Blogging Bayport Alameda

October 22, 2013

Flight to the Concords

Filed under: Alameda, Alameda Neighbors, Development — Lauren Do @ 6:02 am

When a newspaper columnist covers a piece that ran as part of a blog — albeit part of a very respected blog connected to a respected publication — that’s pretty huge.   About a week ago C.W. Nevius wrote about a blog post by Gabriel Metcalf that ran on Atlantic Cities, part of the online universe of the Atlantic Monthly.   Gabriel Metcalf is the executive director of SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research) aka people that think well planned built environments are a good thing.

It’s a really good article to think of in context to things that have been happening in Alameda regarding development and affordability of housing (aka people getting their rents raised by significant percentages).   The piece is entitled “The San Francisco Exodus” so it’s good to think about in terms of how Alameda wants to plan moving forward with the large development projects on the West End and whether it wants to position itself as another Oakland.  And in this context “another Oakland” mean a place where individuals and families flee to from San Francisco because of the cost of housing.  From the original piece:

…San Francisco was a great place to live. Partly from historical inheritance and partly from the work of activists who chose to make the city the focus of their activism, the city remained a walkable, urban paradise compared to most of America.

A great quality of life and a lot of high-paying professional jobs meant that a lot of people wanted to live here. And they still do.

But the city did not allow its housing supply to keep up with demand. San Francisco was down-zoned (that is, the density of housing or permitted expansion of construction was reduced) to protect the “character” that people loved. It created the most byzantine planning process of any major city in the country. Many outspoken citizens did—and continue to do—everything possible to fight new high-density development or, as they saw it, protecting the city from undesirable change.

Whatever the merits of this strategy might be in terms of preserving the historic fabric of the city, it very clearly accelerated the rise in housing prices. As more people move to the Bay Area, the demand for housing continues to increase far faster than supply.

Railing against Google buses, fancy restaurants or new condos—the visible signs of gentrification—will do nothing to stop San Francisco from becoming more expensive. These are not causes of the rising rents; they are symptoms. The root cause is that many people have chosen to live in San Francisco, and we are now all competing with one another to bid up the rents. As long as this remains a desirable place to live in a region that is producing a lot of jobs — while at the same time we fail to produce enough housing to accommodate the demand — then housing prices will continue to rise.

And the thing about it is Gabriel Metcalf is not calling for the building of subsidized housing, no he’s talking about building more housing in general to relieve the pressure off the limited housing market so that prices can go down overall.

CW Nevius writes, and we’ve seen a bit of that with the two rent raising complaints in this year alone when in the past there had been relatively no cases that needed to go to the City Council to issue a letter to the landlord, what the constrained housing market does to renters:

Finding a rental unit has turned into a blood sport, people are paying to live in laundry rooms, and even if you find a place, you aren’t safe. The hot market is encouraging local landlords to invoke the Ellis Act, which allows them to evict all tenants and convert buildings to condominiums.

“Two-thirds of the town is renters,” he says. “And if you are renting, you are living in terror. If your unit gets Ellis’ed, you are going to have to leave town.”

In addition to San Francisco simply increasing the number of housing units it permits annual, in the end what Gabriel Metcalf calls for is for all cities in the region to do their part:

San Francisco can’t do it alone, but it needs to do its part. The three big cities of the region (San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland) have disproportionately more opportunity and more responsibility to absorb a major percentage of the region’s population growth for the simple reason that they have the room and they have the existing transit infrastructure. But smaller cities should be asked to do their part, too. If San Jose succeeded in becoming more urban, and if smaller cities such as Palo Alto and Berkeley were willing to grow more, some of the pressure would be relieved from San Francisco. We need our own “metropolitan” strategy that ties the region together in better ways, and creates walkable, diverse communities in more locations.

Speaking of affordability, someone sent me this family budget calculator developed by the Economic Policy Institute which tells you how much a family should make in a metro area in order to be able to cover the basic necessities for living.   The expectation is that a single parent with one child would need to make at least $61K in order to afford to live in the Oakland-Fremont metro area.

