Documenter: Rachel Youdelman

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Initiating plans for a nearly 3,000-acre “world-class” industrial park, the Board unanimously approved a location in southern Fresno for further study. A parade of major Fresno-area commercial real-estate developers appeared to voice their support for the creation of a major industrial park, which they framed as an urgent need and as a valuable potential source of revenue for the County.

  • The Board approved an initial report regarding a variety of proposed uses of $194 million to be received via the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Final rules for use of the funds are expected from the federal government in October, hence final decisions for spending the funds will be made in the fall.

  • Supervisor Magsig said that his office has received “numerous” complaints from “doctors and nurses” who are threatening to quit their jobs over the State’s vaccination mandate for healthcare workers, giving the impression that Fresno medical workers would be exiting the area en masse. However, Magsig later said that complaints had been received from just one doctor and three nurses; an email from one of the nurses repeated disinformation circulated on social media as her reason for refusal of the vaccine.

The Scene

All Board members were present, flanked by the County Administrative Officer on the left and Assistant County Counsel and the Clerk of the Board on the right. Chairman Brandau convened the meeting at 10:00AM and asked the clerk to call the roll. Magsig introduced the person giving the invocation and leading the flag salute, Matt Dildine, CEO of the Fresno Rescue Mission. Magsig exhibited some religious fervor, saying that the Rescue Mission’s work serving “the least, the last, the lost” brought “glory to God” and asserting that “at the end of the day, God is in control,” though his exact meaning was unclear. Dildine expressed his thanks to “a god that works on budgets and policies” and prayed that “the five men you provided with the responsibility to be stewards” of Fresno County would “create character” as well as policy. There were a number of in-person attendees in the chamber, all masked and seated while practicing social-distancing Transmission of video and audio for those observing the live-stream was clear. 

Board (all present)

Steve Brandau, 2nd District, Chairman 

Brian Pacheco, 1st District, Vice Chairman 

Sal Quintero, 3rd District 

Buddy Mendes, 4th District 

Nathan Magsig, 5th District 

Also Present

Jean M. Rousseau, County Administrative Officer (CAO)

Daniel C. Cederborg, County Counsel (ABSENT)

Janelle E. Kelley, Assistant County Counsel (Substituting for Cederborg)

Bernice E. Seidel, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors

Agenda Item #1 Approval of agenda. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #2 Consent calendar. A member of the public asked to pull item #40 for discussion; it concerns funding for transportation in unincorporated areas of the County. Remainder of calendar passed 5-0. 

Mariana Alvarenga, a policy advocate with the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability ( ), told the Board that residents of unincorporated areas frequently tell her that they are in need of transportation services, emphasizing the importance of this funding and asked that routes and schedules be updated to reflect needs of residents. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #3 Retirement plaque presented to Lois Sloan, 16-year employee of the Fresno County Library system. County Librarian Raman Bath spoke, citing Sloan’s accomplishments and efforts on behalf of adolescent library patrons. Another colleague, Mark Berner, said that Sloan was an “energizer bunny,” a “crochet fiend,” and also an “unlicensed psychologist.” She sewed 300 masks when the pandemic began and led a crochet group at the library for Caruthers residents who “brought their problems with them.” Hence she called the group “Fiber Therapy.” Brandau joked that he would “make a suggestion to Supervisor Magsig that he look into that.” A group photo was taken.

Agenda Item #4 Brandau, referring to this item as the “biggest” on the day’s agenda, gave some background about it. The proposal would initiate plans for a nearly 3,000-acre “world-class” industrial park. Brandau said that as a member of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) over the past nine years, he has been “appalled” at the number of jobs and businesses lost to other regions because of the lack of appropriate industrial space in Fresno County. He noted that he recently began to discuss the possibility of setting aside land for an industrial park with Lee Ann Eager, President and CEO of the EDC, also engaging the County’s Department of Public Works. As it is a huge, years-long undertaking with many challenges, today’s vote would be a first look at a feasibility study, Brandau said. He emphasized the necessity of such a building project, citing the changing shopping habits of people who routinely purchase necessities on Amazon rather than shop at a store, as he himself did just last week, he noted. Potential numbers for the community, he said, would be “amazing, staggering.” He then introduced Eager as his “partner in crime” while also acknowledging a number of Eager’s staff as well as others from Public Works who have been involved in the project so far. Mendes, a co-sponsor, was heard to softly interject “How about me?” Brandau quickly noted that “Buddy’s been on board,” has also attended meetings, and that the land proposed for the development is in Mendes’ district.

