Vanguard Analysis: Handicapping the Davis City Council Elections

Davis-city_hallThe filing period was extended until Wednesday, but for the most part we know what we have now – it is a wide-open race.  City council elections are sometimes tricky to predict, other times not.

For example, in 2006 the smart money was that Ruth Asmundson would win reelection and finish first, and that former Councilmember Stan Forbes would finish second.  A funny thing happened: Lamar Heystek surged and almost finished first, Mike Levy finished third and Mr. Forbes was a distant fourth.

In 2012, the smart money seemed to be on Sue Greenwald winning reelection again, but Brett Lee surprised many and finished third with the two long-time incumbents Ms. Greenwald and Stephen Souza finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

On the other hand, in 2010, the race played out as handicapped, with Rochelle Swanson seizing late momentum and capitalizing on a series of mistakes by Sydney Vergis to win the second seat, with Joe Krovoza easily winning the race.

So we go into 2014, knowing that we will have at least one new councilmember, with Mayor Krovoza running for State Assembly.  How does it play out?

Swanson-2014-headshotThe Incumbent: Rochelle Swanson

At least in the early stages, some are concerned about the lack of visibility of Councilmember Rochelle Swanson.  Ms. Swanson put together an odd coalition in 2010 – more conservative business leaders, more pro-development voters, and progressives supporting her, in part because of her commitment to fiscal sustainability and in part because she was not Sydney Vergis.

She has put together a record that is very strong on economic development and fiscal sustainability, but there are signs that she might be in trouble with part of her coalition disappointed that she has been among the most reliable supporters of development on the council and, while she has been more moderate than some on water, those opposing the water project might be less than likely to support her for a second term.

Given her votes on the budget and fire service, if the firefighters are putting together resources to back a candidate, Ms. Swanson might be viewed as a target.

Bottom line: We don’t believe that she is in trouble, but she needs to activate her campaign soon to remind voters of her strong record on the budget and economic development.

The Challengers:

Allen-Sheila-Announcement-2Sheila Allen: We go alphabetical.  When this race opened, the smart money was that Sheila Allen would quickly make the jump to the Davis City Council, translating her nine years of service and good will generated as a school board member into a run for the council.

That still may happen, but there have been some unexpected roadblocks along the way.

The crisis with the school board and volleyball cannot help.  It was Sheila Allen who sat as president at the meeting where Nancy Peterson inappropriately criticized the volleyball coach publicly last July.  There has been sentiment from various sectors of the community that the school board has not done enough.

None of this perhaps lands directly on Ms. Allen, but one thing it might change is that a large segment of the voters that might have been inclined to vote for her simply because they liked the work of the school board might be having to take a second look.

What they will see is a strong coalition of backers from the community, but many of them now on the establishment side of the political apparatus.  She has strong support from elected officials that have been on the more pro-development side of the ledger, with the exception perhaps of Supervisor Jim Provenza, with whom she has been both a colleague and employee of.

There have been those who questioned whether Ms. Allen will take stands on some key issues and then, when she did take a stand on issues involving the fire service, she came out against the JPA with the university for shared management services and fire staffing cuts.

The Davis City Council dynamics differ markedly from those of the school board, and Ms. Allen needs to introduce and re-introduce herself to those in the public that are not paying a huge amount of attention to the school board, except when scandals and crises emerge.

Bottom line: Some believe that Sheila Allen is in trouble; we believe that it is too soon to tell, but she definitely needs to change the discussion.

Robb Davis pulls his papers last week for Davis City Council

Robb Davis: Robb Davis becomes the only one of the major challengers to have never run for or been elected to public office.  That presents the challenge that he’s probably the least well known of the four major candidates and he is going to have to overcome that disadvantage.

His strengths are his community involvement in a wide segment of the community, from restorative justice and the neighborhood courts to the homeless community to the bicycling community.  He has long engaged with the voters on a number of issues on the Vanguard and his mannerisms and demeanor and thoughtfulness have helped him produce a broader coalition than one might expect.

Bottom line: The prognosticators will call him an underdog, his supporters will remind many that no one gave Brett Lee a chance to win in 2012 and he won over the voters with his thoughtful approach to public policy.

munn-johnJohn Munn: John Munn is the Republican in the race.  He is a former school board member and a candidate several times for the Assembly in seats that he could not expect to compete in as a Republican.

