City Officials Grilled on Two Bridges Mega-Towers During City Council Hearing

City Council member Margaret Chin questioned city officials during a hearing June 15.

City Council member Margaret Chin questioned city officials during a hearing June 15.

A hearing (watch the video) was held last week on City Council member Margaret Chin’s legislation that would require the city to notify communities when urban renewal areas are set to expire. The public meeting of the Council’s land use committee also offered local lawmakers an opportunity to grill representatives of city agencies about several proposed Two Bridges mega-towers.

Those projects would add about 2,000 mostly market-rate apartments in towers ranging in height from 62-80 stories along the East Side waterfront. A joint environmental review is now underway for the large-scale towers, which are located in an urban renewal area that expired in 2007.  The review does not include Extell Development’s One Manhattan Square, an 80-story luxury condo project that will add another 1,000 apartments to the immediate area.

During the hearing, Council member Chin argued that public notification would have given her community an important tool to fight over-development. Residents would have been able, she explained, to ask for an extension of the urban renewal area or a rezoning if they had known restrictions on development were set to expire. In a press release, she stated, “We must take action now to ensure that all communities, especially those that are predominately low income and of color, are equipped with the knowledge and tools to protect their neighborhoods. Though we cannot turn back time to prevent the expiration of the Two Bridges URA, this legislation is integral to my mission to keep similar situations from happening again, and to carry on the fight by continuing to demand a full public review, including an up-or-down City Council vote, on the mega-towers at Two Bridges.”

Last summer, the Department of City Planning rejected Chin’s request for a ULURP in the Two Bridges area, a full land use review that would have given the Council a formal role in deciding whether the projects move forward. The agency said proposed changes in the Two Bridges Large Scale Residential Plan amounted to a “minor modification” as opposed to a “major modification” of the plan, meaning a ULURP was not required. 

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

Rendering shows four large-scale projects coming to the waterfront in the Two Bridges area.

At last Thursday’s hearing, Chin noted that the underlying zoning along the waterfront (C6-4a) permits what she called “humungous” towers. But she argued that the new buildings are definitely not in the spirit of the original urban renewal area. Every time she sees photos of the Extell tower, said Chin, “it makes me sick to my stomach.” She added, “What is being proposed is totally out of scale. We cannot allow (the plan) to go forward.” Addressing officials from the Department of City Planning and Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Chin asserted, “You share responsibility with us. Something has got to be done.”

The officials said they agreed in principle with Chin’s proposal for public notification, but they pushed back on the notion that the towers in the Two Bridges area are inappropriate for the neighborhood. The chairman of the land use committee, David Greenfield, asked a series of pointed questions of the city bureaucrats and argued that stronger legislation is required to protect local communities. 

Representatives from the Department of City Planning said the Lower East Side plans were deemed to be “minor modifications” because the developers were not asking for new or modified waivers. They were simply asking the city to lift floor area limits. Greenfield, however, made the case that any plan adding 2.2 million square feet and 2,000 apartments to an existing neighborhood, “amounts to a pretty big modification.”

Photo courtesy of the Office of Council member Margaret Chin.

Community members and advocates testified at last week’s hearing. Photo courtesy of the Office of Council member Margaret Chin.

Erik Botsford, deputy Manhattan director of City Planning, said, “We understand the community’s concerns (about these projects).” He conceded that the phrase, “minor modification,” is “perhaps an unfortunate term” in reference to one-thousand foot towers. The officials, however, insisted that the projects are allowable under New York’s land use rules.

Greenfield countered by asking, “Would you agree that this is a major change to the original plan?” He also asked why Mayor de Blasio would not have insisted on a rezoning in the area to require affordable housing in the new projects (the developers are voluntarily setting aside 25% of their units for affordable housing in exchange for tax benefits). City Planning’s Joel Kolkmann responded, “These are obviously large buildings.” He said the city’s new Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program (MIH) is only feasible in neighborhoods that can be upzoned (Two Bridges is already zoned for maximum density). “These types of large-scale districts are not unusual along the waterfront,” said Kolkmann, arguing that the large-scale towers under review are appropriate for the community. 

