered part of the park constituency, instead of, as they are currently defined, criminals whose activity is simply not enforced. Thank you.


Laura Cavaluzzo :

You've heard a lot tonight about what Fort Funston means to people of San Francisco, and about our frustration at being left out of the decision-making process on what we very rightly consider to be our land. But I have a slightly different perspective.... I don't own a car. So, while I love Fort Funston and I go there every chance I get, I most often recreate with my dogs in the city parks closer to home. And I'm here to talk a bit about the ramifications that sudden closures of popular GGNRA land like Fort Funston have on parks in neighborhoods throughout the entire city. San Francisco's Recreation and Parks Department has long been underfunded and understaffed. Recent ballot measures may solve those issues, however, there will always be a limited number of city park acres that recreationists of all kinds must share. Current estimates place the dog population of San Francisco at more than 100,000. Dog walking is among the most popular forms of recreation in the city, crossing all social strata, age groups, and differing levels of physical fitness and ability. Despite those facts, the facilities legally available to dog walkers are few and far between. Those legal dog areas that do exist are, in general, unmarked, unsafe, and poorly sited. This situation forces dog owners to seek out other areas to walk their dogs, leading, at times, to conflicts with other park users. Open spaces like Ocean Beach, Crissy Field and Fort Funston act as safety valves, allowing park users to spread out a bit, relieving the pressure on city parks and reducing conflict all over the city. When these areas are closed, with little warning, no request for public input and no cooperative sign in place to accomodate the displaced park users, city parks suffer greatly. And it's important to remember, too, that GGNRA land is not the only park in which delicate, threatened species live. Compressing park-goers into city parks increases the threat to the plants and animals there. As a daily user of San Francisco city parks and a frequent user of GGNRA lands, I ... prevail upon the GGNRA to open lines of communication, as they are bound by law to do. These park lands do not exist in a vacuum. ... they are urban parks, and our tax dollars pay for their upkeep. We have much to contribute to a meaningful dialog on how they should be used. Thank you.


Lindsay Kefauver:

Good evening, commissioners. My name is Lindsay Kefauver, and I'm a regular user of Fort Funston. I've been walking there for 22 years. I wanted to address the citizens' Advisory Commission, because part of your mandate is to act as a watchdog over the National Park Service's management of the first urban park of its kind, the GGNRA. Fort Funston is a special place ..... for many residents of San Francisco and San Mateo counties. It is the place you look forward to going at the end of the day, to unwind and re-energize. We show it off to our out of town friends, family, who always remember being taken there and ask to go back. It is a glorious space which attracts many outdoor activities, all of us have co-existed very nicely, until the National Park Service started closing off large coastal areas to all users, and drastically reducing the available open space. If you're not familiar with the layout of Fort Funston, or haven't been there recently, I've brought a map, which I'm sure you wish I didn't, because everyone is bleary-eyed at this time, but I just would pass it around and, basically, I just wanted to show you what's happened. In1995, this area (green) and this area [pointing to map]were closed off without any public hearing or notice, for the bank swallow habitat and for the planting of native plants. We accepted this closure, because most of us who come to Fort Funston feel that we're environmentalists, and want to help reserve the bank swallow habitat. The other section closed off in 1995 ........ this section was supposed to be closed temporarily, for native plants. The plants never happened. Five years later, the area remains closed. At the end of last year, again without any public notice, or hearing, the National Park Service abruptly closed the Sunset Trail, and subsequently removed the asphalt pavement from the trail. It's a flat, paved trail with gorgeous ocean views, favored by the elderly, the disabled, and parents with babies in strollers. Now this trail has been re-opened, but it's a sand trail, and it's not paved. And then early this year came the latest land grab. This doesn't look like a lot of land, but it's a particularly popular dune play area for kids and dogs. The new closures are for protection of the bank swallows, who nest in the middle of the cliff face, and, even though a spokesperson agreed that the birds' habitat would be protected with just closing off the cliff edge, the National Park Service decided that the fences had to come all the way to the road, since they couldn't sink the posts in the sand -- and yet, they succeeded in installing a good stretch of fence across the dunes without any problem. The new enclosure resembles a stockade, except everyone is fenced out, and now we're just waiting for the sentries to take up their posts. We are anxious to find a happy compromise: we ask that the new fencing be moved back, to approximately 30 feet from the cliff edge, making this stretch of cliff a permanent closure for the birds; we'd like the five-year old "temporary" Battery section re-opened, and we would want the Sunset Trail re-paved and the benches returned. Thank you very much for your time.


