Sunday Commentary: Just Can’t Get Cannery Right – And That Hurts Everything Else

By David M. Greenwald

At some point if the city wants to lay its cards on the table, it might consider having a consultant or perhaps even staff assess what went wrong with the Cannery.  Because, as it stands now, the project is its own warning label.  Want to consider removing Measure J—the Cannery is the best counter-argument.  Want to put forward somewhat vague features into a Project Baseline Agreement—remember the Cannery.

The Cannery has become the boogie man for Davis growth policies—and even people who are not anti-growth acknowledge it.  To put this into perspective: the Vanguard started in 2006, 14 years ago, that already the Cannery—then the vacated Hunt-Wesson Cannery site—was an issue.

At that time the debate was a 100-acre business park (my preference) or housing.  Lewis Planned Communities backed out of the project when the council in 2009 insisted on an equal weight assessment of the two options.

But it got restarted after the housing collapse when the New Home Company took over the project, and eventually passed on a contentious 3-2 vote in 2013.  You would think that would be that—but no.

There was the CFD (Community Facilities District) in 2015 that passed on a 3-2 vote.  There have been the on and off problems with the grade-separated crossing.  And then there have been the repeated attempts to come back to council with revisions to the development agreement.

One of the reasons this has been so damaging to the city’s efforts at other developments is that the developer has come back time after time to get revisions to the agreement—although much of the time, push back has forced them to back down.

As I noted back in April 2016: The week started with The New Home Company having three requested changes to the Cannery on the agenda for the Planning Commission. First, there was the proposal to increase the number of stacked flats by 24. Second, there was a proposal to reduce the number of small builder units.  Third, there was a proposal to modify the Cannery Mixed Use Center.

But before the Planning Commission met, they were off the table.  Bonnie Chiu told the Vanguard, “The New Home Company (has) withdrawn its proposal.” She noted that they “decided to put our proposal regarding the Stacked Flats Condominiums on hold at this time to allow additional outreach time.”

No big deal, except this keeps happening over and over again.

Concerns about connectivity issues have dogged the project throughout.

Writing in 2015 in the wake of a new controversy involving the Cannery, Joe Krovoza would say: “In all of this, my biggest issue was no secret. I wanted firm, firm guarantees of high-quality, grade-separated bike and pedestrian crossings at the SE and SW corners of the project.”

The SE crossing would never occur, of course, but he wrote, “A SW crossing would connect to Community Park, the library and schools, and all points southwest. I raised this issue at every Council meeting that addressed Cannery.”

He added, “When the DA [Development Agreement] came out in the November 19, 2013 staff report, the guarantees for two good, grade-separated bike and pedestrian crossings seemed very weak.”

He argued that the “staff report and DA didn’t guarantee good crossings. I saw this as backpedaling. Even with at least $11 million in transportation dollars from the DA and traffic impact funds, fingers were still being crossed that we’d have quality grade-separated crossings for bikes and peds across Covell.”

I bring all of this up as history.  On Tuesday, the Cannery proposed a FOURTH amendment to the Cannery Village Market Project.

According to the staff report: “The proposed request is to amend the Development Agreement whereby a prior condition would be removed that tied occupancy of multifamily residential units to the construction or permitting of a minimum of 50% of the commercial buildings on the West Block of The Cannery mixed-use area.”

Now of course this has run so long, as the applicant had been pursuing building permits when the COVID-19 pandemic forced an economic downturn.

According to the staff report, “Since that time, the financing commitments previously acquired by the applicant for the commercial portion of the project have been rescinded. The applicant desires to move forward with the construction of 72 multifamily units and has requested relief from the condition that ties occupancy to commercial construction given that the issues related to the pandemic are out of their control and not foreseeable when the condition was originally agreed to.”

My favorite part is “not foreseeable when the condition was originally agreed to”—given how long it has taken to complete this portion of the project, that should not be that surprising.

The Planning Commission met on this issue on June 24, 2020, and recommended denial of the applicant’s request on a 5-2 vote.

However, staff does note that the Applicant has “removed an earlier request” that the Planning Commission found objectionable—it would have delayed a $150,000 payment to the Housing Trust Fund for affordable housing purposes.