Screen Shot 2013-10-21 at 3.51.19 PM


I haven’t seen a lot of two-bedroom units in Alameda go for less than at least $1500 for rent so I guess the assumption is that the family is living in a one-bedroom unit or in a crappy neighborhood.



  1. Transcription: Density for others, large SFH for me.

    Comment by dave — October 22, 2013 @ 7:34 am

  2. That is the devil’s trade off: keep the things that made a place liveable and charming, or tear down the Victorians to build high rise apartments. If we make Alameda Emeryville, we’ll have cheaper housing — both because there are more units but also because fewer people would want to live here. I think I’d prefer that Alameda keep its charm, even if I’m eventually priced out of living here.

    Of course, there are ways to keep it charming but less desireable: for example, dynamite the bridges and tunnel and allow passage only by ferry to the mainland. If that isnt enough, we can ban cars — with just bikes and horses make it the Mackinac Island of the West, a charming tourist destination.

    Comment by Jack Mingo — October 22, 2013 @ 8:14 am

  3. Good piece, Lauren. Food for thought. One thing our city council needs to realize is this: Actions have consequences. On Thursday, I am going to a funeral for a friend. He was evicted from his apartment on the first of the year because he smoked. Became homeless, died. He is not alone. I personally know of three others who were evicted for smoking, became homeless, and died. Does city council know they killed them with this ordinance? How many others? … We need to protect our renters so this need not happen. That’s my two cents ….

    Comment by Ron Salsig — October 22, 2013 @ 8:14 am

  4. Something that I was thinking about also- not having places for people to live definately impacts hiring at companies- rents go up so much so people can’t accept some jobs because they simply don’t pay enough for them to live even reasonably close to where they work-even if the salary is the going rate for that job (and I am talking engineers, trained people here- not the feared “other”) Also- even if they can pay it – then there isn’t enough left over to save to buy a home. Except for a small group of folks-
    Some of these landlords don’tcare that pricing their places out of the market in the short term is not a great long term plan. They forget that the landlords need the renters as much as the renters need them- no renters, no morgage payments- I saw this happen on my street- ridiculous rent- high turn over- much down time- lose building to default. On the other side of the street – reasonable rents, stable, long term renters who care about their home and it is a win/win for all.

    Comment by Librarycat — October 22, 2013 @ 9:25 am

  5. Here’s a visual that shows what the Ellis Act has done to San Francisco:
    Pretty sobering.

    Comment by Kristen — October 22, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  6. San Francisco has been vomiting citizens onto this Island since the gold rush. We would do well by erecting every obstacle available to keep the vermin out.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 22, 2013 @ 9:44 am

  7. 2.”keep the things that made a place liveable and charming, or tear down the Victorians to build high rise apartments. If we make Alameda Emeryville, we’ll have cheaper housing — both because there are more units but also because fewer people would want to live here. I think I’d prefer that Alameda keep its charm, even if I’m eventually priced out of living here.”

    I’m scratching my head wondering if this is sarcasm? Framing the situation as a choice of tearing down more Victorians for high rises is simply hyperbolic. Emeryville was also never anything like Alameda, it was largely industrial and is now largely commercial/industrial.

    If you own your home and are protected by Prop 13 is it not disingenuous to even speculate that you can be priced out? Do you rent? How charming will Alameda be and for whom, if it becomes like Woodside or even the Mission in terms of rent costs. You know they rip down incredibly nice old houses in Woodside and then build McMansions.

    Comment by blind leading the blind — October 22, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  8. vermin like me? A working, tax paying person who has a decent job, who participates in the community, works for charity, doesn’t commit crime, shops locally, cares about this island as much as you do – yep- vermin like me.

    Comment by librarycat — October 22, 2013 @ 10:09 am

  9. from Metcalf above: “Railing against Google buses, fancy restaurants or new condos—the visible signs of gentrification—will do nothing to stop San Francisco from becoming more expensive. These are not causes of the rising rents; they are symptoms. The root cause is that many people have chosen to live in San Francisco, and we are now all competing with one another to bid up the rents. As long as this remains a desirable place to live in a region that is producing a lot of jobs — while at the same time we fail to produce enough housing to accommodate the demand — then housing prices will continue to rise.”

    this sounds good, but it is skewed. The root cause is related not to mere numbers of people who want to live here but to the average income of the new people who are choosing to live in San Francisco and that average is skewed way up by the Google van people who, even though they are mere minions of the new Masters of the Universe ( i.e. Silicon Valley billionaires living in Woodside and Atherton), have incomes which allow them to pay inflated rents which are pushing out long time residents.

