Most in Audience at Packed Planning Board Meeting Oppose Target Coming to Ocean Beach

by on August 3, 2017 · 32 comments

in Ocean Beach

Audience shows opposition to Target by standing and applauding. Photo by Corey Bruins

By Frank Gormlie

One could tell it was going to be a large turn-out for the OB Planning Board meeting on Target Wednesday night, when more than a dozen people congregated at the locked doors of the Masonic Lodge a half hour before the town hall was to begin.

Meeting room filling up.

And a large turn-out it was. At least 200 people packed the Masons’ steamy meeting room, lining the walls, crowding at the doors – it was standing room only by time OBPB Chair John Ambert called the gig to order a little after 6pm. At least 5 news cameras were off to one side, a group of young people holding ‘No to Target in OB’ signs stood prominently at the rear of the room, while many sitting in the metal chairs waved make-do fans to cool themselves off. At first the noise and commotion was intense, as friends and neighbors re-united, at least momentarily. Target had brought in about 2 dozen of their employees who took up nearly 3 rows of chairs near the front.

“No to Target in OB” group stands with signs. Photo by South OB Girl

Over 2  hours later by the end of the meeting, it was clear that most locals in attendance opposed Target setting up shop on Newport Avenue. The meeting did get somewhat raucous at times, anger and frustration were expressed by a good number in the audience, there was a little chanting and boo’s met statements by the Target PR person. One guy did walk out totally upset with the process and his perceived result.

Standing room only. Photo by SOB

After Ambert explained the technical issue at hand – that with the issuance of so many off-site liquor licenses by the Alcohol Beverage Control for Ocean Beach, and with the habit of Target stores to sell alcohol, the planners were looking to approve or deny future such off-site sales of booze by any business.

Once the business partner of the Antique Center’s owner spoke, then a representative of Target got up and explained the corporation’s vision for its store in OB – then Ambert called on those who wished to speak to make their comments. And 29 people got up and spoke – often passionately – and observers got a clear sense of where the community of Ocean Beach was on the issue.

Before Ambert introduced the owners and Target rep, he recounted a little recent history. Target had asked him a couple months ago to discuss the idea of the store coming in. He pointed out that the building owners could rent or sell to whomever they chose – but this created an opportunity to speak to an array of issues regarding Target and alcohol sales at a town hall type gathering.

In 2017, the Planning Board made an active effort to research the process of how alcohol licenses are granted, Ambert continued, and to understand why Ocean Beach is over 300% of our allowed alcohol licenses. ABC grants these licenses based on census tracts, and OB has 3. Excluding the breweries and brewpubs, OB has a total of 66 off-site and on-site sales by alcohol licensed establishments.

Standing before audience: Chris, business partner, Laurie Jones of Target, Craig Gerwig, building owner.

In mid-April, a few planners along with reps from ABC and the police met so the OBceans could learn how licenses are granted when OB’s census tracts are over-saturated with them. Ambert explained there’s an exception to the numbers, and that is something called “pc and n” – public convenience and necessity, under which the ABC grants additional licenses. To learn more about the “pc and n” process and to  understand why breweries are not included, Ambert and folks from the OB Mainstreet Association and other community leaders met on May 24th. Ambert concluded the SDPD has a great voice in determining who gets alcohol licenses.

Then on July 14th, Ambert met with Target representatives to see if they planned to sell alcohol if they opened in OB. And this was the hook the Board was taking – to review whether they would approve or deny a recommendation of such a license. This was the only real issue before the Board, he said to some grumbling from the audience.

Chris, the business partner of Craig Gerwig , the building owner, was introduced and told the gathering of their efforts to find a buyer. “We wanted to find a buyer for the Antique store,” he said, “and we wanted to keep a stand-alone store,” and “we wanted to find a good partner with the OB vibe,” which led them to Target. Sounds of astonishment came from the back.

Laurie Jones from Target

Laurie Jones, the development manager for Target, then outlined what the store plans to do with the space. They had reached out to community leaders, she said, from OBMA, the Planning Board, the town council and others. “Tonight’s meeting,” she exclaimed, “is another opportunity to listen and learn.” As she explained the so-called small format of the Target Express, there were yells and calls “Target’s gotta go!” and then a bunch of “shut-up’s” in response. Ambert asked the crowd to be respectful, to a scattering of applause.