This becomes the first time that he has run for an office with a chance to win since he was on the school board.  Those who wish to dismiss his candidacy need to look carefully at those who signed his petition.

What we see is an interesting coalition – you have some former school board and school district people like David Murphy, the former superintendent, and Joan Sallee.  You have notable area conservatives like Jim Stevens.  Then you have business interests like Vic Bucher, John Youmans, Alzada Knickerbocker, Dennis Lindsay and Manny Carbahal.

Finally you have some anti-water project progressives like Pam Nieberg, Pam Gunnel, Michael Bartolic, Jim Leonard, Don Price, Mark Siegler and Michael Harrington.

Those who dismiss his signers as being the usual suspects have missed both the point and the strength of Mr. Munn’s candidacy.

On the other hand, Mr. Munn is a named-party on the water lawsuit, he is involved in a water campaign that was defeated last year, and partisan Republicans may have a difficult time competing in a strongly Democratic city.

Bottom line: John Munn is a potential force that people would be foolish to overlook, but whether he can translate that potential strength into votes at the polls, given some of his liabilities, remains to be seen.

Parrella-DanielDaniel Parrella: Some of us are saddened that the polarity  of the council prevents us from taking a risk on a kid like Daniel Parrella.  Unlike many kids that have run and lost over the years, Mr. Parrella has a good foundation for understanding the issues and has taken the time to do his homework.  Right now, he does not have much of a chance but we hope he can be sure to raise critical issues that need to be addressed.

Bottom line: Daniel Parrella is a longshot, but stranger things have happened in Davis.


firefighters-friends-ofTHE WILD CARD: The firefighters dominated city politics from 2002 until the 2010 elections saw Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson win seats on the Davis City Council.  The firefighters largely sat out 2010 and 2012 and paid dearly in losing much of their influence.

They came off a year in which they fought long and hard and still lost key 3-2 votes on fire staffing and joint services agreement.  They also had impasse imposed on them and their efforts at mobilizing the public largely fell flat.

However, to overlook their abilities would be foolish.  Filings showed they had assets of well over $300,000 and perhaps as high as $400,000.

Will they be a factor in this race?  Right now, the council has a 3-2 majority in terms of key issues facing the fire department, with Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson who were key parts of an earlier coalition joined by Brett Lee.

The council has clearly moved considerably since the days when a majority voted to not read the fire staffing report and a bare majority supported the 2009 MOU.  It was a 5-0 vote on the last, best, and final offer, but both the fire staffing and the joint management decisions drew 3-2 votes.  With Joe Krovoza dropping out, one additional vote could flip the council on key issues and while there appears to be only one candidate potentially willing to do that, they only need one more.

The question really is: will the firefighters attempt to weigh into the race?

OTHER FACTORS: In 2012, the unions attempted to influence the outcome with an attack piece on Sue Greenwald, and possibly Stephen Souza.  You also now have the sales tax, the water initiative, and Chamber PAC.  How will these external factors play on the council campaign?  That will also be critical in determining the outcome.

Right now we view this race as too close to call, with more developments likely to emerge to influence the voters’ preferences.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. SouthofDavis

    David wrote:

    > The question really is: will the firefighters attempt to weigh into the race.

    Do you really need to ask that question? The firefighters (along with EVERY well paid government union) ALWAYS “attempts to weigh in on EVERY race that affects them”…

    Other firefighters call one of my friends a “politician that pretends to be a firefighter” since he spends all his time in meetings (not cleaning the truck or fighting fires).

    Firefighters don’t always pay for mailers and make it easy to follow the money, but you can be sure that they will NEVER “sit out” an election cycle (it takes hard work to keep the cash coming your way)…

    1. Davis Progressive

      the last two elections in davis that wasn’t the case, given the amount of activity last year, i think that changes, but even sheila said she didn’t want them carrying her literature. so who knows what that will look like.