There was also testimony from Trever Holland, a tenant leader who read a statement on behalf of neighborhood advocacy groups GOLES and CAAAV. He said there are serious concerns about the threat of displacement of low-income tenants as a result of the luxury developments. He also cited worries about flood protection in the low-lying area and noted the city’s refusal to consider a large-scale rezoning of the community as proposed by the Chinatown Working Group.

In the end, Greenfield told city officials he believes there’s obviously a flaw in the law if massive development projects like the ones under review in the Two Bridges aren’t subject to public review. He called it a loophole that needs to be closed.

On a related note, a community engagement meeting will be held Saturday, June 24 to discuss the Two Bridges environmental review. It will take place at the Manny Cantor Center, 197 East Broadwaay, from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

The projects include a 79-story tower at 247 Cherry St. from JDS Development Group; 62 ad 69 story towers from L+M Development Partners and the CIM Group at 260 South St.; and a 62-story building by the Starrett Group at 259 Clinton St.

Council Member Chin Focuses on Fundraising as Political Season Heats Up

City Council member Margaret Chin was surrounded by supporters at a recent fundraiser in Chinatown.

City Council member Margaret Chin was surrounded by supporters at a recent fundraiser in Chinatown.

City Council member Margaret Chin is stepping up her fundraising in advance of an upcoming primary challenge. The two-term district 1 representative looks to be facing at least three opponents in the district 1 race.

Chin was first elected to serve Lower Manhattan, including the Lower East Side, in 2009. In September’s Democratic Primary, the two-term Council member will be fending off challenges from lifelong LES-residents Christopher Marte and Dashia Imperiale, as well as Financial District resident Aaron Foldenauer.

One evening last week, supporters of Council member Chin hosted a fundraiser at a restaurant on Centre Street, raking in about $12,000 for her latest campaign. The organizers were Gigi Li, former assembly candidate and Community Board 3 chairperson; Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership; and neighborhood activist Jacky Wong. Those in attendance included local district leader Justin Yu; Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality; and Su Zhen Chen, the mother of Private Danny Chen, the young man who tragically took his own life in Afghanistan in 2011. 

Su Zhen Chen, Danny Chen's mother, speaks during the fundraiser.

Su Zhen Chen, Danny Chen’s mother, speaks during the fundraiser.

During brief remarks, Chin reminisced about immigrating to this country from China 54 years ago, and settling in an apartment on Mulberry Street with her parents and grandparents. “I love my job,” said Chin. “Imagine being able to represent a district in the City Council that I grew up in.” She recalled both “happy and heart-wrenching moments” during her eight years in office, specifically referencing a lengthy advocacy campaign to seek justice for Danny Chen, the victim of racial taunting and hazing in the military.

The Council member also spoke of her role in pushing for permanent affordable housing at Essex Crossing, and pledged to keep fighting for more senior housing. She mentioned a new site for low-income seniors on Pike Street, which the mayor has offered up to diffuse his administration’s bungling of Rivington House. Chin also brought up the Elizabeth Street Garden, where she is at odds with local residents determined to fight the city’s development plans. “The site on Elizabeth Street, which a lot of you are supportive of, we’re going to build senior housing there, along with a public open park,” said Chin.

Christopher Marte, left, at a Downtown Independent Democrats fundraiser this past weekend. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer was the featured speaker.

Christopher Marte was among those in attendance at a Downtown Independent Democrats fundraiser this past weekend. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer was the featured speaker.

Among Chin’s opponents, Christopher Marte appears to be running particularly strong. In last month’s campaign finance filing, he’d matched the sitting Council member’s donations (they both collected around $50,000), and Marte had more cash in the bank.

He has been endorsed by Village Independent Democrats. He’s almost certain to pick up another endorsement from Downtown Independent Democrats later in the spring. Marte will host a campaign kickoff in front of the former Rivington House nursing home on Saturday.

Chin, however, has some major built-in advantages, including the backing of the Chinatown establishment. The neighborhood’s only political club, United Democratic Organization (UDO), his endorsed her. The same goes for the Truman Democratic Club on the Lower East Side.

During the recent fundraiser, Chin told her supporters, “We’re going to win it and we’re going to win it big to show that community power means everything!”

