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Laguna Beach

City announces cancellation of Laguna Beach Junior Lifeguard program

To help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect the health and safety of the public, staff, and Junior Lifeguard participants, the City of Laguna Beach is canceling the second and final session of the 2020 Junior Lifeguard Program that was planned to start in mid-July. The first session was already canceled.

The City continues to closely monitor the State’s progress toward moving into the next stage of the Pandemic Resilience Roadmap. As the next stage of reopening is not expected to happen until after the planned start of the final Junior Lifeguard session, and due to the lead time required to conduct swim tryouts and prepare for the session, the City is canceling the entire Junior Lifeguard Summer 2020 program. This is consistent with actions by other Orange County and Southern California agencies concerning their 2020 Junior Lifeguard programs. 

The City looks forward to offering the Junior Lifeguard program next summer. For further questions, contact Kai Bond, Marine Safety Captain, at (949) 494-6571 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Historic Preservation Ordinance set for Tuesday’s council agenda


The introduction of the long-debated Historic Preservation Ordinance went from a tentative hearing to a more certain spot on Tuesday’s (July 14) agenda at the June 30 City Council meeting.

Councilwoman Toni Iseman’s request to delay the hearing until September as asked by Village Laguna was discussed and rejected by the council.

Village Laguna Board Member Anne Caenn asked the council to postpone the introduction and possible adoption of the ordinance until council meetings are held in public. 

Caenn said the council had made a promise to residents not to hear large, controversial items until the city resumed in-person meetings. However, City Manager John Pietig had announced at previous meetings that the pledge to residents was made under the assumption that the COVID-19 pandemic would not still be raging in July, but some city business should no longer be delayed.

Few, if any, ordinances have caused as much uproar as the proposed revisions to the preservation ordinance. Proponents and opponents packed the City Council Chambers for the hearings, very few adhering to the requests from the dais to simply raise hands in agreement with speakers and to restrain from cheers or catcalls. 

Historic Preservation house

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Historic house on Ocean Way and Diamond

The original ordinance was adopted in 1989, much of it based on the 1981 Historic Resource Document, which listed structures deemed to have historical value due to architectural merit, ambiance, age, inhabitants, or activity conducted there. The ordinance was determined to be out of date in 2013.

More than 30 meetings, including hearings by the Heritage Committee, Design Review Board, Planning Commission, City Council, and the Historic Preservation Task Force have been held since then.

Meetings were described by many as the most disruptive and raucous ever held in the City Council Chambers, as battles raged over inclusion as a historical resource without the owners’ request or permission and the basis on which homes were rated. 

“We are putting things on the agendas that can wait, when it is impossible for a member of the public to be there in person,” said Iseman. “There are people who find it difficult to Zoom. After every meeting, I get phone calls from people who are upset because they were on hold and never got to speak.”

Councilwoman Sue Kempf opined at the June 30 meeting it was because so many people were interested in the ordinance that the council should move forward on it.

The meeting agenda including the full text of the ordinance is available at the link here. 

The public may participate in the meeting via Zoom by calling (669) 900-900-9128 (the Webinar ID is 92925158960#) or clicking here.

The meeting may also be viewed live on Cox cable channel 852 and online on the City of Laguna Beach website at

The public may submit comments on any agenda item or on any item not on the agenda in writing via mail to the City Clerk at: 505 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651, by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by using this interactive form:

City renews goat contract


The use of goats to munch a fire break around the city first authorized by former City Manager Ken Frank made him the butt of many jokes and drew the ire of some environmentalists.

Nowadays the Fire Department gets phone calls asking for information on where and how to get started with the program, according to Fire Chief Mike Garcia. The grazing program is so highly regarded, it survived the budget cutbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.     

“The city needs the service,” said Garcia. 

City Manager John Pietig was authorized to renew the contract with Indacochea Ranch, beginning July 1 – the start of the new fiscal year – and running through June 30, 2023.