Jones continued. Target wanted “to respond to residents’ needs,” and with the small format, there’s “no prototype”, and the “merchandise is tailored” to the community. “This store will be tailored to fit your needs,” Jone declared.

There was some comparison to the South Park Target Express made by Jones, where that store stocked lots of groceries for the neighborhood, as it replaced another market. The South Park store, she said, supports that community with “walk-abouts” around the neighborhood.

Target architects are working on the design of the OB store, Jones said, and the exterior might have some wood and polished steel. Target will be hiring, she promised, 40 to 60 employees, and “most will be from OB,” she said. 90% of their merchandise will come from the Target distribution center, and 10% will be from “local vendors”.

There are Target merchants right now, Jones continued, who are researching the needs of the community. And they have found “gaps”, she said, of merchandise not available locally. Jones ticked off a list – sheets, towels, computer ink cartridges, other electronics, men and children’s clothing, and house supplies.

Jones then stated, “Target is prepared to open the store without alcohol,” and there was some applause.

Ambert opened up questions and comments from Board members. Craig Klein was first and he asked Jones if Target is “prepared to make a commitment not to sell alcohol in the future?”

Jones hesitated and said something to the effect that long-term decision would have to be made “down the road” – which unleashed a chorus of boos. Klein responded, “No way can I support you if you sell alcohol.”

Board member Marissa Spata asked why the building owner doesn’t want to sub-divide the property. Without waiting for a reply, Spata began listing local OB businesses that already sell merchandise that Target would offer: CVS, RiteAid, Olive Tree Market, Apple Tree Market, OB Hardware ….

Jones then answered with her list of goods, “sheets, towels, small furniture, toys….”

Spata then asked Jones whether she would “share your market research?”, but Jones said it was only internal material and “not for public consumption.”

Before meeting, people sign up to speak. Here Chris Stavros is signing up.

Long-time OB planner Tom Gawronski stated he was absolutely opposed to another alcohol seller. A woman Board member asked in general, “How can we trust a multi-national corporation?”

Andrew Waltz was next, and he asked the owners if there was an effort to find other local businesses for more of a community balance. Chris, the business partner said they were looking to sell the building, make some money and retire.  Last to go, Board member Dan Dennison cited the issue as OB’s unique community character, and then read from sections of the OB Community Plan that emphasized the desire for small-scale businesses.

Ambert then opened the meeting up to public comment – and comment they did.

Gretchen Newsom.Photo by South OB Girl

Gretchen Newsom, head of the OB Town Council, was up first. She said that the OBTC had not formally taken a position, but she wanted to offer her own personal comments. After reiterating that any employees hired by Target would be part-time with a little more than minimum wage, and that many vendors would be kicked out of the antique mall. She then listed all the clothing and jewelry she was wearing and the local businesses where she purchased them. She said market research is “code” – for “once Target pushes out local businesses, it can change its merchandise” to include what the businesses it pushed out were selling. This brought a round of applause.

Newsom then said that the OBTC would be taking up the Target issue at their next public meeting, August 24th.

Local activist and long-time resident Rick Callejon then led the crowd through a litany of corporations (7-Eleven, Subway, Starbucks) with the ending of “not in OB” and added Target at the end.

Another long-term resident, Diana Webster, was next and she supports Target. “I’d like to walk to Target. I would love to have Target here.”

Spencer asked Target reps, “How many locals were hired from South Park” at that store?  The store manager of the South Park Target Express rose and addressed this issue, claiming he didn’t have the exact number, but that many of the employees are from that neighborhood.

Town Council board member Keith Fink was discouraged and didn’t think there was much we can do. He did state, that he’d like to see Target signing a paper committing itself not to compete with local businesses, and he wanted to see full-time employees with benefits. Plus, he doesn’t want to see “a giant Target sign” on the building. This brought applause.

One of the young organizers of the protest at the back of the room, Jason Kocivar, was next. He recounted how he works on Newport 6 days a week, and he talks to a lot of visitors. “Visitors come to OB,” he said, “because it’s OB,” as he implied, they want to get away from the rest of the corporate world. Target, he said, “would undeniably adversely affect local businesses.”

Kathy Blavatt disparaged the effort to duplicate what businesses already sell, like CVS, then asked, “How many vendors who have booths [inside the antique mall] will lose their livelihood?” They also set up during the swap meets and would suffer greatly if they lost their permanent booths.

Jones from Target said the store would not have a pharmacy or a Starbucks.