    Comment by MI — October 22, 2013 @ 10:15 am

  10. The problem in Alameda is that because of Measure A there are fewer large apartment buildings than in Oakland and Berkeley. Most of the rental inventory in Alameda is 2 – 6 unit buildings that are owned by small mom and pop owners who don’t keep their rents at market, and some Alameda landlords NEVER raise their rents.

    The larger apartment complexes are run by corporate property managers who are paid management fees based on gross rents. It is in their interest to keep rents at market because it impacts their bottom line – so rent increases go out annually to keep up with market.

    Oakland and Berkeley are getting the lion’s share of the exodus from San Francisco – and their rents have outpaced Alameda rents because the demand is so high. Alameda is beginning to experience the demand and our rents are edging higher. Thus the reason we’re having the problem we’re having right now. Alameda mom and pop landlords are raising rents closer to market (many still are under market) because they haven’t done so in years.

    I think the key is – not to make this about Alameda landlords raising their rents to market, it’s time to build more housing so we create more supply – which is what the article is saying.

    And thanks to the projects in the pipeline, it looks like we’re headed in the right direction.

    Comment by Karen Bey — October 22, 2013 @ 10:43 am

  11. At some point, these skyrocketing rents will hurt the landlords (despite what some people are saying- they are skyrocketing) because I have watching and apartments that used to be 12
    00 are now 2100 (in less than 6 months)- there are only so many people being hired at salaries that can support these rates- most of the folks who rent are working for companies that pay market salary rate – not google rates. Jobs beig created – yes- google rate jobs- not so much. I know lots of good people that Alameda should want to live here that are being forced out. I understand about the tax argument- but most of these increases far outstrip tax increases. I am not in favor of building more- I am favor of reasonable, long term thinking. Some of these landlords have had these places for a while – their expenses have not gone up 50-90% in the last year.

    Comment by librarycat — October 22, 2013 @ 11:24 am

  12. What’s a library cat for except catching and disposing vermin. I’m on your team..

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 22, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

  13. @6 Ooh, Jack, I’m glad your viewpoint didn’t prevail in 1906.

    @2 Unfortunately, Alameda is practically the only city in the East Bay where you cannot have horses. Bring on the horses!

    Comment by vigi — October 22, 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  14. 10
    So the problem with Alameda is that Measure A keeps rental rates low. Boy that’s a new one. Those darned mom and pop owners should take up smoking and die from third hand consequences like #3 above.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 22, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

  15. OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) Oakland officials expect 100,000 applications for Section 8 subsidized housing.

    But there are only 10,000 spots on the waiting list.

    Oakland’s housing authority opened up its Section 8 waiting list on Tuesday and some 6,000 applications were submitted in the first three hours. Some 100,000 are expected during the five-day application period.

    The San Francisco Chronicle says the only way to sign up was over a computer, so applicants jammed Oakland libraries to fill out the forms.

    The housing authority uses a lottery to determine who gets on the waiting list.

    Housing authority executive director Eric Johnson says there are currently only 650 vouchers available and about 50 vouchers get freed up every month.


    Comment by I don't think list is shrinking — October 22, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

  16. @#15. The OHA will thank you for the flood of calls because you failed to mentioned that you are refering to a two year old article

    Comment by flow — October 22, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

  17. There are about 10,000 Families in Oakland that receive vouchers which support high rents. But also sustains home values.

    Calpers and Calsters were the huge buyers of all the foreclosed property in Oakland and bay area through hedge funds and are now renting alot of those properties out. They Bought in Huge Blocks so first time home buyers weren’t able to participate in those wholesale sells at 30-50 % on the value. Government was trying to make the pensios whole or at least recover some of their losses.

    Alameda has 49% renters according to figures that I have seen.

    Average Renter makes 14.50 hour according to SF Gate article yesterday.