The contract stipulates a monthly payment of $10,417 for one herd of 300 to 500 goats and one herder, the same as the last 10 years. A second herd and herder may be added for $7,000 a month in year one and $8,000 for years two and three. A third herd and herder will cost $6,000 a month for the first year, $7,000 for the second year, and $8,000 for the third year.

City renews goats

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Goats have been helping keep Laguna firesafe since the 90s

Indacochea Ranch has developed an excellent working relationship with the city in the 20 years they have been doing business, according to the staff report. The ranch has worked with staff when additional goats were needed to deal with above-average fuel loading and charging only a nominal fee when goats are not in the city. Under the terms of the contract, the city will pay $400 a month if the Fire Department requests all herds be removed, as they were a few years ago due to lack of vegetation for them to eat. 

The city manages nine separate fuel modification zones entirely with goat grazing and two with a combination of goats and hand crews. Goat grazing is also proposed for part of the fuel modifications program for the new zones in Laguna Canyon and Canyon Acres. The rate for a herd of 100 goats and one herder is proposed to be $10,000 for the new zones for the first contract year. 

All costs associated with maintaining the herds and herders are the responsibility of the ranch.

Council delays hearing on revised Coast Inn project


The City Council on Tuesday decided to allow its staff more time to analyze last-minute revisions to the proposed restoration and remodel of the Coast Inn.

Given the choices of hearing the project despite the staff’s qualms, returning it to the Planning Commission, or continuing Tuesday’s hearing until July 28, the council concluded a 75-minute hearing on the options by voting 4-1 for the delay. 

Councilwoman Toni Iseman, the lone vote against the continuation, wanted the project returned to the commission, which was adamantly opposed by property owner Chris Dornin in a telephone call to the council. 

“We have made drastic reductions [in the project] to make it approvable,” said Dornin. “It is frustrating to be in this position.”

Project architect Marshall Ininns finds the delays exasperating and incomprehensible. 

“I can’t believe the opposition,” said Ininns on Thursday. “This building has been neglected for 50 years. Our plan is to restore it to attract guests to the city that will spend money in Laguna’s restaurants and stores.”

Mayor Bob Whalen directed staff to prepare a report on the project to be made available to the public on July 17, 10 days prior to the continued hearing. 

“Staff and the applicant need to sit down and come to terms,” said Whalen. 

Councilman Peter Blake would just as soon have heard the project on Tuesday. 

“We know the project will be appealed to the [California] Coastal Commission,” said Blake. “It is our responsibility to hear it and send it on its way to the appeals.”

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow was given pause by the admonitions from City Attorney Philip Kohn, who advised the council not to proceed with Tuesday’s hearing. 

“I would prefer to hear it tonight, but I hear hesitation and concern in Phil’s voice,” said Dicterow. 

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said the planning commission could have done a good job, but she felt it would prolong the process an unacceptable amount of time. 

Seven of the 12 members of the public who called in comments also favored the project going back to the commission.

Council delays building

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

Proposed rendering of the Coast Inn

As submitted prior to the last-minute changes, the project includes the historic rehabilitation of the building to reflect the original Spanish Colonial Revival style as shown on a 1930s hotel postcard. The exterior of the building would be plastered and historic turrets, architectural features, deck railings, roof details, and signage would be reconstructed.

The proposal also includes 24 remodeled hotel rooms and an existing restaurant. Rooftop signs and a new 3,707-square-foot deck exceed Laguna’s height restriction.

Deck occupancy is limited to 101: five staff members and 96 guests from the hotel’s 24 rooms, but Dornin said Tuesday it was not feasible to check the identification of everyone on the roof, an issue for the staff. 

Staff opined in its report that the project is neither a major remodel nor deficient in parking spaces.

Under the current staff interpretation, demolition of 50 percent of the exterior walls in linear feet or the combined measurement of roof, walls, and foundation constitutes a major remodel. The application calculates the demolition or reinforcement of walls to be 40.9 percent and 44 percent of the combined measurement. 

Grandfathered parking of 98 spaces meets the requirement with no request for additional credits, according to the staff report.