 

In Endorsement, Chin Praises Mayor For Standing Up to “Real Estate Interests”

Photo: Office of Council member Margaret Chin. Bill signing, 2015.

Photo: Office of Council member Margaret Chin. Bill signing, 2015.

Over the weekend, local Council member Margaret Chin joined six City Council colleagues in endorsing Mayor de Blasio’ for re-election. Today. Politico New York has more on the endorsements of a mayor who’s been dogged by controversy and low opinion polls.

The article notes that Chin represents a “Lower East Side district that has been the epicenter of one of the administration’s most headline-grabbing, real-estate focused scandals.” The Council member has been critical of the city’s handling of Rivington House, where the city lifted deed restrictions and allowed the former nursing home to slip into the hands of luxury condo developers. According to the story, Chin praised the mayor’s ability to “take on powerful real estate interests.”

Chin is expected to face her own re-election battle next year. Christopher Marte, a Lower East Side activist, and Aaron Foldenauer, an attorney, have already filed to run for the District 1 seat.

The Council member has been a reliable backer of Mayor de Blasio’s housing policies. She came out in support of his controversial push to change zoning laws. She has also sided with the city administration in the development of the Elizabeth Street Garden, a project many of her constituents oppose. On the Lower East Side, however, she was unable to persuade the city to launch a full-scale land use evaluation in the Two Bridges area, the site of unprecedented large-scale development. Chin settled for an “enhanced environmental review,” a process which does not require City Council approval.

CM Chin: Nike Courts Should Not Have Been Put on Fast Track While Other Local Projects Wait

Seward Park basketball courts, November 2016.

Seward Park basketball courts, November 2016.

City Council member Margaret Chin wants to know why the renovation of basketball courts at Sara D. Roosevelt Park, paid for by Nike, happened so swiftly while other projects, funded by the Council, have been languishing for years.

Earlier this month, Nike and Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver debuted the Stanton Street courts with great fanfare. While community activists were pleased that the renovation took place, they were unhappy about the lack of community input. They weren’t even told the project was happening until and hour or two before a ribbon cutting ceremony.

On Nov. 15, Chin wrote a letter to Silver expressing concern over the lack of communication with her office, Community Board 3 and the Sara D. Roosevelt Park Coalition (a community advocacy group). Chin added, “I am particularly troubled at how quickly the Parks Department approved and completed this corporate-funded project when capital renovation projects funded through the City Council’s discretionary capital budget remain unfinished for years.”

Back in 2014, Chin allocated $600,000 in discretionary funding to resurface the courts at Seward Park. The project had been a priority of CB3. Local residents have been complaining for years about the drainage problems on the courts (even a small amount of rain renders the courts unusable). The community has been waiting ever since for the improvements to be made.

In her letter, Chin noted that Department of Parks officials recently told her that the project was “still in the procurement phase.” She also mentioned that DeSalvio Playground in Little Italy, another project she funded, has been on indefinite hold.

Nike courts on Stanton Street.

Nike courts on Stanton Street.

Referring to the Nike courts, Chin told Silver:

…a corporate-funded public space seem(s) to have taken priority over public projects that received discretionary funding and community support. In the future, I hope to see the same, if not greater, urgency from the Department of Parks and Recreation to complete capital projects and other renovations funded by the City. Furthermore, it is my wish that the Parks Department to be more transparent to local advocates when large-scale changes are being made to any public parks throughout the City.

CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said Parks Department staff mentioned during budget consultations over the summer that they were trying to get Nike to pay for the Stanton Street courts. But there was no public presentation before the community board and no notice that construction was actually happening. The Nike courts include a mural by KAWS (aka Brian Donnelly), a Brooklyn artist. The community board, said Stetzer, is normally asked for input about public art initiatives on city property.

As previously reported, City Council member Rosie Mendez vented at a CB3 meeting earlier this months about a lack of communication from the Parks Department. At the time, she brought up several projects in her district, including the renovation of a playground in Tompkins Square Park. Mendez and the community board have urged the city to reconsider plans to lower the fences around the playground (they’re concerned about safety and about worsening the park’s homeless problem). Since that meeting, Parks Department officials have reaffirmed their decision to lower the fences,  in spite of neighborhood worries.