Staff naturally “recommends that the City Council approve the proposed request to amend the Development Agreement as the City is still in need of housing, the applicant had been working towards meeting the condition providing a permit-ready commercial site prior to the pandemic, and it may help hasten the permit-ready future commercial buildings being constructed versus continued inactivity.”

I think at this point the council can make whatever decision they want about this particular proposal, but there needs to be a full audit of the Cannery process where an objective third party issues a report about what the city did wrong in this process in hopes of avoiding it in future projects.

Cannery has become a cautionary tale that has been used against the city time and again in opposing projects.  The problem here is that there really are problems here, and pretending there haven’t been does no one any good.

The fact that we need housing not withstanding, this project has been a huge problem for 14 years and shows no sign of abating.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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. Richard McCann

      Having commercial embedded in residential neighbors is important for having a vital civic life. It creates places for people to interact and socialize, and it helps create a walkable space. Go to any of the post 1990 neighborhoods without commercial space and they are ghost towns.

      That said, so long as the Cannery doesn’t convert the identified commercial space to residential, I think we are more in need of residential right now. We need a City wide vision plan to determine what we should plan for our existing commercial space and what we be interested in adding. That should be top priority for the next Council.

  1. Ron Glick

    Waste more money on consultants. Is this your new mantra?

    One thing you forgot was that the City gave protection to existing businesses when the existing exercise industry objected to building a gym at the Cannery because they feared competition. If the CC is going to pick winners and losers in the business community we shouldn’t be surprised when the business community doesn’t show up.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Somebody should summarize how much money Davis has spent on planning consultants over the last decade.

        Suspect that someone will be a consultant… was once told, “A consultant is someone you pay, to borrow your watch, and tell you what time it is.”

        1. Tia Will


          Would you carry that same advice with you to the surgeon if you had broken your hip? I find the dismissal of expertise we are seeing at unprecedented levels to be deeply disturbing.

      2. Richard McCann

        The fundamental problem is, that much like doctors, politicians, developers and the citizenry generally don’t listen the planners because both doctors and urban planners often provide advice and direction that requires pain on the part of those who need to act. It’s why our nation’s obesity rate has skyrocketed and why we can’t get away from our cars. Doctors have more leverage to get their patients to follow their directions.

  2. Matt Williams

    Ben Franklin, if he were here to advise us would say the following: 

    And his advice to City Staff and the City Manager and the City Council would be: 

    The biggest problem with Measure J/R/D is that the voters are not professionally trained in the issues of urban planning … and in some cases aren’t even personally informed about the specific project.  However, the problem with no Measure J/R/D projects is that the people who are both professionally trained and informed about the specific project don’t make their decisions using that training and/or information.  All too often they make their decisions based on politics.

    1. Alan Miller

      The biggest problem with Measure J/R/D is that the voters are not professionally trained in the issues of urban planning … and in some cases aren’t even personally informed about the specific project.

      Héll, they aren’t even smart enough to know they aren’t smart enough.  Thus:  J/R/D.

      1. Ron Oertel

        You might have a point, regarding the latest election results.

        Apparently, less than 17% realize that they aren’t “smart enough”.  Either that, or they suspect that the other 83% aren’t smart enough.  😉

        Unlike the sages on the council, for example. Or, staff whose very jobs depend upon development proposals.

  3. Ron Oertel

    This is hilarious.

    The Cannery is exactly the type of housing that “families” would seek. 

    You’d think that the “housing shortage people” would be thrilled with this thing.

    It’s no surprise that David is now acknowledging that the owners refused to house a business park instead of housing, and that they are now trying to eject the remaining commercial space.  There’s no demand for it.

    It also likely helped prevent the approval of Covell Village.

    I am hopeful that Cannery residents will help fight any future Covell Village proposal.  I would think that they’d be easy to recruit.  😉

      1. Ron Oertel

        I agree – they can, indeed. That’s why it’s sold-out.

        Now, they may not be local families (or have tons of kids to fill-up Davis schools), but in the absence of a “Davis buyer’s program”, it’s a free/open market.

        Ultimately, a reason that building for “internal needs” is a rather fake goal.