Florence Sarrett:

Thank you for your long patience. I will be very brief. I think you've probably noticed some of us are wearing this shirt, that says on it: Fort Fun! Fort Fun, it used to be. Fort Fun, it is no longer. You only have to go to Fort Funston on any weekend to see the hundreds of visitors there, to recognize the huge need for recreation that exists in our community, so I'd like to emphasize that the GGNRA was created specifically as an urban recreation area -- as distinguished from a national park. I've grown old visiting Fort Funston, almost weekly, sometimes daily, since the 1960's, and I'm here on behalf of the seniors, and the disabled groups that go there, some with dogs and some without dogs, who enjoy the beauty, the vibrant activity, and the warm and caring community that has grown up there. I am one of them. Recently, the pavement of the Sunset Trail has been removed, and the benches removed, where one could stop and enjoy the view, or a rest if you needed to rest, and now, it's difficult for many of us to walk there, in the sand, and I would think it's probably impossible to maneuver a wheelchair. I urge you to insist that the GGNRA honor its mandate to offer our community maximum opportunities for recreation, and especially to give consideration to the needs of the elderly, and to observe the legal requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thank you for your patience.


Amy Meyer, Advisory Commission Vice-Chair:

Rich, I would like to give Brian one opportunity just to say whatever I've ....., I think because Florence, who I have the greatest respect for and have known for 25 years... would you please, Brian, just state once again, that there's no difference between this national park in an urban area, and any other national park. It is not something different, it is not an urban recreation area....

Rich Bartke, Advisory Commission Chair and meeting moderator:

Frankly, it is my intent that the staff not speak at all, because the matter is in court, but I think the point Amy made is correct; that, although some national parks are called recreation areas, some are called seashores, and some are called something else, the management of those is all in the same manual, and they all are managed in the same manner. There's no difference in management, no matter what the name is.


Florence Sarrett:

Could I ask one favor, before I sit down? I noticed that the chair appointed a member of the commission to act as liaison with the .......... Doyle Drive group, and I would love to see an appointment of a similar nature, to liaison with the Fort Funston Dog Walkers and the San Francisco Dog Owners Group, I think it would save a great deal of controversy.


Rich Bartke, Advisory Commission Chair and meeting moderator:

Yeah, OK, that might be a good idea, it's something we could maybe work on.


[ David Adams.. -- comments not related to Fort Funston ]


Vicki Tiernan:

Good evening. I'd like to thank you for your patience, as others have. My name is Vicki Tiernan. I am with the San Francisco Dog Owners Group and am also a member of the Sierra Club. I would also like to speak about the closures at Fort Funston. I'll keep this short, because others have already said a lot of what I had planned to say. To summarize, the important thing is that there were no public meetings held before the closure, and we were not included in the process of input. I'd also like to emphasize that this is a densely populated urban area. It's not the Grand Tetons. We are limited as to green space. We don't have the luxury of unlimited space here, and if, in the manual, there's no differentiation between management of an urban park and a national park, perhaps that should be looked into and changed, because this is an important consideration in this area. As Laura Cavaluzzo mentioned, there are an estimated 100,000 dogs in San Francisco, and I can pretty much assure you that every one of them loves Fort Funston! And so do the people who share their lives with them. It's a wonderful place and has been a cherished recreational area for a very long time. We're very upset about the fact that land keeps being taken away bit by bit -- it almost feels as if, eventually the whole Fort is going to be roped off and put under plastic furniture covers and no one is going to be able to enjoy it. We would like to see the bank swallows protected, certainly, but does it have to be done by taking away such a large amount of space? Do we have to have other habitat areas where no dogs or people are allowed, especially the area set aside for native plants in 1995 that has since been abandoned? I'd like to ask that all of this be reconsidered.


Pete Holloran:

Pete Holloran , California Native Plant Society. We are very much in support of this administrative closure; it's no different from a city park closing a grassy lawn that has been damaged by added use. At the same time, we would really like to support comprehensive planning at Fort Funston. There is a need for more public input about all of the various resources at Funston. The demographic problem of having a hundred thousand dogs in San Francisco is a large social problem, and Fort Funston cannot bear the brunt of it. So I urge you to stand by the closure....


Tom Fulton: (?)

Thank you. I'd like to commend the GGNRA and the members of the commission for their efforts to preserve bank swallows, native plants, and other priceless environmental features which have no other place to be. I would like to remind members ..... that dog owners represent a small, only a small, but strident, segment of the overall constituency that is served by the GGNRA, and I would urge you not to be held hostage...... I would just say that it is not the responsibility of the commission or the GGNRA to provide dog owners with dog runs at any location they desire. That we do have .... to endorse policies which promote the health, the safety, environmental and aesthetic concerns of all the hundreds of thousands of people, most of them non dog owners, who use the GGNRA on a daily basis. I would also like to submit that..... the present policy on dogs within ...... GGNRA and the national seashore is, at least in my view, incoherent and unenforced. Let me give you at least a couple of examples. Ocean Beach, which is supposed to be off-limits in certain sections to dogs who aren't at least on a leash ...... I challenge you to go down at any hour of the day, and you'll see that. Crissy Field is now complete chaos, from my point of view.... unleashed dogs in that area are absolutely inconsistent with the safety ..... I would challenge the commission to walk through East Beach, which is where the windsurfers used to be, barefoot ...... this beach is used by ...... small children, and I don't think you will walk through there unscathed. Further afield: Tennessee Valley. There's not supposed to be dogs in the main section down at the beach -- that is routinely violated. I have never seen anyone cited for that. And further afield, at Abbot's Lagoon and up towards the National Seashore's Sculptured Beach, routinely, you see this, that people allow dogs off-leash, and nothing's done. Just in summary, first of all, I commend you for your present firm stand, and I hope you prevail in court, and I would urge you to come up with a coherent and enforceable policy which protects the rights of everyone at the GGNRA, and gives primary consideration to the role of the GGRNA as a national park. Thank you.