Pastor Jim got up and said “If Target sells no alcohol, it will be the first one in history.” A woman named Mary asked Target why they couldn’t  hire the homeless. Debra Harris said she was very disappointed with the antique mall owners, as she said, she’s been loyal for decades and now look at what they’re doing.

One of the more actual speeches made by folks in the audience came from Gregg Robinson, a sociology professor, who said Target would create more empty storefronts in OB and that would bring in negative “unforeseen consequences”. “The only guarantee Target can make,” he said, “is to make profit that doesn’t go to the community.” He urged folks to get and stay active on this issue. “If we stay active, this can be stopped!” He added, “Target by law is only concerned with its shareholders,” and will “drive out other businesses.” He wrapped up, “If Target goes in, we’re all going to need one hell of a drink.” This brought laughs and clapping.

John Dallas, a local business owner, said, “It’s a sad day for OB” if Target comes in. He placed the blame for it due to the “lack of leadership by the District representative.”

Long-time activist Kim McGinley was up and began reading from sections of the community plan, citing chapter and verse. For example, the introduction calls for “low-scale business establishments”, and other sections promote local businesses. She called for people to form an anti-Target group and urged anyone interested to sign up on the lists on a table. “Target will destroy our community,” she said.

One of the owners of James Gang, wearing his anti-Target T-shirt, said he’s been around for 24 years and supports local businesses. His T-shirts are available at his store for $10, he said.

Karen Anderson said she is very disappointed in the building owners.  Julie Klein challenged the audience to get involved in the community, as many important issues never  bring out these many people. Mary O. was next and said she’s a business owner and favors Target. Kim Musgrove told the meeting she’s “looking forward to Target.”

Colleen Dietzel of the Green Center said she’s opposed to Target and admonished the owners for not creating affordable housing. Rio Metza gave her usual rousing call to action, speaking how Lola Luna – where she worked – was “pushed out by greed.” “We will win!” she shouted to applause.

Denine got up and simply stated, “If I need something from Target, I’ll go to Target,” referring to the large Target store on Sports Arena Blvd, which is only 1.9 miles away. This brought knowing laughter. She said she goes to OB Hardware a lot.

Shana McGinley, a resident for 21 years, declared, “If Target comes here, I will never walk through their doors again,” which elicited applause.

The well-known owner of Olive Tree, Chris Stavros, told everyone that he opened up his store 30 years ago, and he is absolutely opposed to alcohol sales by Target. He retold his story about when he was young, his father was trying to open up a Winchell’s Donuts in one of their storefronts, but due to community opposition, scrapped the whole plan. Chris asked him what was going to happen – and his father said, “we have to listen to the people,” with the obvious implication Target should do the same now.

Stavros had checked out the South Park store . “Target would kick the crap out of my business,” Stavros said. He urged the audience: “We can pull together and do something” about the situation. He ran some numbers and believed it was possible for local players to put something else in the building.

Past OBTC president Jim Musgrove said he was put off by the digression from the alcohol issue. “I’m not in favor or opposed to Target,” he said, but he doesn’t support alcohol sales by the store.

Nathan Kocivar – locally born and raised  and one of the protest organizers – told the crowd that in his travels he shared many good stories about OB, but “Target is not what the community needs or wants.” Marin Green, a board member of the town council, directed her comments to the Target people, for them “to listen and learn.” She then spoke slowly, “We don’t want Target in our community.”

This reporter was last to comment. I made the points that even though I’ve spent plenty of money at local OB brewpubs, I’m against another business having off-site sales of alcohol, and asked the building owners why they couldn’t put in some toilets and wiring. Why couldn’t they divide up the building to make it more reasonable for small businesses to make the rent. “Why won’t you divide the building up,” I asked, “instead of dividing up the community?”

Then I asked the audience if they opposed Target coming into OB, to stand up and applaud. Many did.

Once the public comment period was over, the Board took up the issue, and after a brief discussion and – almost anti-climatically – unanimously passed a motion to oppose any future permits for off-site sales of alcohol by any business.

The gathering was finally over and the Planning Board had done their utmost to give the community a chance to sound off about Target.

Now, the OB Town Council will hold their public discussion on Target at their meeting August 24th – back in the Masons’ hall, once again.

This battle is far from over. Nothing is in stone, one of the owners said. This is not, apparently, a done deal.

Stay tuned.