 

Council Member Margaret Chin Endorses Alice Cancel in Special Election (Updated)

Rosie Mendez, Alice Cancel, Margaret Chin.

Rosie Mendez, Alice Cancel, Margaret Chin. Photo by TheLoDownNY.com

In 11 days, a special election will be held to decide who will replace Sheldon Silver in the 65th Assembly District. This morning, City Council member Margaret Chin came to the Alfred E. Smith Houses to announce her endorsement of Alice Cancel, the Democratic nominee.

Cancel is opposed by Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat running on the Working Families Party line, Republican Lester Chang and Dennis Levy of the Green Party. Niou and Chang are both Chinese. Margaret Chin is the first Chinese American to represent Chinatown in the City Council.

As rain starting falling today, a diverse group of supporters gathered under scaffolding on Madison Street. The event was coordinated by Council member Rosie Mendez, an early supporter of Cancel.  As a resident of the assembly district, Chin said she has been thinking about who to vote for in the special election:

When I thought about it, it was easy. It’s going to be Alice. Alice knows the community. She knows our schools. She knows our small businesses. She knows about public housing. She’s worked with the tenants: Latino tenants, Chinese tenants, African American tenants. And I’ve worked with Alice. She is a district leader who works with the elected officials. When there is a problem in the community, she calls me… I know there are other candidates who are running. One of them, I don’t share his values. He’s a Republican. The other one just moved into the district. She doesn’t know the people! You have to know the people. I know Alice is a fighter. When she fights for tenants, watch out.

chin endorsement wide

cancel and chin

Yuh-Line Niou has lived in the Financial District for about two years and is chief of staff to Assemblyman Ron Kim of Queens. She has the strong backing of Virginia Kee, the co-founder of the United Democratic Organization (UDO), Chinatown’s only political club. Chin and Kee are longtime rivals. While Chin is supporting Cancel in the special election, the Council member told us today she would be backing another candidate, Gigi Li, in the regularly scheduled Democratic Primary in September.

Chin is well aware her decision will be a controversial one in Chinatown. “For me, it’s a very clear choice,” said Chin. “I hope that the community, especially the Chinese community, know that we don’t just vote for someone because they’re Chinese.”

Cancel, a resident of Southbridge Towers, has served as a district leader for the past 25 years. Her opponents and newspaper stories have portrayed Cancel as a “crony” of Sheldon Silver, the former speaker soon headed to prison for federal corruption crimes. Silver’s political organization, the Truman Democratic Club, provided critical support to Cancel when the Democratic County Committee chose her as the party’s nominee. “In the last few months,” said Council member Mendez, “she’s been attacked, and I don’t know why. She has done nothing wrong but to work and represent the people in this district.” Referencing the supporters from public housing developments in attendance, Mendez added, “She was content being district leader and never seeking higher office, except all of these people here — not once, not twice but multiple times — asked Alice to run.”

Aixa Torres, tenant president of the Smith Houses, said she was chosen by other community members to take Cancel to lunch and urge her to get in the race.  “It was the community,” explained Torres, “not any elected official, not any club. It was this community of leaders who got together to say, ‘Alice, we need for you to run.’” Nancy Ortiz, tenant president of the Vladeck Houses, also spoke today, saying, “It is our community and we want someone to represent us from our community.”

Last week, Yuh-Line Niou was endorsed by two local representatives, State Sen. Daniel Squadron and Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh. Other prominent backers include City Comptroller Scott Stringer, State Sen. Brad Hoylman, Congresswoman Grace Meng, Council member Ritchie Torres and an array of labor unions with ties to the Working Families Party.

UPDATE 2:01 p.m. Here’s reaction from Yuh-Line Niou’s campaign:

We knew that Shelly Silver’s allies would be working to elect Alice Cancel, so we’re not surprised to see Margaret Chin lining up with the status quo to stand against reform.  Margaret’s support has a two week expiration date because she is supporting a different candidate in September, and this is exactly the kind of cynical politics and deal-making that has led to so much voter anger at Albany. In fact, Yuh-Line Niou has generated massive support from progressive leaders in this district and across the city because she represents a break from the past and a new, more responsive voice for downtown residents.  That’s why she’s been endorsed by the UFT, the Hotel Trades Council, Tenants PAC, Comptroller Scott Stringer, Congressmember Grace Meng, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr, State Senators Dan Squadron and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal. Lower Manhattan deserves better than clubhouse politics and cynical gamesmanship.