    2. hpierce

      “well paid”, or well financed? There are huge differences, as to political contributions, or even endorsements. DCEA, DPOA, PASEA. Mgt Group [at will or not] (individuals, technically), to my knowledge have never taken an active part in any CC elections. Look at the %-ages of employees, and how many have active in CC elections. Mgt dues are 0. PASEA and DCEA dues are nominal, and have everything to do with representation in meet and confer, with no appropriation towards candidates. There is only one traditional “union” who collects funds from members, and uses funds to support candidates. Kinda like CTA.

  2. Biddlin

    ” … part of her coalition disappointed that she has been among the most reliable supporters of development …”

    Only in Davis is this an indictable offense! roflmao

    1. Rich Rifkin

      David, it looks to me like most of Sheila’s well-known endorsers are similar in outlook (or the very same people as) Don Saylor’s endorsers.

      Here are some:

      Ruth Asmundson, Former Mayor of Davis
      Mike Corbett, Former Mayor of Davis
      Gina Daleiden, Davis School Board President
      Delaine Eastin,Former California Superintendent of Public Instruction
      Ann Evans, Former Mayor of Davis
      Lucas Frerichs, Davis City Council member
      Richard Harris, Former Davis School Board member
      Bette Hinton, Former Yolo County Health Officer
      Susan Lovenburg, Davis School Board member
      Betsy Marchand, Former Yolo County Supervisor
      Barry Melton, Former Yolo County Public Defender
      Chris Ochoa,Former chair, Davis Planning Commission
      Jesse Ortiz, Yolo County Board of Education member
      John Pamperin, Davis Human Relations Commissioner Emeritus
      Jim Provenza, Yolo County Supervisor
      Richard Reed, Yolo County Planning Commissioner
      Don Saylor, Yolo County Supervisor
      Maynard Skinner, Former Mayor of Davis
      Stephen Souza, Former Davis City Council member
      Tom Stallard, Vice Mayor of Woodland
      Cass Sylvia, Yolo County Public Guardian
      Helen Thomson, Former Assemblymember, Supervisor & School Board member
      Dan Wolk, Mayor Pro Tem of Davis
      Lois Wolk, State Senator

  3. Mr. Toad

    Economic development has been one of Rochelle’s main points of focus. Lack of economic development has helped bust the budget and brought us tax increase votes. Rochelle was instrumental in keeping the duration of the increase in sales tax short to give us time to increase funds through economic development. The correct view of Rochelle is that she has supported fiscal prudence and balancing the books through increased economic activity.

    1. Rich Rifkin

      Toad, how do you justify her vote against Mace 391–or alternatively said, her vote against keeping Mace 391 open as an option down the road?

      It was a unanimous vote of the Council, so I don’t blame Rochelle for being any kind of outlier on that question. But given that they all voted against it and effectively killed it forever, I don’t think Rochelle or any of the others can honestly call themselves “favorable” toward economic development. They are more “finger in the wind” voters, who will kill whatever they need to, if the activists are lined up against the project in question.

      1. Don Shor

        I haven’t gone back to look at her particular rationale, but some council members were concerned about the process and the impact the change at Mace 391 would have on our work with land conservation organizations. “Keeping it open as an option down the road” wasn’t really an option in that regard. It was easement: yes or no.

        Rochelle is active with the DSIDE group (which, apparently, still meets). I think Rob White and others could tell you that she is an active participant in the planning processes that are ongoing. She is one of the council liaisons on the Innovation Task Force, which is where the action is right now with regard to economic development.

        I actually don’t think any of the current council candidates are opposed to economic development.

      2. Mr. Toad

        She made several votes to try to see if an exchange where Shriners was traded to the city in exchange for development rights on 391 could happen but lost when the Feds said going a different way would hurt the Yolo Land Trust. She tried she lost the vote you are referring to was recognition that she was beaten on the issue. She tried her best and lost.

      3. Tia Will


        On the issue of honesty regarding growth, you have left out two very small groups who have spoken without subterfuge. I have stated that my preferred size for Davis would have been 50,000 and that given that we have already exceeded that, I want population growth to be as slow as is legal. Economic growth I support as long as it is leveraging the strength of the university, not the strength of big box stores.

        On the other side, Rochelle was I feel fully honest in her statement that she believes that we should grow “as much as possible”. Both of these statements, although on opposing sides of the issue, sound pretty subterfuge free to me.