        1. Ron Oertel

          There are wealthy families, including in that age bracket.

          But for the folks you’re referring to, they’re likely looking in places like Spring Lake (where the price is “only” about $500K-$650K).

          Not a great deal of savings, really.

          1. David Greenwald

            There are wealthy families, but most of them have older children and are on their second or third house. This doesn’t fill the demographic need we had. You said this is exactly the type of housing families need, it’s not. It might fill some housing needs for some families, but your statement is subjectively false.

        2. Ron Oertel

          This doesn’t fill the demographic need we had.

          Glad to see you word this in the past-tense.  Who says that Davis “needs” this?  The oversized school district?

          I have news for you.  Houses turn-over, eventually.  Even if the owners never sell.  Eventually, they die (and are replaced by “new” people).

          You said this is exactly the type of housing families need, it’s not.

          Not what I said.  “Need” is different than “desire”, for one thing.

          Families generally prefer the type of housing that The Cannery provides (relatively modest single-family dwellings).

          Of course, it competes with places like Spring Lake, for new housing at least.

    1. Don Shor

      The Cannery is exactly the type of housing that “families” would seek. 

      No it isn’t. The type of housing that families would seek is in Spring Lake and Mace Ranch.

      1. Ron Oertel

        The type of housing in The Cannery is primarily rather modest single-family dwellings, on small lots.  I’d call that “family housing”.

        Who do you suppose is living in The Cannery?

        Those who want to pay a little less look in the areas you cite.

        1. Don Shor

          The type of housing in The Cannery is primarily rather modest single-family dwellings, on small lots. I’d call that “family housing”.

          Who do you suppose is living in The Cannery?

          I am meeting the people who are living in the Cannery. Some families, but it is very nice retirement housing for the most part. The “small lots” are the problem with respect to young families.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Well, maybe that’s just the way it is.

          Maybe folks should stop trying to change Davis, to what they envision it “should” be.

          (Small lots are not unique to Davis, anymore.  Actually, the lots aren’t necessarily small – it’s the houses that became larger.  Folks, including families don’t seem as interested in yards, anymore.  Of course, things like the cost of irrigation/water make a difference, as well.)

          But unless Davis can “control” what surrounding communities do (or implement programs such as the “Davis buyer’s” club to prevent dreaded outsiders from moving in), the folks who are trying to change Davis to what they think it should be are pissing into the wind.

          On a broader level, demographics are changing – not just in Davis.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Well, maybe that’s just the way it is.”

            Ceratinly is if you don’t do anything to change it.

          2. Don Shor

            Folks, including families don’t seem as interested in yards, anymore.

            What is your evidence for this statement?

        3. Ron Oertel

          What is your evidence for this statement?

          I’m pretty sure that the average-size house has increased over the years, while newly-subdivided lots have either stayed the same, or become smaller. I’m basing that on articles I’ve read, which you’ve probably seen as well.

          On a related note, I’ve seen news stories in which developers claim that they’re already responding to a desire for larger homes (with more “separated”) space, as a result of the shift toward telecommuting.

          In any case, BOTH of these trends favor developers in communities outside of Davis.  Especially for less-wealthy families.

          No one, including you, David, or anyone else has stated exactly why they are “dissatisfied” with the sold-out Cannery, regarding the people who occupy it. Some of whom (no doubt) moved “from” Davis itself.

          Seems that you only want the “right kind” of outsiders to move in. The ones who support an oversized school district perhaps, though the district has been able to poach students from outside the district to avoid right-sizing. 😉 In a way, I suppose that result might be viewed as having both positive, and negative impacts.

        4. Ron Oertel

          And despite approving the exact type of housing that generally appeals to families (in the form of The Cannery), another peripheral development would likely have the same impact that you and David apparently have a problem with.

          Or, you can try to convince the city and developers to build shoe-box sized housing, which is likely to have a HIGHER cost per square foot, and is not sufficiently-sized for families.  (Who can get what they want a few miles away, instead. And then send their kids to Davis schools.)

          Again, it’s pretty funny.

          By the way, what’s the holdup with Chiles Ranch? (About 100 or so very modestly-sized houses planned, for more than a decade now.) Maybe “doesn’t pencil out”? 😉

  4. Tia Will


    There have been the on and off problems with the grade-separated crossing.  And then there have been the repeated attempts to come back to council with revisions to the development agreement.”