Even without this week’s changes, the project that would have been considered on Tuesday differs markedly from the one first reviewed by the commission and later presented to the council in 2018. That version included the liquor store across the street, designed by the late Chris Abel in the mid-1950s, and two structures behind it.

“We scaled back the project after the council meeting,” said Dornin.    

Prior to the changes submitted Monday and Tuesday, staff opined the project would not result in any environmental impacts pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act and variance findings could be made. 

Staff now believes a new analysis is needed on issues that could affect the CEQA ruling, according to Director of Community Development Marc Wiener.

Virus-plagued 2021 budget approved with minor changes


Faced with revenue scenarios described as bad and worse due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City Council on Tuesday accepted, with only minor changes, the budget recommended by City Manager John Pietig for fiscal year 2021.

The proposed budget was based on the better of the two scenarios, estimating revenue of $63.4 million for the General Fund – some $9.4 million less than the pre-pandemic projection, but better than almost $13 million in the worst case. The most significant loss in revenue was the anticipated $11 million reduction in the transient occupancy tax, the Business Improvement District assessment and sales tax, $7.1 million of it earmarked for the General Fund. Reduced consumer spending is also significantly lower, both reductions attributed to the impact of the virus on the travel and tourist industry, and locals observing the stay-at-home advisory. 

“I haven’t seen revenue losses like this in all my time with the city,” said Administrative Services Director Gavin Curran, who presented the review of the proposed budget to the council and the public. “We started working in April on the bad and worse scenarios. Our goal was to limit the impact on core services and reserves in the 2021 budget and the following fiscal year.”

The predicted revenue losses are worse than those the city suffered in the most recent recession, Curran said. 

On the brighter side, property taxes, which represent 56 percent of the General Fund, are not expected to be materially affected. Contributions to the California Public Employees Retirement System (CALPERS) are not expected to be affected by COVID-19 until fiscal year 2022-23, according to staff. 

The proposed budget does not recommend any employee layoffs or furloughs of employees other than the reductions in recreation and transit services already approved by council due to the virus. Full-time staffing will decrease by six positions, accomplished by consolidation of the department and the elimination of vacated positions. 

Council was also asked to approve an agreement with the Municipal Employees’ Association and Management personnel and Pietig that forgoes 2.5 percent salary increases scheduled to take effect July 1. Pietig expressed appreciation to the associations for the agreement, as well as to the staff that put together the proposed budget in two months, a task that normally takes nine months.

Slashes were made to the budgets in every city department. Proposed reductions in expenditures included cuts in salaries and benefits, contract services, overtime, maintenance, equipment replacement, frequency of downtown and beach cleanups, and kelp removal, and the deferment or cancellation of capital improvements among others. 

Proposed reductions covered an estimated $7 million of the $9.7 million anticipated loss in General Fund revenue. 

The reduction in the estimated Measure LL revenue led to a recommendation to eliminate the $1 million transfer to the Wildfire Mitigation and Fire Safety Fund in the 2021 fiscal year, which included funding for the Defensible Inspector position. Matt Lawson, chair of the Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Committee, and Sonny Myers, director of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), voiced opposition to both cuts. 

Pietig said the budget contains a contingency fund, in the event of wildfires, protests, and even, he joked, an invasion of locusts.

In addition to the cuts, the proposed budget dips into the 20 percent of the General Fund reserved by the council. The proposed $1.5 million reduction in the reserve fund preserves $17 million, well above the mandated 10 percent. 

Mayor Bob Whalen said the reserve fund is in good shape at 17 percent. 

The council also debated proposed expenditures carried over from an April meeting: $500,000 reserved for the South Laguna Community Garden Park, $200,000 for a Defensible Inspector position in the Fire Department that staff recommended cutting, $25,000 for the Urban Forest Management Plan, $730,000 for the renovation of the Digester, and $190,000 for the removal of sludge from the Digester. 

Feedback from the council to the staff as recommended by Whalen and seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, deferred the urban forest plan, and kept the funding for the Digester and for the garden, which was supported by phone calls from former Mayor Ann Christoph and businessman Ruben Flores. Whalen said the council had committed to funding the South Laguna Community Garden Park up to June 30, 2021, but nothing beyond that.