    Interesting situation we all face.

    Comment by Interesting Times — October 22, 2013 @ 1:13 pm

  18. # 16

    Do you think the list is short for section 8 Housing in Oakland?

    Comment by Interesting Times — October 22, 2013 @ 1:16 pm

  19. The VA also has Voucher program for rental assistance which is not included in the OHA numbers . Plus there is US Department of Housing and Urban Development which also has Rental assistance Low Rent Programs .

    Comment by Interesting Times — October 22, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  20. Alameda cannot “do its part” unless we get a BART station or other better access for commuters. The access is too limited. Also, it’s not just landlords raising the rates. I know of people who are bunking with family members and renting their houses out because they haven’t been able to find jobs that will pay the mortgage. We also have absentee landlords from out of state or other countries who bought up foreclosures and are now making a tidy profit. The situation is more complex than some people think.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — October 22, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

  21. 20 Re 10’s
    “And thanks to the projects in the pipeline, it looks like we’re headed in the right direction.”

    Well, there you go Denise. We don’t need no stinkin egress/outgress cause we projects in the pipeline that will make us proud members of the ‘please SF, send us your poor, unwanted millionaires so our billionaires will have somewhere to live’ club.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 22, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

  22. Landlords don’t raise rents in a vacuum. Rents are decided by supply & demand.
    Just as with gas prices, there’s always a lot of whining and finger pointing on the way up but dead silence on the way down.

    And what of these mythical foreigners buying up foreclosures? They aren’t raising rents arbitrarily either. Rents are prices that rise with demand.

    And since the housing market has been steadily rising for a few years, your friends who can’t pay their mortgages have an opportunity to sell into strength and switch to quarters they can afford. Maybe they should thank the out-of-towners for the wind in their sails.

    Really, this is a positive. People are willing to pay up to live here. Would anyone prefer the opposite?

    Comment by dave — October 22, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

  23. This whole kerfluffle started with the complaint that owners were not following the law of supply and demand but substituting their own law of economics to adjust rent increases. There would have been no complaint had the owners continually raised rents to match demand. So it’s a damned if you don’t follow just economic sense and don’t raise rents that track the market but if you do follow the demand economy it’s a damned if you do continually raise rents

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 22, 2013 @ 7:06 pm

  24. 22. I don’t think people being priced out of their living accommodations is positive just because general upward mobility bodes well for crimes stats and general welfare etc.. The situation is fluid and it’s not entirely clear what is happening, but it appears rents are jumping upward. JUMPING, not hopping and skipping merrily along. As per your last sentence, I would not prefer that economics be plummeting, but I’m also not sanguine just because my home equity is flush. I’m glad my neighbors who bought in 2005 are no longer under water as they were after the bubble burst, but I worry if the neighbors who rent suddenly are under water. We only have one apartment building on our block but several rentals.

    Comment by MI — October 22, 2013 @ 7:20 pm

  25. these two links are not directly relevant to the specific issue of increases in rent and demand for housing per say, but the engine for a lot of the Bay Area economy is Silicon Valley. I think the attitudes and cultural trends are worth considering because these people wield a lot of clout.

    Comment by MI — October 22, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

  26. 22. Mythical foreigners? Ask any realtor. They exist. The foreclosed house across the street from me was purchased and is being rehabbed by a Canadian investor as a rental property. Probably the best solution for Alameda (what are we calling it now?) “West” would be something akin to the Googleplex in Mountain View. They are hoping to build housing around it so their employees never have to leave the campus.,29307,1947844,00.html

    Comment by Denise Shelton — October 23, 2013 @ 7:22 am

  27. Why does it matter if the buyer is Canadian, or Chinese or Vulcan or anything else?

    Comment by dave — October 23, 2013 @ 7:26 am

  28. It doesn’t matter if they are foreign so much as absentee. If they live in Kansas the result is the same. They are not emotionally invested in the community so they will be only interested in the bottom line. This means they will oppose all tax increases no matter the benefits they may provide in terms of schools and services and will charge as much as they possibly can in rent.

    Comment by Denise Shelton — October 23, 2013 @ 7:30 am

  29. And that differs from a local landlord how? There are many locally owned rentals that haven’t been painted since Elvis joined the Army. Parsimony knows no zip code. Neither does the law of suply/demand.