Bernard Jimenez, Assistant Director of the Department of Public Works and Planning, gave a presentation about the proposed project. He noted that other proposals had been entertained over the past 20 years but that no projects resulted. Boundaries of the 2,940 acres of the proposed site are North Ave to the north, Fowler Ave to the east, American Ave to the south, Peach and Highway 99 to the west. He pointed to maps indicating borders as well as areas zoned for industrial or agricultural use. Jimenez also emphasized that a positive vote on this agenda item would not commit the County to any plan but would provide the opportunity to study it. Staff will focus on preparing an initial infrastructure assessment plan for service in the entire area (sewer, water, road improvements, utilities) and submit it to the Board for further direction, he said. Re-zoning and other actions to meet compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act will be required. “Cool. Thank you, Bernard,” Brandau remarked.

Lee Ann Eager spoke next, expressing the proposal in terms of missed opportunities and long-standing neglected needs which must be urgently addressed. She noted that in the last five years alone, “hundreds” of businesses seeking industrial space in Fresno County have been turned away, prompting the EDC to look at available land, particularly that located off Highway 99, a prime spot for an industrial park. “Class A” industrial parks to emulate are located in other parts of the state such as Sunnyvale, Buena Park, and Cerritos, she noted, describing them as “beautiful” and “gorgeous.” She and others made the case that Fresno County is losing valuable sources of revenue by declining to make industrial space available to prospective tenants or offer more space to existing businesses which are growing. Ten specific “deals lost” were cited, including those with Amazon, UPS, and Ace Hardware, all seeking 500,000 to over 1,000,000 square feet of industrial space and all of which went to Visalia. Eager pointed out comparisons with other real-estate markets in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley as well as in neighboring Nevada. A “perfect example” of why we need more industrial space, Eager said, is that a scheduled presenter, Fresno developer John Brelsford, could not attend the meeting because he was showing his only available industrial space to a potential tenant who was “flown in” for the purpose. She estimated that at full build-out, about 40,000 jobs would be created, property-tax revenue of $3.4 million would be generated, and that the commercial square footage available to businesses would be about 19 million. Filling the entire 2,940 acres will be a process of about 15 years, Eager noted.

Nick Audino, an industrial real-estate developer, and Will Oliver, a VP of the EDC, also testified to what they described as a great need for development of a major industrial park.

Magsig asked the presenters about the dates of the most recently built Fresno County industrial parks. Audino replied that a 50-acre site in Fowler is currently about half complete, also noting the recently completed North Pointe Business Park in Fresno and another site in Malaga. Without discussing the size of these spaces, Magsig concluded, “clearly inventory is nonexistent.”

Brandau opened public comment on the matter, recognizing Leland Parnagian, a commercial real-estate developer from Fresno, who was present to speak in support of the matter. Parnagian asserted that the project would diversify the local economy, presumably making it less agriculture-dependent and would reflect the “shift in how people buy things” which is driving changes in employment across the US, necessitating the construction of large industrial buildings.

Next a woman identifying herself only as “Tracy” and wearing a red “MAKE POLITICIANS AFRAID AGAIN” cap and a “We the People” t-shirt, made a rambling, semi-coherent statement about her concern for “the people in the community” and asked how much money for the project would come from “tax-payer coffers.”

Another commercial real-estate developer, Todd Cook of Cook Land Company, spoke next, making a tangential connection with the previous speaker’s point about the people of the community where the proposed site is located: he asserted that scarcity of industrial space drives prices for available space higher and hence hurts not just the “big-box” stores, but the lack also affects existing small, local businesses, who without the means of expanding to bigger spaces are hindered in their growth. He did not say that local small businesses are the same constituency as residents of the area for the proposed use.

Yet another major Fresno developer in favor of the proposal, Jeff Roberts of Assemi Group, testified that the plan was “entirely consistent with what we want to see in the area,” but it was unclear whose interests would be served. He did say that Assemi Group currently has an application pending for building in the same area.