        1. Frankly

          Says the lady with three houses in town and a very good job.

          If I did not know her better I would certainly attribute a large amount of selfishness and greed to those positions (I got mine, now go away).

          But I agree that there has been no subterfuge.

        2. Rich Rifkin

          MEDICALIST: “you have left out two very small groups who have spoken without subterfuge.”

          You are not going to tell me who those two very small groups are?

          Regarding subterfuge: My only point was that the no-growthers don’t call themselves “no-growthers” and the pro-growthers don’t call themselves “pro-growthers,” even though both of those appellations are far more honest and accurate than both sides saying they are for “smart growth.”

          Regarding 50,000 residents: I liked Davis just fine when it had 12,000 residents. All of you who came here after 1965 or were born after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law, feel free to leave. The rest of us will go hold a meeting at Quessenberry’s Rexall, where the only jerks allowed were the boys who worked at the soda fountain.

          1. hpierce

            Ahhh. honesty about the ‘moat’ mentality! I’m a “newbie”… only here for 34+ years… guess we should leave as we are too late on the scene.
            But I do get kick seeing those who speak @ CC meetings who start off saying “I’m a long-time resident of 5 years, and I think…”

      4. Matt Williams

        Rich, did you make the above post just for theatrical effect? Once Dan made his vote crystal clear on Mace 391, then Joe and Lucas had their three votes, so both Brett’s and Rochelle’s votes were dust in the wind. Rochelle chose not to follow in the footsteps of Sue Greenwald and cast a “message vote.” Rochelle showed good judgment in going along with the majority in my opinion. There was nothing to be gained by being a Donna Coyote.

  4. Frankly

    Some of us are saddened that the polarity of the council prevents us from taking a risk on a kid like Daniel Parrella.

    It may just be my personal bias/preference, but I think it does not do a candidate justice to call him a “kid”. I would prefer “young man”, or “young person”. Note that I certainly do agree that age plays a factor in a candidate’s qualification: too young and you lack the life experience that provide you policy perspective; too old and maybe cannot relate well enough to the younger generations you serve.

  5. Don Shor

    I have reservations about someone being elected directly to the city council without prior experience on any commissions or the school board. You want to see how they deliberate as much as you want to know what they say. So I would urge Daniel Parrella to seek commission experience first.
    Another interest group that might try to ‘influence the outcome’ is the ChamberPAC, notable in the last race for their misleading last-minute door-hangers.

    1. David Greenwald

      I believe that Daniel Parrella attempted to do exactly that and applied for a spot on all of the commissions, but competition right now is really tight for that.

    2. Rich Rifkin

      There are two types of commissioners. One type does its homework and voices an informed opinion on the topic at hand. The other type simply attends (or misses) meetings and rarely has anything much to say. So for those Council candidates who have experience as commissioners, it would be nice to know (at the very least) that they were not the second type.

      Another thing to know about members of the Council and the commissions. Each commission has one member of the Council who is the Council’s liaison to the commission (plus another who is an alternate). Other than Stephen Souza, who was very good about attending Historic Resources meetings, my experience is that the Council members do not take this responsibility seriously. We had Don Saylor, who never once attended an entire meeting, but came a couple of times to give us brief updates. We also had Lucas Frerichs, who never came one time for even one minute. Now we have Rochelle Swanson, and she has never come one time for one minute. I am told that before I was on the HRMC, Michael Harrington was very dutiful in always coming to our meetings.

      I should add that for various reasons I have attended other commission meetings as a member of the public, and it seems members of the Council are likewise just as absent at those meetings as they are at the HRMC. I realize that they put in a lot of time without going to commission meetings. But, ultimately, it’s just a question of how seriously they take their responsibilities as members of the Council. Souza took his job seriously, even though he always worked full time running his business. Others, not so much. Or, they got elected to the Council without having enough time to really do that job.

      1. Anonymous City Staffer

        “my experience is that the Council members do not take this responsibility seriously. ”

        Given the time commitments of councilmembers and the desire to not appear to be micromanaging commissions, that’s probably yet another unfair indictment from Rich Rifkin.

        1. Rich Rifkin

          RR: “I realize that they put in a lot of time without going to commission meetings. But, ultimately, it’s just a question of how seriously they take their responsibilities as members of the Council.”