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar John August 3, 2017 at 3:28 pm

I would also note that of all the people in favor, all-but-one seemed to live up the hill in Point Loma. They’ll be “walking” to Target and back with a bag of pesticide-riddled groceries and chinese-made nick-nacks when pigs fly. #richboomersellouts

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avatar Tyler August 4, 2017 at 9:31 am

Care to incorrectly generalize any more about where those NOT OPPOSED (not going to say in favor) to Target live on the peninsula?

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 1:02 pm

I agree. Nobody from PL is going to be walking to that Target and back with a new dish set or bedding set from china. They won’t even drive there once they realize that everything is priced higher than the big Target on Midway… which is probably closer for many of them anyways.

In other words, they should probably butt out of the conversation.

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avatar Dude August 3, 2017 at 4:23 pm

Thanks for the thorough recounting of the meeting, as I couldn’t make it unfortunately.

Has the building actually been purchased by Target? If not, did the current owners talk about when they expect that transaction to happen?

I had previously heard Target would lease the building from the current owners, but I guess that was incorrect or has changed.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2017 at 11:31 am

I’m not certain either way. I’ve heard from 6 months to a year to be finalized. Target may just lease it.

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 1:03 pm

They said lease at the meeting. One possible reason mentioned was to avoid the property being reassessed and triggering a big increase in property taxes.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Excellent point. Plus, why would Target risk 6.5 million dollars and have ownership of the property when they can lease it for a few years and see how it goes?

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avatar Dude August 4, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Yeah that does make sense, but in the article it says the current owners said at the meeting they are looking for a buyer, I took that to mean not a renter?

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 8:09 pm

I know they said they wanted to sell the antique business to someone else, but like my dad always says… Wish in one hand and shit in the other, and see which fills up first.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2017 at 9:36 pm

LOL

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2017 at 9:37 pm

There’s 2 “things” to buy: the building and the business.

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avatar M August 3, 2017 at 6:21 pm

I was present but left just before Olive Tree owner spoke as my tummy was growling. I’m generally opposed to Target, but I have to say that this is a really interesting issue given how trying retail is in the modern era with big box and online competition. This is bigger than the issue of maintaining the character or protecting small businesses. In general, retail is really suffering and it is getting harder and harder to fill these business districts. It’s happening in communities across the country, even when a Target (or Walmart) isn’t moving in.
These particular owners should be able to sell/rent so they can retire and ideally to a tenant that maintains the character of the community without cannibalizing existing businesses. If not Target, then who? Even if you sub-divide, consider all the other open storefronts along Newport. I don’t want a Target, but I also don’t want a big empty building. If not competing retail, what do we want – more restaurants, bars/tasting rooms, coffee shops, and ice cream?

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 1:08 pm

When I see a vacant storefront, all I see a property owner out of touch with reality. It’s worth what someone is willing to pay, and nothing more. Instead of adjusting their price to match demand, they let it sit empty and make nothing. I don’t like using the word greed much, but in this case it fits the definition perfectly.

I can guarantee there are plenty of businesses that would want a storefront on Newport avenue, if they could afford it. This isn’t rural Yuma.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2017 at 1:36 pm

Newport Ave property owners have a lot of power; they set the rents, decide who does and doesn’t open on Newport, and can set commercial trends that can be around for decades. At one point years ago, they decided they wanted to make Newport the antique alley of San Diego. The Antique Center is the last mega-antique mall in OB, and it was the antique malls that survived.

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 1:45 pm

Antiquing died 20 years ago. It’s amazing it took this long for Target to become a conversation.

Speaking of which… traffic and parking concerns kept coming up. What are those people asking for? A business without customers? Like a hookah lounge or antique store maybe?

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avatar rick callejon August 4, 2017 at 12:40 am

A bakery, a book store, and a Birkentock store

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avatar Kathy Blavatt August 4, 2017 at 4:02 am

One key point left out of the article and a problem the OBPB should be looking at is that the South Park Target express has 90 parking spots. This OB store will have around 30!
This is going to be a parking and traffic nightmare. Newport is already congested and the alley leaving the parking lot puts cars onto Sunset Cliffs Blvd. or Cable, two busy dangerous spots. More traffic will soon be on that alley from the new mini mall on Cable and the parking lot with the library expansion to the next door building. How about a traffic parking study being required!

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avatar South OB Girl August 6, 2017 at 10:00 am

Excellent point Kathy! Just sat in the (now familiar) stop and go, bumper to bumper traffic down Sunset Cliffs Blvd on Friday night and found no parking spots on Newport…

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avatar South OB Girl August 6, 2017 at 10:02 am

On that note found no parking when I got home either and parked a block away!!