Councilwoman Sue Kempf said she wouldn’t have kept any of them even as a line item in the COVID-19 economy.

“We don’t know what will happen next,” said Kempf. 

Pietig said he will be monitoring the budget every month and will produce a mid-year budget review in December or January. 

Councilman Peter Blake said he would never vote money for the garden but supported funding the Digester, which is included in a study of a parking structure recently approved by the council. 

The council also asked staff to look into the janitorial costs for cleaning, sweeping, and trash collection in the downtown streets throughout summer and to look into the cost of a contract defensible inspector, rather than a full-time position.

The complete text of the proposed budget is available for review on the city’s website at 

Changes requested by the council at Tuesday’s meeting will be incorporated into the proposed budget to be voted on at the June 30 council meeting. Recommendations for Community Assistance and Cultural Arts grants are scheduled to be presented and adopted at the meeting.

County reports 506 new cases of COVID-19 today, 306 deaths to date, 7 deaths reported today

Numbers released by the OC Health Agency today, June 25, reflect that there have been 11,511 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Orange County to date, including 506 new cases reported today. This marks the highest single-day increase in cases reported in OC to date. 2,901 cases have been reported in the last 10 days, 25.2 percent of the County’s cumulative case count.

The County states, “The large number of cases reported to us today reflects another large batch of cases from the State’s CalREDIE system. These 506 individuals had their specimens collected over 28 different dates.”

Sadly, the County reports that 306 people have died due to COVID-19, including seven deaths reported today.

The County reports 394 individuals are currently hospitalized with COVID-19; 147 are currently in ICU.

Laguna Beach has a cumulative case count of 54 confirmed cases to date, a per capita rate of 2.312 cases per thousand residents.

The city with the highest per capita rate in OC is Los Alamitos, with 7.679 cases per thousand residents. 

Newport Beach has had 229 confirmed cases to date, a net increase of 17 cases today. Irvine has had 311 confirmed cases to date, a net increase of 18 cases today. Dana Point has had 43 confirmed cases to date, a net increase of two cases today.

Santa Ana has had 2,415 confirmed cases to date, a net increase of 83 cases today. Anaheim has had 2,207 confirmed cases to date, a net increase of 88 cases today.

The County reports that 5,326 people have recovered from COVID-19 to date. Visit for recovery data criteria and more information.

Numbers are updated daily by Stu News Laguna and reported on our social media pages @StuNewsLaguna.

For questions about the data presented, call (714) 834-2000 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

County reports 506 1

County reports 506 2

County reports 506 3

County reports 506 4

County reports 506 5

County reports 506 6

Click on photos for larger images

Courtesy of OC Health Care Agency

Orange County COVID-19 case data, as of June 25;

Click here to visit page that is updated daily

City employees forgo 2021 raises


Laguna’s Municipal Employees’ Association and Management have agreed to forgo raises due to be funded on July 1.

The council will be asked tonight to formally approve the agreement in which the employees will give up the raises previously approved, an action appreciated by City Manager John Pietig.

“These efforts are very helpful in minimizing reductions in services and preventing layoffs,” said Pietig.

No significant reductions in police, fire, and marine safety staffing or related services are proposed in the drastic budget cuts recommended by Pietig – 

brought on by the expected reduction in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Increases for the Firefighters’ Association and the Police and Fire Management Association previously included in the budget have been removed. The Police Employees’ Association is scheduled to receive a 2.5 percent salary increase on January 1, which remains in the budget, but may be revised in the fall, depending on the financial situation at that time.

Council is expected to approve the budget at the June 30 council meeting, at which time Community Assistance and Cultural Arts grants will be presented and adopted.

Councilwomen Toni Iseman and Sue Kempf were appointed to review applications for the grants and will make their recommendations at the June 30 meeting.

Council to revisit Coast Inn remodel


The City Council will review tonight a proposed remodel of the Coast Inn, last before the council in January 2018.