    Given that school taxes have faced fierce opposition from local landlords, and I agree with you that’s counterproductive of them, an out of town landlord could well be better. They can’t vote here and if they’re far enough away will not even be aware of a campaign.

    Comment by dave — October 23, 2013 @ 7:50 am

  30. Well, you have me there, Dave!

    Comment by Denise Shelton — October 23, 2013 @ 8:21 am

  31. … I wonder how many of you are renters, how many long-time Alameda residents …

    Comment by Ron Salsig — October 23, 2013 @ 8:28 am

  32. Does status or length of tenure affect the reality of supply & demand of housing?

    Comment by dave — October 23, 2013 @ 8:42 am

  33. #31 Does that matter? How do you define long time? I also wanted to respond to your earlier post. While it is always heartbreaking to attend a friends funeral, and as we age, those seem to happen more often, an ordinance didn’t kill your friends, smoking did. As a landlord, if you have any links you can point to (such as the domainweb listing of the cases) I would be interested, and frankly amazed to see that anyone has actually been evicted for smoking.

    Comment by notadave — October 23, 2013 @ 9:39 am

  34. 3: Send the landlords to jail right? Eviction = murder? Perhaps your friend should have just followed the rules of the lease agreement and you know, not violate it by smoking. Is smoking a fundamental human right now?

    Comment by J'Aboude — October 23, 2013 @ 10:36 am

  35. 29
    Elvis was drafted into the army. There is a difference between joining and being coerced into something.

    Comment by CPAC Jack — October 23, 2013 @ 11:10 am

  36. With the heavy tax supported investment of mid-Market (Twitter et al) – SF neighborhoods are experiencing hyper-gentrification. Newly minted millionaires are driving the middle-class out of SF. They’ve done a pretty good job of the lower income people.

    Comment by Basel — October 23, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

  37. 33 He did not die of smoking, he died of exposure, underneath a freeway. And I am amazed at the number of friends of mine who were evicted on the first of the year. Management companies used the smoking ordinance to evict those tenants. It was a meek excuse for them to increase the rent, substantially.

    And 34 — my friend did NOT smoke in his apartment as soon as the ordinance was passed by council. He stepped outside the property. He did not violate the lease. In point of fact, in Alameda you do not have to violate a lease to be evicted. And there are no records of evictions that I have found in Alameda, unless it goes to court.

    Those two comments I consider basically, blatantly, prejudicial, and I am offended … if you do not like smokers, then you did not like Einstein, Freud, Jung, Steinbeck, Mark Twain, nor most Nobel Prize winners. Please be a bit more considerate in your responses.

    Comment by Ron Salsig — October 23, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

  38. Story doesn’t add up. If he didn’t smoke, why was he evicted? Choosing to leave rather than pay an increase is not an eviction which is a legal process that takes quite a bit of time & hassle.

    Comment by dave — October 23, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

    • No, the story does not add up. And he is dead. He did not choose to leave, he was evicted. He had no money to fight the eviction. He knew it was coming, and fell into depression. In that condition, not everyone thinks straight enough to work themselves out of their situation. I am at least a little satisfied that you see that his story does not add up. That is exactly what I was trying to point out here. When a story does not add up, there should be outrage.

      Comment by Ron Salsig — October 23, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

  39. What doesn’t add up if your saying that he was evicted for smoking and that he didn’t smoke in the apartment.

    Comment by dave — October 23, 2013 @ 5:10 pm

  40. 2000 sq ft house near Mound and San Jose went for $900,000 cash, a mere $100,000 over asking price. Neighbor who was out bid told me there are now Google vans and Apple shuttles from Alameda in the a.m..

    Comment by MI — October 23, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  41. The horror…

    Comment by dave — October 23, 2013 @ 7:45 pm

  42. 41
    And you guys want to build low-income tax subsidized housing on the Island.

    Comment by Jack Richard — October 23, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

  43. The thing for me is I don’t want to pay for someone else’s house…I had roomates for years to help me pay the rent. I lived in SF for years and looked at places to buy there, but we bought in Alameda because we found a house we liked. With all the foreclosers in the last few years a lot of those people have to rent. It is the supply and demand principal.