Doug Kern (sp?):

Good evening, my name is Doug Kern (sp?). I would like to first express my gratitude to those dogwalkers that are respectful of the open space, that are good stewards of open space, and I think that many, many dogwalkers are doing that. I'm a public person, I believe very much in the open, public process, so I'm also sympathetic to concerns by the dogwalking community that they haven't been heard... however, I'm also deeply concerned about destruction of resources. I believe in mixed-use of these lands, but I want to see the resources protected and respected by the entire community. So, prior to this date, I have not really involved myself in the dog walking controversy, believing that dog walkers would police their own. But, evidently, there is a, small, perhaps unpoliced group, at Fort Funston who may be ruining it for the rest of the dog walking community. I did investigate some of the laws: I have found the laws that say, for the National Park Service, "it is prohibited to fail to crate, cage, or restrain on a leash, or otherwise physically confine a pet at all times," so what this suggests to me is that because dogs are allowed off-leash, and to wander about these national park lands, that, there's been accomodation for the dog walking community, and I believe why the leadership has tried to accomodate the dog walking community. But, it seems to me that the accomodation is being abused. I think the Park Service may, in fact, be in violation of their own regulation. I strongly recommend that the dog walking community begin some sort of monitoring program for those members of your community who are giving it a difficult ...... for those people who would also like to see an area restored and protected. Thank you.


Charles Ryan: (?)

I would like to say thank you to Brian O'Neill, for trying to protect the endangered species. We have to keep in mind that there is, quite certainly, no endangerment for domesticated animals. It is necessary to protect endangered species from domesticated canines, because the frank fact of the matter is, dogs scare the bejeezus out of....


Dan Murphy:

My name is Dan Murphy, I represent the Golden Gate Audubon Society. Six thirty on Sunday morning, I took a walk at Fort Funston. I wanted to be there early, so I could experience what this park should be, and so that I could see what it is. I wanted to think about what I should say tonight. What I saw was disturbing. Where ice plant still dominates the dunes, there are great scars from intense off-trail use. I watched the dogs scrape great streamers of sand from the gusting wind. Once past the parking lot... at Battery Davis.... I was still walking ... towards the dunes. I took a path down to the dunes through the gulch at the north end of the restoration site some seem intent on blocking. On the beach, I felt the force of the wind and the sea, which have all but washed away traces of last year's bank swallow colony from the cliff face. I raced waves through the ... fortifications, which eroded through the sand bluffs onto the beach. One of them, by Panama Point, marks the place where the colony I watched for many hours back in 1980. The sand bluffs are scarred and worn. I find it hard to imagine that they did not erode three feet during the past winter. The bank swallows, which have historically nested along the entire bluff, from the gulch northward, will relocate their colony again this year. Back on Fort Funston terrace, I walked along the restored dunes and enjoyed a moment in this park as it should be enjoyed, where the dune community, which once dominated western San Francisco, at least is partly intact. I came finally to the dunes we've discussed here tonight, and, quite frankly, I'm surprised they haven't been closed earlier. They show marks of more erosion, and more abuse, than anywhere at Fort Funston. The steep slopes are bare of vegetation from human use .... In those places, the dunes which rest atop them are not just eroding from the sea inland, but from the land toward the sea, as well. Those dunes are a landscape being consumed, without the least regard for what the future generations will find there. There is nothing which can or should be done to curtail natural erosion at the site; there is much which should be done to reduce human impacts, which are not only threatening the bank swallow colony, but devastating this unit of our national recreation area. The Golden Gate Audubon Society supports your efforts to preserve Fort Funston for bank swallows, for habitat restoration, and for future generations.


Rich Bartke, Advisory Commission Chair and meeting moderator:

Thank you. I want to thank everybody that took part this evening. It is late, and we're sorry about that, but I think you all treated each other with respect, and were quite concise and articulate in what you wanted to say to us. Unfortunately, our staff cannot respond because of the lawsuit that is going on, and there's really not a lot that the commission might do, because of the lawsuit. We anticipate, of course, that it will be resolved, sooner or later, but in the meantime, I appreciate the recommendation that this commission have some liaison with not only the Fort Funston Dog Walkers, but with other members of the dog walking community. We have had that in the past, but it has not been active in the last year or so, and it's a good suggestion...

12:15 a.m., Wed. March 22 -  Meeting adjourned.

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