Subsequent revisions to the proposal have eliminated the combined development applications for sites across the street, including Coast Liquor, and the project as submitted is no longer classified by the staff as a major remodel or deficient in parking spaces.

Under the current interpretation, demolition of 50 percent of the exterior walls in linear feet or the combine measurement of roof, walls, and foundation constitutes a major remodel. The revised application calculates the demolition or reinforcement of walls to be 40.9 percent and 44 percent of the combined areas. Grandfathered parking of 98 spaces meets the requirement with no request for additional credits, according to the staff report.

Council to exterior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Remodel of Coast Inn will be reviewed by the City Council tonight (photo from January 2018)

“I will be supporting the project,” said Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce board member and Forest Avenue business owner David Rubel, who favored the project in 2018 and still does. “I don’t want the building to remain derelict. We need to fix up properties that look so poor.”

Attorney Tim Carlyle will be representing Gaviota Drive resident Terry Meurer, who opposed the project at the Planning Commission’s three hearings and at the 2018 council meeting. She opined that the revision is so extensive the council should remand the project to the commission, one of four options presented by staff with the caveat that the remand specify directions for the  review to specify council issues.

Other staff options include simply approving the project, approving it with council modifications, or denying it.

A draft resolution for approval is included in the staff report. A draft resolution for denial would need to be prepared, advised staff. 

Council to decks

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Patio and decks (photo from January 2018)

The inn is located on the corner of South Coast Highway and Mountain Road. The property is owned by Chris Dornin, president and chief executive officer of Dornin Investment Group. Marshall Ininns is the architect for the project.

As submitted, the project includes the historic rehabilitation of the building to reflect the original Spanish Colonial Revival style as shown on a 1930s hotel postcard. The exterior of the building would be plastered and the historic turrets, architectural features, deck railings, roof details, and signage would be reconstructed. 

A new hotel lobby is proposed and the iconic Boom Boom Room will be renovated and remodeled. 

Square footage will be taken from the Boom to accommodate a new circular staircase and elevator. 

The proposal also includes 24 remodeled hotel rooms and an existing restaurant, rooftop signs, and a new 3,707-square-foot deck with a pool and bar to accommodate 75 seats and maximum occupancy of 101 people, limited to hotel guests. The signs and deck penetrate Laguna’s height restriction and a variance is requested.   

Council to rendering

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy City of Laguna Beach

Rendering of proposed project

Planning Commissioners, who recommended denial of the original plan in 2017, had expressed concern that the rooftop deck would push the project over the major remodel limitations during construction. 

“Then what do you do?” said former Planning Commissioner Norm Grossman.

The project is scheduled as the 15th item on the 16-item agenda.

The meeting may be viewed live on Cox cable channel 852 and online on the City of Laguna Beach website at

Public comments emailed to City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. no later than 3 p.m. on Monday were delivered in time for the council members to review the communication before the hearing. 

Written comments may be submitted up to noon today. These comments will be provided to the council at 3 p.m., prior to the meeting. However, that may not give members sufficient time to review them before the meeting.

The public may also listen and comment by phone or computer via Zoom during the designated public comment periods by calling (669) 900-9128 and waiting for instructions. The Webinar ID is 93657705035#. To speak, press 9 on the phone. 

Proceed with comments when instructed that your phone is unmuted.

The usual comment period is three minutes but may be reduced to accommodate the number of callers.

The public may also participate via Zoom by clicking here. 

If unable to use the Webinar system, submit comments via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The city clerk will attempt to identify the author and the content during the meeting. Unless it is brief and to the point, it unlikely will be read into the record and a summary may be provided. Council requests that all written comments be limited to 200 words or less.

Council passes on adding sites to parking structure study


The Council took no vote Tuesday on Councilwoman Toni Iseman’s recommendation to consider additional sites in a parking structure study now focused on a location near City Hall, commonly identified as part of the Village Entrance.

Iseman had proposed the Walker Consultants’ Cost/Benefit/Analysis and Feasibility Study for a Downtown Parking Structure be expanded to include parking lots privately owned by the Laguna Presbyterian Church and Wells Fargo Bank, as well as the parking lot behind the Laguna Playhouse. Each location would have added $12,000 to the original $35,000 contract.