    In order to keep employees where rent is high, you have to pay them enough and pass the cost to their customers other wise you have no employees thus customers. Have you noticed the price of food at Lucky’s has gone up like 30 or 40% in the last few years…I beleive it is to help pay the workers more in order to keep them and the suppliers who need to charge more.

    As far as smoking…quit or smoke outside. My mom smoked for years and they raise the price enough so she quit, but she was on Medicare when she died of lung cancer so after being in the hospital and treatments we all paid for her habit. My dad won’t let anyone smoke in his house anylonger…and if you live in an apartment it goes through the vents or open windows. Smoking is a choice but it also effects those around you. When I get sick the first place it goes is to my lungs Drinking and drugs effect mostly you unless you are driving or have a family…but smoking effects everyone around you. Your friend didn’t get evicted because he was smoking it he was off the property…it is probably just what he told you. People lie…I lie sometimes.

    My favorite house which need a ton on work is 1617 Central…if I was to win the lottery I would try to buy it…it would probably need $1 million in upgrades and I would love to buy the 60′, 70′ apartment building next to it and make it yard. It has 12 bedrooms and you could probably rent it out to 5 people and with the upgrades pay the mortgage. Out of all the houses in Alameda, this is a huge fixer upper and if I had the money to do it, it would be one of the most spectacular houses in Alameda.

    Comment by joe — October 24, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

  44. 42. yeah the horror. Here comes another bubble. Let’s see what we’ve learned from recent history, if anything.

    I wanted to comment that the irony does not escape me that I finally got a smart phone and it’s a iPhone, and I use Google all the time, though I have blinders on when it comes to advertising so who knows how hits from my use benefits their revenue. If somebody can land a job with six figure income, more power to them. I’m not condemning people in the tech sector, just worrying about the speed of social change taking on aspects of the speed of the Internets. I’m thinking about how one group of people might be blinded by a sense of entitlement that is an outgrowth of their great good fortune and not be cognizant of collateral impact (negative) on their neighbors who are not as upwardly mobile.

    Our 1991 purchase could net us four of five fold windfall, but we would have to sell to realize that and then we’d be dealing with rental market.

    Our son who in college had to write a history paper on the effects on “community” as the industrial revolution paved a transition from an economy of artisans, craftsmen and shop keepers to the phenomenon of wage labor. It occurred to me that perhaps for the first time since that era we are experiencing shift of similar proportion. Maybe my view is myopic and somebody better versed in history can fine tune that notion.

    43. ” low-income tax subsidized housing” , yeah? It’s housing for lower income people, subsidized by tax dollars. The horror. Since bus service is essentially shit, it might be nice for people’s house cleaner to be able to walk to work.

    random side note: The $13 billion fine for JP Morgan (some speculate will be reduced to $9 billion) is tax deductible.

    Comment by MI — October 24, 2013 @ 2:49 pm

  45. 45: I would like to live in an beachfront home in La Jolla in an excellent school district, but I cannot afford it. Would I be eligible for your subsidized programs? Do my kids not deserve an education? Do I not deserve to breathe clean air?

    Comment by J'Aboude — October 24, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

  46. We are printing 85 billion and month.

    The Fed’s quantitative easing policies have already pumped $2.8 trillion into the economy, but a new Reuters poll finds that 73% of Americans do not even know what quantitative easing means. Quantitative easing is when the Federal Reserve buys securities to drive down interest rates and prop up the economy.

    The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet now stands at an unprecedented $3.6 trillion. Prior to the recession, the Fed’s balance sheet was less than $1 trillion.

    Total US Unfunded Liabilities Per Person $396,015.70

    Total US Unfunded Liabilities Per Household $1,025,680.71

    United States National Debt Per Household $141,738.88

    Comment by La Jolla Beachfront for all — October 24, 2013 @ 4:02 pm

  47. couldn’t find Jack’s “hoity toity” remark. Thought it was on Blogging About Bayport…. but I’m posting this here.

    Comment by MI — October 26, 2013 @ 7:17 pm

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