    I would add to your list the pandering to limited but vocal small interest groups in order to get them to drop their objections prior to the city council vote.

    Cannery has become a cautionary tale that has been used against the city time and again in opposing projects”

    I would frame this differently. The use has not been so much “against the city” as it has been against poorly designed projects without sufficient guarantees.

      1. Matt Williams

        David, can you give us an example of a well-designed project in the last two decade?

        — WDAAC was not.

        — Nishi 2018 was not.  If it had been well-designed the same residential density of Nishi 2016 would have happened in Nishi 2018 … and 3,000 additional student beds would have been in the offing.  Further they designed the project without any eye to optimizing the site plan, but rather with an eye to how to avoid amending/updating the 2016 EIR.

        — Nishi 2016 was not.  Clear deficiencies in affordable housing and the handling of traffic

        — Wildhorse Ranch was not.

        — Covell Village was not.

        — Cannery was not.

        — Willowbank Park was not.

        — Grande was.

        — The Villas at El Macero was.

        — DISC was not.

        — 3820 Chiles Road Apartments is

        — University Research Park Mixed Use is

        — and now Plaza 2555 is not

        1. Matt Williams

          I’m not sure what that trap you are referring to is.  Help me along.

          With that question asked, I’ll take a stab at what you meant. In legal terminology, the trap exists when someone tries to convince themselves that their beliefs (subjective) are a direct result of their experience with (objective) reality. In that thought process, they begin to look for the cause(s) of their belief, and its attendant experiences in the world events around them. Perhaps that is the trap you are referring to.

          The strength or weakness of the trap can be illuminated by turning to the principles of contract law and the laws of evidence, which see the contract as the outward and visible sign of the transaction. However, contracts do not instantaneously happen with the snap of a finger … they evolve. The creation of each contract is a multi-step journey. Ideally that journey, slowly step-by-step, converts subjective beliefs into objective transactional terms.

          The problem with each of the project planning processes that I have listed is that the step-by-step journey from subjective to objective was never completed. That is a failure in planning.

        2. Ron Glick

          Note that you didn’t include the subdivision where you live Matt. A subdivision that is one of the most inefficient uses of land in the area. Of course the people who live there like it and many of the people who don’t live there wish they could. That brings us to what ought to be our benchmark. What do the people who live in these places think?

          My friends who live in Cannery, two young professionals with advanced degrees and professional licenses, like it there. The only lament is they would like more yard space.

          Of course people, many  living in less dense places in Davis, demanded that cannery be dense. Perhaps our problem is that we have a planning process that creates scarcity and that scarcity value set degrades the quality of life in the places that are subjected to that same planning process.


        3. Matt Williams

          Ron G, your point is heard.  By today’s standards El Macero is indeed nowhere near as dense as it could be.  Whether that is inefficient or not is a determination that will differ from person to person.

          However, the planning process that produced El Macero was well designed.  The i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed with all the appropriate authorities in Woodland.  One of the important reasons that happened was that the developers Bruce and Freeland Mace planned to and did build their own homes in El Macero.  A person has a tendency to pay particular attention to all the aspects of planning if/when they are personally going to have to live with the consequences.  In addition, the Maces effectively owned the El Macero Country Club, which again was a situation of “make your bed, and sleep in it.”  Finally, when the Mace brothers were doing their planning, the city of Davis was 3.5 miles away. Other than the Lincoln Highway (US Route 40) — there was nothing but farms between El Macero and the Davis City Limits.

          With that said, with one exception, every one of the projects I listed were handled by the planning department of the City of Davis … and are indeed subdivisions within Davis.  The planning of El Macero was not … and El Macero is also not a subdivision.

  5. Tia Will


    I definitely do not equate urban planners with medical professionals.”

    And neither do I. No analogy is perfect. But two questions: 1. Which of us would you go to for advice about tree planting? 2. Do you deny there has been a multi-year trend to degrade the value of expertise in many areas?