“The Village Entrance is the logical place for a parking structure,” said local attorney and City Council candidate Larry Nokes. “It is crazy to put in parking that will bring cars into the downtown.”

The church lot is located between Third Street and the alley behind it. The Wells Fargo lot is on either side of the bank and behind it, accessible from Broadway or Ocean Avenue. 

Council passes cars

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Scott Brashier

Traffic is an issue day and night in Laguna

The Playhouse parking lot was previously considered for a site when the Village Entrance plan for a parking structure fell apart in the mid-2000s. 

Mayor Bob Whalen said the church has indicated interest in a deal and the city should continue to look at that site.

“But we don’t need to spend $12,000 on it,” said Whalen. 

He also said the Playhouse site had some potential, but it didn’t need a study.

Playhouse executives oppose the use. 

However, businessman Sam Goldstein said the downtown needs more than one more parking site. He suggested the parking lot behind the former Laguna Drug.

Approval of the original study was part of the Economic Recovery and Business Development Plan to address the parking demand for downtown businesses. 

Spaces have been lost on Forest Avenue, at least temporarily, during the trial of the pedestrian-only Promenade, which some folks would like to see made permanent. However, the California Coastal Commission does not view kindly any reduction to spaces that would affect public access to city beaches and has the power to require the City to replace lost spaces.

With no support for her recommendation, Iseman agreed to take it off the table without a vote.

Council splits on meeting format


Moved by Councilmember Kempf seconded by Mayor Whalen and carried 3/2 to  continue to hold Zoom meetings through July 28, 2020, and review the matter at the July 28, 2020 City Council meeting

The council voted three-to-two to continue conducting meetings through July 28 under the Zoom format that began on April 7.

Mayor Bob Whalen and Council Members Sue Kempf and Peter Blake voted for the Zoom format. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Dicterow, who has been participating in meetings seated at the dais in the City Council Chambers, and Councilwoman Toni Iseman, supported a hybrid that would combine in-person meetings with a virtual component for those who did not wish to attend meetings in the chambers.

“I am not sure I am going to be running to City Hall on June 16 – maybe I will feel differently in July,” said Whalen, who has diligently practiced the state’s stay-at-home order.

The continuation of the video conferencing meetings was the first option offered to the council. The second option was the hybrid, which proposed a combination format. The third option was to relocate the meetings to a new venue, which was not supported by the city staff, due to the cost and time required to find a suitable site.

City Clerk Lisette Chel-Walker demonstrated the feature of Option Two that would allow members of the public to enter the chambers to speak on an item.

“[She] will be my Vanna White tonight,” said Assistant City Manager Shohreh Dupuis, who presented the options to the council. 

Chel-Walker was shown entering the door nearest Forest Avenue, walking up to the podium, with a stand-alone microphone to eliminate contact, and exiting through the door closest to the dais. 

“There is no suggestion [in Option Two] to cut out Zoom,” said Dicterow. “I suspect it will become permanent. It may not be all that pleasant to come here, but if that’s what they want, fine.” 

Iseman said going to a council meeting in the chambers was a lot safer than going to The Promenade on Forest. She has expressed concern over items of great public interest being heard under the Zoom format.

Blake, who took his seat at the dais during the early Zoom meetings, said he has no intention of returning to the chambers until it is safe.

“Zoom is the safest possible way to participate,” said Kempf. 

Nine members of the public called in comments on the options, the majority favoring Option Two.

Village Laguna President Johanna Felder reported that her group supported the second option for now but recommended the third option for the long run.

“Do two now and explore how to do three,” said Felder. 

City Council candidate Larry Nokes said he has enjoyed the Zoom access and knows of numerous others who share his opinion.

“I don’t see how the in-person [format] helps participation by folks with children,” said Nokes. “Some people prefer going to the chamber, but not everyone can do that.”

The format will be reviewed by the council at the July 28 meeting.

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