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 1:18 pm

The property owner and his real estate agent have said the following… See if you can find the double speak in there.

“It’s priced below fair market value”

and yet…

“We reached out to X, Y, Z but none of them are interested.”

“We would love for local businesses to take over the space”

and yet….

“It’s too expensive to subdivide and Target is the only one that can rent the whole space.”

The building owners are under no obligation to answer to the community… but if they do, they might as well tell the truth:

“If we cater to the community’s desires, we will make less money and our retirement won’t be as comfy.”

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avatar kh August 4, 2017 at 1:39 pm

When citizens or anyone put up barriers to a business entity moving in, whether it be with Target or 7-11 or a bar or Airbnb, it can repel those buyers/lessors from the market, or at least increase their risk.

This devalues property, creating opportunities for other less profitable businesses and uses. Otherwise a bowling alley owner is never going to be able to afford to pay what Target can.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 4, 2017 at 9:38 pm

Did you know that the building where the James Gang is today was for years the last, manually-set, single lane bowling alley in the country. And man, was that lane rocky.

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avatar Jeri Gonzales August 7, 2017 at 10:26 am

The bowling alley was in the AZ Café…I believe it had 3 lanes

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avatar South OB Girl August 5, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Some of the more innovative ideas I have heard from various people:
Trader Joes or Whole Foods, new or second location for Peoples, bowling alley, skating rink, movie theater (RIP the Strand), affordable senior housing (with City funding available), or subdivided spaces for various merchants. I have seen a few examples of such markets, such as East End Market in Orlando, FL: https://www.eastendmkt.com/our-merchants/

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avatar kh August 6, 2017 at 10:26 am

Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are both huge corporations, with 13 billion in annual revenue. (Target = $69B).

The only difference between them and Target in that regard is their touchy feely vibey marketing strategy. Anyone opposed to Target because they have a wealthy CEO is a hypocrite to bring up these other companies.

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avatar South OB Girl August 5, 2017 at 3:49 pm

And 2 more ideas (from various people, and not reflective of my personal opinion): an arts collaborative (painting, pottery, theater, dance); and an educational complex (for example, an ESL school, UCSD Extension satellite location, or National University satellite location).

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avatar Debbie August 6, 2017 at 9:14 am

The reality is that someone or entity with money has to be able to make money. That would be someone who has enough cash to renovate the building plus $6Mil cash or someone who can prove to a bank that the business can generate on a monthly basis a $30K-35K mortgage, plus payroll, plus taxes, and make a profit etc.

Can desired alternatives produce 50K per month? Is the seller willing to take less? In order to fight Target coming in, there has to be another option. What is the answer, I do not know?????

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avatar kh August 6, 2017 at 10:13 am

If the property was subdivided, what would move in? Coffee shops and breweries? I feel like there are very few shops on Newport that serve everyday needs for locals, and that is making it hard to say no to Target. If it were a public market, what would we have? A larger version of the new OB Beans/shave ice/hipster place? Those are for tourists. I’ll go out on a limb and say the majority of the mom n pop Newport businesses cater to tourists.

Nobody can afford to live in OB if they buy $4 coffees and eat out on Newport every night. We have coffee pots and kitchens for that. I can’t buy work clothes at The Black. Most of my local shopping is done at appletree, ob hardware, Autozone, and bone appetite.

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avatar Posey August 7, 2017 at 10:02 am

Hey, how about a Patagonia clothing store. I want a locally owned business, but can we at least get a company whose mission is more than just a money making monster for their shareholders?

I definitely don’t want a whole foods which is now owned by Amazon. I wouldn’t want them to take business from Ocean Beach People’s Food Coop. Whole Foods cost’s more than our Coop and our Coop’s money stays in the community.

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avatar Posey August 7, 2017 at 10:17 am

Hey, check out Wikipedia’s “Patagonia (clothing)” the Activist section.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 7, 2017 at 10:43 am

I apologize for all the typos, but thanks to South OB Girl, they’ve been corrected. The post took a long time to write up and at the end, just hit the PRINT button without sending it over to the proofreader – but wait! we don’t have a proofreader.

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avatar Frank Gormlie August 8, 2017 at 10:17 am

We just found out who took that great photo at the top of the article: Corey Bruins – a board member of the OBTC. Thanks so much, Corey.

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