Post: Council member Chin Paid Advocacy Group to Advance Plastic Bag Bill (Updated)

City Council member Margaret Chin. File photo.

City Council member Margaret Chin. File photo.

According to the New York Post, City Council member Margaret Chin failed to report payments to an advocacy group for promoting legislation to require a plastic bag fee in New York City. The story, published yesterday, states:

Chin, a Manhattan Democrat, paid $5,000 in fiscal years 2015 and 2016 to the Citizens Committee for New York City to “provide for reusable bag giveaways and outreach events about the environmental impacts of single-use [bags],” council-budget records state… The giveaways are considered lobbying under state law because they’re focused on the passage of a specific bill, experts said. The annual cost of the freebies put the Citizens Committee’s spending past the $5,000 threshold that requires lobbyists to report to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

Chin’s spokesperson, Paul Leonard, told the Post:

This is a ridiculous, politically motivated attack by those with an anti-environmental regulation agenda on legitimate Council funding to increase the use of reusable bags, and reduce the amount of single-use bags clogging our City’s waste stream.

One expert consulted by the tabloid, David Grandeau (read his back story here), said he believes an investigation is warranted because the expenditures may have violated rules barring the use of city money for lobbying efforts. The plastic bag legislation was proposed about two years ago. It would require grocery stores to charge a 5 cent fee per bag.

UPDATE 2/24 City Council member Brad Lander, co-sponsor of the legislation, is coming to Margaret Chin’s defense. In a letter addressed to editor of the Post, he wrote:

The New York Post’s hatchet-job attack on Council Member Margaret Chin’s budget allocation to Citizens Committee for NYC is a ridiculous distortion of the truth and an obnoxious assault on the free speech of a valued not-for-profit organization. Here are the facts:

In typical sensationalizing fashion, the Post alleges that Margaret allocated money to a “registered lobbyist.” In fact, she directed funding to the Citizens Committee for NYC, a 40-year-old not-for-profit group whose mission is to help New Yorkers – especially those in low-income areas – come together and improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods. Their lobbying? Working with those groups on policies to improve our neighborhoods – like getting rid of the plastic bag waste that clogs our trees, mars our beaches, and pollutes our oceans.

Council Member Chin designated funds for Citizens Committee to give away reusable bags – so that people wouldn’t have to keep using and wasting plastic bags – and to conduct outreach about the harms of plastic waste. Citizens Committee did a great job, organizing numerous events in which many elected officials chose to partner as a valuable service to their constituents.

This use of public funds is 100% permissible and appropriate.

On their own – without using public funds – Citizens Committee also printed up flyers supporting the bill that Margaret and I are honored to co-sponsor, that would require stores to charge a small fee on each single-use bag, as an incentive to bring reusable bags & reduce the 9 billion (you read that right) plastic bags that New Yorkers throw out every year. This counts as “grassroots lobbying” – which is a permissible activity for 501c3 organizations (this is why they registered, to report their permissible lobbying), and a valuable part of democratic free expression.

Their great crime, according to the Post: they put the flyers in the bags.

By this logic, what’s next? Limiting what a not-for-profit is allowed to put on their bulletin board, because public funds help cover the rent?

The Post is not only attacking a good not-for-profit, a good elected official, and good environmental legislation. You are attacking free speech.

The Post’s source in calling for an investigation, David Grandeau, in considered by good-government groups to be “the defense attorney for Albany’s lobbying elite.” In recent years, he has helped funnel millions in “dark money” for lobbying for charter-schools and the effort to defeat the Upper East Side waste-transfer station.

Millions in unreported lobbying contributions apparently never bothered the New York Post. But those flyers in the bags? An outrage!

For the record: I’ve supported Citizens Committee with discretionary funding, helped them give out reusable bags, and joined them in grassroots lobbying in support our bill to reduce plastic-bag waste. And I look forward to doing it again.

You don’t like it? Fine. You can still buy all the plastic bags you want – and we don’t even mind if you put the New York Post inside them!