The next person to comment was Grecia Elenas, a regional policy manager from the Leadership Counsel for Justice and Accountability, who appeared on behalf of residents of the proposed area. She said that residents of the area welcome the availability of upwardly-mobile jobs, but she advocated not moving forward with the project until its potential effects on the environment and public health were addressed. She cited a rating by CalEnviroScreen, which rates the area in question as #6 out of 8,000 census tracts in California. Air quality is among the worst in the state. She said that this information did not appear in the staff report, nor was there an assessment of how the community would be engaged in the process of planning. She asked that the County develop an industrial compatibility assessment so that developing the plan will not exacerbate the existing problems and that the County plans for economic development without burdening disadvantaged communities, encouraging the Board to “raise the bar.” She cited terms of a recently filed lawsuit brought against Fresno County by Comunidades Unidas por un Cambio (Communities United for Change) and SB244, concerning local government’s land use in disadvantaged or unincorporated communities, as well as AB617, which requires reporting of annual emissions of air pollutants and toxic air contaminants.

Another industrial real-estate broker, Ethan Smith, appeared next to express his support of the proposal.

Before taking a vote, Mendes commented that “light industrial” is typically a light user of water, a factor to note in this “era of SGMA [Sustainable Groundwater Management Act].” He “always says” that family homes are the “ultimate water-using permanent crop,” although a simple check for statistics reveals that agriculture uses far more water than is used by homes. Quintero said the proposed project was “a giant step forward” for the County and that we “can’t afford to wait any longer.” The Clerk asked if the vote would cover all three recommended actions to which Brandau replied affirmatively and added that in a private conversation, a former mayor of Fresno told him “Fresno County is not going to pull this off,” but he hoped that she was wrong. Vote passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #5 This item, also sponsored by Brandau and Mendes, concerns the Board’s “letter of concern” to congressional representatives and senators regarding the US Surface Transportation Board’s proposed railroad-access regulations, which the Board opposes. Robert Jeffers, chief of staff of District 2, briefly spoke about the matter. Vote passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #6 Report on homelessness activities by Sonia De La Rosa, Homeless Liaison, County Administrative Office. Presentation entailed a summary of outreach, clean-up of former encampment sites, and efforts to house people, with both emergency and longer-term housing solutions. Outreach includes transport to COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites as well as mental-health assessments, and a variety of other services. In response to a question from Brandau, De La Rosa explained the difference between the “Roomkey” and “Homekey” programs. Project Roomkey provides emergency housing in motels or hotels for homeless people who are recovering from or are at risk of exposure to COVID-19. Project Homekey builds on the Roomkey idea; it is a grant program for agencies to acquire various types of existing structures, such as apartments, hotels, and motels to provide long-term housing for homeless people. Brandau asked if the programs were effective. De La Rosa said that they were, but that they are waiting for the second allocation of funding for Homekey, which is a costlier program than Roomkey. 

The outreach teams work with law enforcement, who play a “community service” rather than punitive role; they often know where homeless people are camped and have familiarity with homeless individuals and their families. In District 1, a major clean-up at Brawley-Belmont took place in April this year, and 18 homeless individuals were approached by the outreach team, 15 of whom accepted services. Property owners paid for clean-up and trash hauling. Striking before-and-after photos were shown. 

De La Rosa noted that the CAO’s office and Supervisor Magsig will meet to review and reassess the terms of the County “Street2Home” program, along with the city of Fresno, taking into consideration the changes in leadership in city and county government and within government agencies.

Mendes commented that much progress had been made since 2008 when the Street2Home program was initiated. Magsig affirmed that the Street2Home priorities need to be reexamined or “tweaked,” and he noted that there have been conversations between Sonia and the city of Fresno over the last 16 months concerning the transitioning of people from emergency to longer-term housing. “What we need to do is get these folks better,” he emphasized. Pacheco said that at his office letters were received about the Brawley project, concerning the denial of beds to some of the homeless people there because they were being “saved for the [Fresno] mayor’s Project Off-Ramp.” De La Rosa replied that yes, because Fresno city funds were used to acquire beds, the city of Fresno directed how the funds were to be used. But, she noted, in cases when beds were unavailable, the outreach team members took names of individuals and returned to transport them to available beds, even days after the site was cleared. She further explained that the County has contracted with the city of Fresno for the use of a number of beds located in Fresno’s Homekey sites. Pacheco asked if the County was currently at capacity in its Roomkey and Homekey programs, and De La Rosa confirmed that it was. She said that when people are housed in a warehouse with 100 people to a room, they are not likely to stay long; but when housed in a private room, they tend to stay, so there is less turnover in availability. Pacheco also asked what the total number of beds were in the County’s programs; De La Rosa said the number is just under 300 and that they were all currently full. 