    1. Don Shor

      Horticulture is rooted (ha!) in the biological sciences. Urban Planning is based on social sciences. Any answer I give you about how to plant a tree is based on peer-reviewed publication of research in that topic based on plant physiology, soil science, and an understanding of local climate and irrigation practices. Whatever I tell you is either provable or falsifiable.
      I have observed a strong ideological underpinning to urban planning, at least in practice, though I do see from a quick review of current curriculum that there is more emphasis on geography and land-use analysis than they had when I was in college. So I guess my answer to your second question would be that people need to be clear-eyed about the basis of much of what is presented as expertise in the field of urban planning. To oversimplify: it seems to focus less on how people prefer to live, and more on how planners feel they ‘should’ live.

      1. Ron Oertel

        To oversimplify: it seems to focus less on how people prefer to live, and more on how planners feel they ‘should’ live.

        That is essentially my point.  Nearby communities (such as Spring Lake) are going to continue to provide what newly-arrived families prefer (at a more favorable price point), regardless of whatever shoeboxes without parking are built in Davis.

        Not advocating, just noting.

        Now, if you could control what other communities build . . .

        Then again, there really isn’t an unlimited demand.

        No one moves to this region because they “like it”. It’s about the jobs, homey. Primarily at UCD, in this local area.

        1. Ron Oertel

          By the way, didn’t The Cannery (at one point) encourage (or limit?) housing to those connected with UCD?  But that this didn’t “work out”, as there was insufficient demand – and they ended up advertising in the Bay Area? (Based upon vague recollection of conversations on here.)


      2. Richard McCann

        Problem is that how people prefer to live is destroying the environment and tearing apart our social fabric. (And please don’t quote the falsehoods from Joel Kotkin to me.) Yes, people also prefer to eat sugar, salt and fried fats, but doctors and nutritionists don’t tell them to eat as much as they want. What’s your suggestion for how we fix this problem? And don’t say “don’t fix it”.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The point being that they can get “sugar, salt, and fried fats” 7 miles or so north of Davis. That is, if you think of traditional/suburban-style living, that way. (Actually, there’s still a lot of that in Davis, as well.)

          Or, within 10 miles or so in any other direction (except south).

          If I controlled the world, things would be different, by cracky!

  6. Ron Glick

    “That was my sarcastic voice. There is a reason why 30 to 55 year olds with children are a declining demographic in Davis.”
    Your sarcastic voice sees the world through the lens of your own experience. This is a common malady.

    A young, two professional family in Davis can afford a mortgage on a house in the $700,000 to $800,000 range right now with interest rates at rock bottom. Also many people in Davis get help from families either from inheritance, gifts or loan guarantees to help with home purchases.


      1. Bill Marshall

        You need cites, or can you accept that it is about the same was it was 25-30 years ago?  Conversely, can you cite to the contrary?

        Sounds like a question I would expect from someone else, if you ‘catch my drift’…

        I know a lot of folk from the late ‘boomer’ generation who were (are) DINK’s… or even SINK’s… Dad’s generation (WWII and Korea Wars were factors) married in their late 20’s early 30’s… we married, had kids almost in our mid-20’s… none of our kids are married, nor have kids… many factors other than financial… just saying… and may be changing again…

        1. Matt Williams

          Bill, for your citations you can go to 50 years ago the average woman had five children, since then the number has halved



          The following quote explains the decline

          Why has the global fertility rate fallen so rapidly?

          We discuss the reasons for this change in this detailed section below. The three major reasons are the empowerment of women (increasing access to education and increasing labour market participation), declining child mortality, and a rising cost of bringing up children (to which the decline of child labor contributed).

        2. Bill Marshall

          Using your own cites, Matt (and note the footnotes for the graphs cited)….

          50 years ago was 1970 (if I’m doing my math correctly)… ‘late boomers’ were those born in the late 50’s, so, started having kids in late 70’s

          1978:  (US)  1.75

          Most recent data point: (US) ~ 1.8

          Difference:  0.05

          Max in time frame:  ~2.0

          And you ask about statistical significance?  C’mon…

          Re-read my parameters…

          Charts are not based on date of when a woman was born… I can’t believe that the birthrate for women born in 2015 is 1.8… maybe a projection, but not a fact…

          Note that the Y-axis is not labelled…

      2. Bill Marshall

        Oh, Matt… even is they don’t ‘choose’, borrowing from Jurassic Park, often “nature finds a way…”

        Even for same sex-couples who are double income… adoption or artificial insemination is a trend… a choice…

  7. Don Shor

    I’m pretty sure that everyone commenting on this thread, as well as most of the other people who comment on the Vanguard regularly, lives in a single-family home with a yard.