          ACS: “Given the time commitments of councilmembers and the desire to not appear to be micromanaging commissions, that’s probably yet another unfair indictment from Rich Rifkin.”

          ACS, your criticism of me is off-base and unfair. First, I pointed to two examples of members of the Council who, while busy with full-time jobs, made a point of always attending. And second, you seem to not understand that the Council liaisons don’t “micromanage” at commission meetings. You must never have been to one. They are there to listen, and they answer questions of the commissioners as needed. They will also help out if there is a process question, in terms of the commission serving the needs of the Council. But most of the time they don’t speak. The point of their attending is to be of help to the commissioners and to their fellow Councilmembers who are not there, by keeping open communications.

    3. Frankly

      Not me. It does not register a bit. I would rather take a comprehensive view of their background and experience and make a selection for a by the people, for the people, candidate.

      Part of the problem we are having in government at all levels is this notion that political positions are career steps and not just serving.

      1. hpierce

        You are semi-scaring me… do you believe that electeds are supposed to act in accordance with the small number of people who ‘tell them’ what they should do, or should they use the judgement they have as individuals, consistent with what they expressed as their “core values” when they were elected?

        1. Frankly

          Of course the latter. If you come to the table with a long list of endorsements from other politicians and a history of having other political jobs, then I am very wary of you… because there is a bigger probability that in your association with the political class that you will have lost the ability to do the right things when called upon.

          The call for public or political experience is very problematic for me. 90% of the population works and lives outside of that bubble. If I believe in government by the people and for the people, then why would I support giving preference to that 10%? I want to elect outsiders in, and then see them serve and get out for the next outsider to replace them.

          And those that say we need to give consideration to the complexities of municipal governance and value public-side experience, I say that these people create complexity specifically so you will value them in that next election… even as they also use the excuse of complexity when they fail to perform.

  6. Rich Rifkin

    One thing about Sheila Allen I do not believe: that her candidacy for the City Council will be harmed by the volleyball fiasco.

    One thing about a majority of Davis voters I do not believe: that they will cast their vote based on which candidates have the best understanding of the City’s fiscal crisis and which ones have the best solutions for it.

    One thing I do believe about a majority of Davis voters: that they will always vote for the names they know best, unless one of those names has a sullied reputation.

    One thing I doubt will happen in this campaign: that any of the less well-known candidates (or their supporters or the media) will sully the names of the best known candidates.

    I think there is plenty of information out there to make voters who will likely vote for the two best known names think there are better candidates in the field to vote for instead. But most voters pay too little attention to the facts which count. So they go for the names. And even for those who base their vote on something else, that something else is usually a side-show, not what is really running Davis into the ground. Fiscal sustainability just is not sexy, and no one will care until the ess hits the fan (which will happen later this year, if the sales tax fails, or in 2 more years, when the huge pension and OPEB funding bills start coming due and big layoffs are ordered and the labor contracts are still not fixed).

    1. Davis Progressive

      “One thing about Sheila Allen I do not believe: that her candidacy for the City Council will be harmed by the volleyball fiasco.”

      you clearly have not seen some of the facebook posts that are talking about removing multiple members of the school board. how deep does that go? tough question to answer.

      1. Mr. Toad

        I agree that the school board should have done more to control Nancy Peterson but her crack up shouldn’t be the defining thing of Shiela’s service there. Besides Sheila steadfastly supported Crawford in every vote to date. There are other issues that are much more important. There are two that stand out in my mind for judgement whether you agree with them or not. First the removal of David Murphy and replacing him with with the dynamic James Hammond. Second the tireless and thankless work of shepherding the district through the most devastating economic downturn of the lifetimes of anyone under 85. i’m sure other people have issues that they think deserve being considered in a review of Shiela’s record on the board. As for holding the line on spending ask the Davis Teachers Association about how easy it has been to get more money while Sheila was on the board. This year is the first time in years the teachers got a raise out of Sheila so any assumption that she is going to be a shill for the firefighters is not based on her record on the school board. Also while holding the line on raises when there was no money her board did so while being respectful towards school employees and without much acrimony despite being forced to issue hundreds of pink slips until Nancy Peterson, as some have called it, jumped the shark.