No vote was needed for this presentation.

Agenda Item #7 Update on American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding; authorize CAO to submit reports. This item concerns approval for initial reports regarding how the County may spend ARPA funds. Presentation by John Thompson, Assistant Director, Public Works and Planning. He said that at this meeting he simply needs to provide the Board with a 2021 recovery plan report and get the Board’s approval for proposed next steps. He called this a report with “no substance,” since the specific rules and requirements of spending the funds have not yet been issued by the federal government. Thompson re-capped ARPA highlights: Fresno County will receive just over $194 million, the first tranche of which, $97 million, was received in June; funds must be allocated by the last day of 2024; all funded projects must be complete and all funds expended by the last day 2026. There are four categories for spending the funds: public health, premium pay for essential workers, government services, and water infrastructure/broadband. Thompson reported that most proposals are for public health and water infrastructure/broadband. The current plan requiring the Board’s approval is a skeleton plan which will take shape as rules and guidelines from the federal government are clarified. Because proposals received by the County exceed the $194 million allocation, strategy and planning will be necessary in making decisions about which to implement. The US Treasury is expected to release the ARPA final rules in October this year. Thompson noted that all CARES Act funding has been fully expended as of July. He pointed out that the current, ongoing COVID response could easily consume about 60% of the first ARPA allocation of $97 million. The “to-do” list from now until January 2022 entails vetting and developing project proposals based on final rules, getting community input, and returning to the Board with funding recommendations.

Pacheco asked for confirmation that ARPA funds can be used for vaccinations and testing; Thompson replied that they can. Pacheco described the current report as analogous to a “spot bill” in the legislature, a kind of shell whose purpose is to keep the process moving while waiting for details. He noted that there have been proposals submitted by advocacy groups but to quell their concerns at this point, they can be told that no funds can yet be allocated. He also said that projects proposed are for Community Service Districts (CSDs) or Community Service Areas (CSAs) and that he would like to make a motion at the end of the discussion to add mutual water companies.

Magsig commented that at a National Association of Counties (NACo) meeting he attended the previous day, there were over 1,000 comments asking for some flexibility in planning, since deadlines were looming despite the rules not being final. He appeared to emphasize his annoyance with this process, as did Mendes when he said, “To me, this is one of those ‘the farther away from the local level, the least people know’ [sic]” affairs. He complained that the federal government should have given more money to counties and less to cities, because counties are administering pandemic management. “But I’m looking for common sense where it never exists,” he asserted. Despite these cynical observations, Thompson expressed his department’s confidence in its grasp of the ARPA program so far, and said that they “understand it, though they don’t yet understand the full rule set.” Brandau did say that the funds may “seem like a lot of money, but there is a lot of need,” apparently acknowledging that the cash is not a windfall but a necessity to repair fallout from an unprecedented crisis.

Public comment on the issue was opened. A woman identified only as “Kimberly” asked that funding for public parks be allocated, especially in some rural towns such as Calwa and Lanier, saying that green space was a need throughout the pandemic and will continue to require investment. Mariana Alvarenga again appeared and asked that the Board address the concerns of residents of unincorporated areas when making funding decisions. She had submitted emails and videos from residents to the Board as well as a budget proposal, which she read aloud and handed a copy to the Clerk. Next a Spanish-speaking woman, Yesenia Lopez, spoke while a County translator translated into English. She asked that the street where her family lives be repaired, as it is full of potholes, standing water, and is inaccessible to emergency services. Her neighbors have sent photos to the Board. Brandau said they just got packets about the property as she was talking. It was not clear how this request was related to ARPA funding requests. The next public comment on the ARPA matter was from “Tracy,” the woman in the red “MAKE POLITICIANS AFRAID AGAIN” hat, who began by telling the Board “you guys need to figure out” how to accommodate members of the public who want to attend Board meetings but can’t because they are working. At this point, Brandau advised public commenters that this time was for comments about ARPA. “Carol” from Central Valley United for Power spoke, advocating for funding for ongoing COVID-19 response efforts, community wellness, addressing homelessness, water infrastructure, as well as funding for food for families, utility payments, youth investment, environmental justice, affordable housing, etc. She asked that the Board establish “meaningful communication” with community members to ensure that needs are met. She asked that none of the ARPA funding be used for “punishment” such as juvenile detention centers or adult jails.