    That’s where contemporary urban planning fails: the reality of what people do. Trying to force behavioral change by reducing options simply creates unintended consequences and is usually counterproductive. The jobs and housing markets don’t end at the city limits.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Exactly… you nailed it…

        ‘Mandates’ by social science majors do not end well, often… (you didn’t say that, but I am)… particularly if the message, is “do what I say, not what I do.”

        Don also nailed it too (credit where credit is due)… I had a big yard, small house growing up… did the apt thingy before kids… maybe a 250 SF BY…

        Yard when our kids were little was quite ‘big’ (Davis Manor 13) 1350 (3 bd/2 bath) SF house on roughly 1/6 acre… perfect…

        Then, needed 4 bdrm, lot size about the same (kids older, needed separate rooms for each)… backyard smaller, but quite fine for us, 3 kids, and a doggie.  But much larger front and backyards than “the new normal”… ‘the new normal’ reminds me of our rental thingy… postage stamp size… doesn’t fit anything we would choose, even as almost ’empty nesters’… spouse needs garden and trees, and we both need ‘buffer’/personal spaces outside…

        ‘Pro-choice’… and developers/builders know this… social “scientists” (including but not limited to ‘planners’) are clueless… they’re more into what others should/must want…

      2. Alan Miller

        People who don’t lead by example telling others how they should live without living that way themselves.

        Can we come up with a name for this phenomenon?  I am thinking of particular activists/politicians in town who live and die by this hypocrisy.  A snappy phrase would be helpful to quickly nail them to the wall whenever they speak.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I agree.

      That’s why I say that (ultimately) the only way to address sprawl is to put a stop to it.  Wherever possible.

      And one way to facilitate that is to avoid adding more jobs than a community actually needs.

      “Smart” growth merely puts off the inevitable reckoning, and makes life worse (and more expensive).

      For what it’s worth, I like El Macero (since that topic came up).

    2. Matt Williams

      Ron G, you have gone off on the side track of social engineering.  The topic of the day is project planning … or in the case of Cannery, a failure to adequately project plan.  Expecting a minimum level of project planning is indeed leading by example … and having been a project manager by profession most of my career, I can look in the mirror each morning and see a person who has lived that way staring back at me.

      1. Bill Marshall

        you have gone off on the side track of social engineering.  The topic of the day is project planning … 

        Do you not see there is big overlap there (“planners” and  ‘social engineering’ activists)?  I say that as someone who has known City and other “planners”?

        On topic, and in my experience, at least on the ‘public review’ side… City/County staff /electeds level, and voter level (J/R/D)… think Venn diagram…

        Many, pubic and private, want to be ‘social engineers’, including, but not necessarily limited to, those who voted for or against Measures B, D and many of the CA state propositions… or is there only one “truth”?

    3. Mark West

      “I’m pretty sure that everyone commenting on this thread, as well as most of the other people who comment on the Vanguard regularly, lives in a single-family home with a yard.”

      Is that because that is the style of housing that everyone wants, or is it because that is the predominant form of housing that is available? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

  8. Ron Glick

    “Ron G, what proportion of “young, two professional” couples choose to have children these days?”

    We are waiting for our young friends to be blessed.

    I don’t know what proportion but I find they tend to have them later than earlier generations.

  9. Ron Oertel

    But getting back to the main topic of this article, is anyone “surprised” that The Cannery developers don’t want to build out the commercial that they were required to do – before building more housing?  😉

    Why even bother with these type of development agreements, when they’re just going to be changed anyway?

    1. Matt Williams

      Not a Subdivision of the City of Davis.

      El Macero is actually a Neighborhood consisting of seven different subdivisions of Yolo County.  But that is semantics for the average person looking at El Macero from 40,000 feet.

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