        1. Davis Progressive

          but there is a key point you are missing, by having this scandal, sheila allen has suddenly lost the key advantage she once had – the ability for people to vote for her because they like her rather than because of her positions. this scandal means people will no longer automatically cast their vote for her.

          1. Mr. Toad

            i’m not missing that this scandal is problematic for Sheila I am trying to add balance by reminding people that she has a long and robust record on the school board to analyze when considering who to vote for in June.

        2. Don Shor

          On her behalf, I seem to recall that Sheila was the lone vote for keeping Valley Oak open. I also know one voter, strong on health care issues, who supports her because he thinks that will get fluoride back before the council and make it likelier to pass a council vote. So he thinks she’s pro-fluoride.

          1. David Greenwald

            The original vote to close Valley Oak was 3-2 with Provenza and Sheila Allen dissenting.

          2. Frankly

            That ship has sailed. Sad that some people cannot let go.

            BTW, I know someone that pledged help with alternatives to fluoride in the water but those social justice people involved in the business of helping to get health care to Davis’s poor kids are uncooperative and downright nasty about it. From my perspective it is absolutely indicative of one or two things:

            One – they really don’t care as much about the kids as they do winning the debate.

            Two – there are not enough kids with the problems and so it is better to be uncooperative to hide this fact that gets trumped up for the fluoridation push.

            But if the issue of fluoride comes up again, I’m sure that behavior will be disclosed… and cause yet another black eye to those pushing water fluoridation.

            I think the VG needs to ask Ms. Allen directly if she supports the issue being raised again.

          3. wdf1

            Frankly: BTW, I know someone that pledged help with alternatives to fluoride in the water but those social justice people involved in the business of helping to get health care to Davis’s poor kids are uncooperative and downright nasty about it.

            Yolo Family Resource Center?

        3. wdf1

          Also, Sheila Allen originally proposed expanding Da Vinci Charter to grades 7-9 at Emerson JH. This was at the time when DV was considering plans to expand, and when Emerson was threatened with closure, at one point saved from closing with a 3-2 vote.

    2. Rich Rifkin

      One funny thing about our “erudite” voters in Davis: When asked which issue is most important to them in a City Council election, “having good schools” is very often one of the top three. Never mind that the City Council is not the School Board. That goes over their heads.

      An issue which is normally very large for many voters in town is “growth.” The division, of course, is the anti-growth side, which calls itself “smart growth” or “citizen-based growth” or “sustainable growth” or (being close to honest) “slow as possible growth.” The other side is pro-growth, and it says it wants “innovative growth” or “slow growth” or (as Sheila Allen told me herself when we sat down for coffee, the term she uses is) “smart growth.” Despite the subterfuge on both sides, it’s usually pretty easy to decipher which side of the divide any candidate is on.

      That said, it does not look to me like new housing growth (pro or con) will be a serious driver of voters this year. (I think that was the case, also, in the 2012 election.) However, there may be two secondary issues which sort of stand in as ready substitutes.

      One is the question of planning peripheral land (plus Nishi) for a business park. I don’t think anyone now running is decidedly anti-growth on this question. However, it must be said that when Mace 391 came to the Council, Rochelle Swanson voted it down, and no one else now running stood up for it. Because Davis has a large faction of “open space” voters (another term for anti-growth), I am sure one or more of the Council candidates will try to appeal to them on that basis.

      The second is the water project. I think the voting evidence is clear that most Davis voters accept that the surface project is necessary and we will have it, whether they like that or not. But, there are a good number of residents–many of them in the anti-growth camp–who see the water project as unnecessary and also as drivers of more housing growth. As a result, it’s possible that John Munn (but probably none of the others) will attract some of the votes of the anti-growthers via their hatred for surface water.

      1. Frankly

        This all makes sense to me.

        It will be interesting to see how Munn shakes out on the topic of growth, both housing and economic development. I think those should be viewed as completely separate, but then again it seems the no/slow-growth crowd makes boogieman out of just about any kind of development.

        But if he really is such a conservative, no-tax-increase, numbers guy, I don’t see how he can come down against business park development and additional retail… unless of course he thinks we can cut our way out of our budget deficits.

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