Vote passed 5-0 to authorize the CAO to submit the report with the addition of Pacheco’s requested wording.

Agenda Item #8 Approve a bid for removal of 107 trees to facilitate bridge replacement located at Travers Creek and Manning Avenue. Presentation by Public Works senior analyst, Erin Higginson. Vote passed 5-0.

Agenda Item#9  Consider appeal of Planning Commission’s denial of Classified Conditional Use Permit, proposing to allow a religious facility in a rural residential zone. An unidentified employee of Public Works (though Brandau addressed him as “Will”) explained the issues. Reasons for denial of the permit were not specific, said the Public Works staff member, though it was noted that there were objections to the metal siding of the building and that some attendees would be coming from outside of Fresno.  Magsig declared that he could be supportive of this project, as did Brandau, who called for public comment. Michael Dhanens, architect of the project, spoke. He said that per the process followed, approval was expected, that of the 50 Sikh families who will use the structure, all but five live in Fresno. Further, though the exterior of the building may be found to be objectionable by some, the interior would be “fully fitted out” as a place of worship. He handed letters of support to the Clerk. Pacheco said he didn’t know why the permit was denied, since in District 1 there are many churches of a variety of religions, and he made a motion for a vote. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #10 Supervisor reports. Magsig Spoke about “concerns” in the medical community regarding a mandate “from Sacramento” for vaccinating all health-care workers. “My office has been contacted by now numerous nurses as well as doctors saying they’re not going to do it” and that they are “looking at options of leaving the medical profession, and the reason I’m kind of raising this up right now is I believe that as that deadline [for receiving the vaccination; see ] which I believe is September 30th, there are some unintended consequences by this mandate that the Governor has made. Right now we need all the doctors and nurses to remain in our hospital system, but we may lose a couple percent of personnel there because they’re unwilling to take the vaccines, for varying reasons out there” [sic]. He said that he didn’t want our hospitals to be “caught flat-footed” because hospital staff, “specifically nurses and doctors choosing to leave because of this mandate.” He then suggested that if the Board could provide “flexibility” or “reach up” to the Governor’s office with the message that we should “not do anything that’s going to weaken our hospitals” as the COVID surge continues, along with incidences of more routine illnesses hospitals need to manage. “We are already under-served here in Fresno County,” he added. However, in response to a query to Magsig’s office, it was reported that just one doctor and only three nurses had called about the matter, raising questions about the degree of concern. One of the nurses, in an email shared from Magsig’s office, was worried that the vaccine would affect her future pregnancies, reflecting a myth regarding the vaccine’s effect on female fertility circulated on social media. What the other three people were concerned about was not revealed. Magsig did not appear to consider that unvaccinated medical personnel could be “weakening our hospitals” by contributing to the infection rate or becoming infected themselves, nor did he note that public-health officials across the country are resigning at unprecedented rates because of threats to their personal safety by people who resent, challenge, or object to public-health guidelines or mandates (,,

Magsig also mentioned the death of John Lawson, the rags-to-riches owner of Lawson Rock and Oil. A commemoration is planned for the next Board meeting.

Brandau noted that the State of the County meeting will be held on 22 September at the Chaffee Zoo; details will be found on the County website. Brandau also thanked Martin Querin of Public Works for addressing an urgent clean-up on Ashlan Ave. He thanked Janelle Kelley as well for filling in for Cederborg.

Agenda Item #11 Appointments. Mendes made one appointment to the Fire Protection District. Passed 5-0.