It’s your free speech right, after all, to put your paper in the plastic bags.

But you should not – even for a cheap shot at a good elected official and sensible environmental legislation – try to take that same free speech right away from Citizens Committee for NYC.

Council Member Chin Calls For Leniency in Sentencing of Convicted Cop

City Council member Margaret Chin; file photo.

City Council member Margaret Chin; file photo.

Mass protests are planned in New York and in communities across the country tomorrow following the conviction of former police officer Peter Liang. He was found guilty earlier this month in the fatal shooting of a man in a public housing stairwell in Brooklyn. Many Chinese Americans have denounced the verdict as unjust. Now City Council member Margaret Chin is out with a statement regarding Liang:

…I have asked my Council colleagues to join me to ask for leniency in the case involving Peter Liang. As a mother, my heart goes out to Peter Liang and his family, who are facing the possibility of Peter going to prison for up to 15 years. There are two main factors that I am asking Judge Chun to consider when he gives out his sentence. First, I believe that the NYPD’s policy and training utterly failed Akai Gurley, as well as Peter Liang and his partner, on the tragic night of Nov. 20, 2014. Two rookie police officers should never have been placed on a vertical patrol in an unfamiliar, darkened stairwell. Second, and just as important, is the culture of neglect that darkened that stairwell, and many others just like it in public housing projects across our City. Lack of funding and decades of indifference have turned hundreds of stairwells, elevators, and courtyards into danger zones that inspire fear – and often, terror – in both officers and the residents they are sworn to protect. What happened on Nov. 20 was a tragedy for both families. I ask that Judge Chun give the many factors that made that tragedy happen due consideration in the sentencing of Peter Liang.

Last year, Chin called for the indictment of Liang, saying it would be an important step toward reforming the police department. She told the New York Times, “Let the judicial system take its course… We can reform the whole system so everyone can get equal treatment.” Her stance has, of course, been controversial in Chinatown and could become a political liability in the next election cycle.

 

Council member Margaret Chin Speaks Out in Favor of de Blasio Zoning Plan

Council member Margaret Chin appeared on NY1's "Inside City Hall" this week.

Council member Margaret Chin appeared on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” this week.

Last week, Mayor de Blasio’s controversial proposals — Zoning for Quality & Affordability and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing — were the subject of back-to-back City Council hearings. While Community Board 3 joined a chorus of local opposition to the plans last November, City Council member Margaret Chin has repeatedly declined to voice her opinion about the affordable housing initiatives.

Her spokesperson has told us on numerous occasions that Chin would wait until after the hearings to speak out. On Monday night, she started to do just that. The District 1 Council member joined a panel supporting the zoning changes on NY1’s “Inside City Hall.” Here’s what Chin, a lifelong affordable housing activist, had to say:

We all agree that we have a housing crisis. We need more affordable housing, especially for seniors, so we’ve got to work together, get some quick action and find a solution to build as much affordable housing as we can as soon as possible. We have over 200,000 seniors on waiting lists for housing across the city. So seniors cannot wait. We need the affordable housing as quickly as possible.

Zoning for Quality & Affordability would boost height limits in neighborhoods throughout the city. The Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan would require developers to create 25 or 30 percent affordable housing in newly rezoned areas. A major goal of both initiatives is to create greater incentives to build senior housing. Community Board 3 objected to the proposals, citing fears of out-of-scale development, tenant intimidation and arguing that the changes would produce too few affordable units.

Chin chairs the City Council’s aging committee. Zoning for Quality & Affordability, she said, “could be utilized to build more affordable housing and also to have a continuum of care… You could have senior housing and in the same building you could have assisted living or long-term care, so that the senior could really stay in the neighborhood.”

Speaking more broadly, Chin expressed confidence that demands for more affordable housing for very low-income New Yorkers can be met:

We’re all asking for more opportunity for low-income, moderate-income families to be able to apply for (affordable) housing. That’s why during the hearing, the administration was very good in answering some of (the) questions (that have been raised. There is a need to work) together with the City Council, community boards, local communities to really find the right mix, so that we have opportunities for every single family living in our neighborhoods.

The City Council will vote on the proposals next month.

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