Agenda Item #12 Public comments re items not on the agenda. Will Jackson, a Fresno attorney with a degree in creative writing, appeared to “voice his concern about the direction this County is headed with its COVID policy.” Gesticulating and speaking dramatically, he expressed hostility toward the summary presentation made by Dr Rais Vohra, County Interim Health Officer, at the last Board meeting. He was, he said, disappointed in the Health Department’s presentation to the Board on 10 Aug, because of what he felt was a “lack of context,” and the “unnecessary panic,” which he found “appalling.” The title of one of Dr Vohra’s slides, “Surge,” was “alarmist.” Jackson seemed to suggest that the County Health Department was withholding or obscuring what he felt was an acceptably low death rate. Dr Vohra had “the audacity to make such an alarming assertion,” but Jackson did not say what the assertion was. Jackson also said he opposed mask mandates, and kids survive COVID at a rate of 99% anyway, said he, presuming to speak on behalf of “thousands of kids” who are affected by County public-health policy. Finally, he asked the Board to pass a resolution opposing “forced masking in school,” and to require the Health Department to present a “more well-rounded picture” of what is “actually going on.” He wrapped it up, concluding that “The harms of these draconian measures being pushed by the state, and frankly parroted by the County Health Department, should be considered.” He spoke over the two-minute limit.

Next, “Tracy” in the red “MAKE POLITICIANS AFRAID AGAIN” cap appeared yet again. Without prologue, she began rattling off numbers of deaths, “serious injury,” and other conditions which she asserted without evidence were caused by the COVID-19 vaccines. It was not clear where her statistics came from, though she said they were from the CDC. She possibly could have misinterpreted them. For example, healthcare providers are required to report deaths after COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of the cause of death. Review of death certificates, autopsies, etc, “have not established a causal link to COVID-19 vaccines,” per the CDC website ( Tracy apparently made the erroneous conclusion that the vaccines caused the deaths. Tracy went on to say that though she delivered her findings to the Fresno County Health Department in March, she has not had a response from them. She also took 300 pages of “voter fraud” details to Brandau’s office, she said, but he has not contacted her yet. She then attacked the Board: “You have all violated your oath to protect this community and the Constitution. ‘We the people’ are drawing the line today. I submit you are either serving us, either you’re with ‘we the people’ or this tyrannical government . . .” She then looked up from her prepared notes and demanded, “So I ask you: who are you standing with today?” She seemed to be waiting for an answer. Brandau said, “Thank you, Tracy.” She appeared to be glaring at him and insisted, “I think you oughtta answer,” to which Brandau replied calmly, “I think you oughtta step aside and let the next speaker come forward.” (Per the Brown Act, public officials are not required to respond to public comments which are unrelated to agenda items.)

The next speaker was Brandi Nuse-Villegas, who spoke about the Brawley-Belmont homeless encampment. She said she was among people helping the homeless, though she didn’t say if the help given was in an official capacity. Some people were “pushed out” by the city of Fresno, she said. “They wanted housing,” she said, but “there were no beds,” as they were held for the Project Off-Ramp, as discussed earlier in the meeting. She asserted that the attempt to help homeless people in this area “mostly just displaced people.”

Last, Brent Burdine of Clovis approached the podium. Appearing to impugn the integrity of Dr Vohra, he spoke with hostility though his manner was benign: Burdine wanted to complain about Dr Vohra’s remarks from the August 10th meeting and told the Board they had a “duty” to “get a second opinion.” “There’s other data out there,” he said, implying that one could choose the data one preferred. “Science is one way, data’s gone a different way,” he reflected, appearing to not understand the connection. “Take your time; there’s a lot to consider,” he offered with an air of magnanimity. Declining to recognize Dr Vohra’s title and minimizing the doctor’s expertise, he shrugged and said “Mr Vohra is a County employee.” When Dr Vohra presents information to the Board, “it might be prudent,” Burdine opined, sighing and shaking his head, “to have County Counsel make him sign a declaration under penalty of perjury that he is providing you the most accurate and truthful information that he has.” 

Brandau asked Janelle Kelley if, before going into closed session, there would be anything to report from it. She said there would not be. Vote 5-0 to adjourn after closed session. Brandau asked the public to leave the room at 12:06PM.

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