Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 41 / 12 October 2017
 

Homeless person found dead in front Castro Peet’s

The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office is investigating the death of a homeless person who was found at about 10 a.m. today (Wednesday, December 31) outside Peet’s Coffee, 2257 Market Street, in the Castro neighborhood.

[Update Monday, January 5]: Many who knew the person use feminine pronouns when referring to her and have indicated she was likely transgender, although it’s not clear if that’s how she self-identified. The Bay Area Reporter will have more information in the Thursday, January 8 edition. [End update]

A medical examiner’s staffer said at about 12:30 p.m. that information on the person’s identity was not yet available.

Officer Gordon Shyy, a spokesman for the San Francisco Police Department, said police are currently considering the death a medical examiner’s case.

“Our homicide unit isn’t part of the investigation at this point,” Shyy, who confirmed the person was homeless, said. He didn’t have information on any injuries the person may have had, and he didn’t know how long the body had been in front of the coffee shop before police were called.

In a tweet this morning, gay planning commissioner Dennis Richards said that he’d seen the person every day on Market Street. Richards didn’t immediately respond to an interview request.

Bill Tarquino, 52, who was sitting on the bench outside Peet’s this afternoon, said that he’d frequently seen a person who appeared to be homeless sitting on the bench in the mornings.

The person would get to the shop at about 7 a.m., people would buy them coffee or a pastry, and after about an hour they’d go walk in the Castro, Tarquino said of the person, who said he’d last seen the person this morning. (In a text message, Tarquino said a Peet’s employee told him the person’s name was Anastasia. The employee couldn’t be reached for comment.)

Tarquino wasn’t sure the person he’d often seen was the same person who’d died, but said the person had recently looked sick.

“He really did look like he was at death’s door,” Tarquino said. “…You could see it in his face.”

The person, who always wore a scarf wrapped around his head, appeared to be in his 50s and usually talked to themselves, Tarquino said. The person’s words were “really incomprehensible,” he said.

 

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 31, 2014 @ 1:42 pm PST
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MCC-SF to sell church, apartment building

Metropolitan Community Church-San Francisco (Photo: MCC-SF)

Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, 150 Eureka Street (Photo: MCC-SF)

Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco plans to sell its building at 150 Eureka Street and the adjacent four-unit apartment building at 138-140 Eureka Street.

Officials with the church, which has been based in the Castro neighborhood for decades, are talking to staff at First Congregational Church on Polk Street about sharing space.

MCC staff haven’t responded to repeated interview requests but have discussed their plans in church newsletters.

Katharine Holland, the Realtor tasked with selling the properties, said they’ll go on the market January 5 and offers will be taken January 21. The church building will be listed for about $2 million and the apartment building for approximately $1.5 million.

Holland didn’t know about the possibility of the residential building’s tenants being evicted.

“We never know, really,” she said. Most people “just want the steady income” of a rental property, but there are people, such as developers, who are “more aggressive,” she said. “I haven’t had any discussions with anybody about it right now.”

The building’s tenants, who’ve been notified about the approaching sale, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

FCC’s Reverend David Cowell said, “We are actually having a very serious discussion” with MCC about sharing space at the 1300 Polk Street site.

The Bay Area Reporter will have more about this story in the print edition available Wednesday, December 31.

 

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 24, 2014 @ 11:48 am PST
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FDA loosens gay/bi blood ban

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg (Photo: FDA)

FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg (Photo: FDA)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced this morning (Tuesday, December 23) that it’s changing its policy on gay and by men donating blood from an outright ban to a one-year waiting period since “the last sexual contact.” Many LGBTs have been pushing for years for the FDA to completely drop the ban.

“Over the past several years, in collaboration with other government agencies, the FDA has carefully examined and considered the available scientific evidence relevant to its blood donor deferral policy for men who have sex with men, including the results of several recently completed scientific studies and recent epidemiologic data,” FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg said in a news release. “Following this review, and taking into account the recommendations of advisory committees to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the FDA, the agency will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.”

Hamburg said her agency plans to release a draft guidance recommending the change in 2015, which will include a chance for the public to comment.

Some groups have expressed disappointment that the ban hasn’t been completely eliminated.

In October, the LGBT lobbying group Equality California launched “Every Drop Counts,” a campaign to urge the Department of Health and Human Services and the FDA to end the ban.

“We’re extremely disappointed with the FDA’s announcement today, which does not represent real reform based on modern science and risk factors,” EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur said in a statement. “Instead, this proposed policy change appears to be mere window dressing designed to pacify the LGBT community and other policy critics without implementing any real change. The reality is that this revised policy would continue to discriminate against gay and bisexual men with low risk factors based on their sexual orientation and would continue to unnecessarily prevent countless gay and bisexual men from making life-saving donations to the nation’s blood supply.”

EQCA said it would continue to mobilize LGBTs to call on the federal agencies to end the ban.

David Stacy, government affairs director for the national Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that the change “falls far short of an acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men … . This new policy cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology.”

EQCA will continue to mobilize the LGBT community to call on the FDA and the Department of Health and Human Services to take action to end this discriminatory ban.

Scott Schoettes, senior attorney and HIV Project director for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, called the revision “a step in the right direction,” but said in a statement that “blood donation policy should be based on current scientific knowledge and experience, not unfounded fear, generalizations and stereotypes. Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge.”

Schoettes said the American Red Cross, the American Medical Association, and other groups have supported ending the total prohibition.

According to UCLA’s Williams Institute news release, “Based on current rates of donation, 185,800 individuals would likely donate an estimated 317,000 additional pints each year. Our estimates suggest that modifying the current blood donation policy among [gay and bi men] to a 12 month deferral could be used to help save the lives of over 950,000 people.” Additionally, if the current ban was eliminated, estimated donations “would nearly double the figures cited for a 12 month deferral and could be used to help save the lives of over 1.8 million people.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 23, 2014 @ 11:53 am PST
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Castro area arcade games rule change approved by planning commission

Several of the vintage arcade games on offer at Brewcade, which opened last week on upper Market Street.

Several of the vintage arcade games on offer at Brewcade, which opened last week on upper Market Street.

A change in how the city regulates venues with arcade games in the Castro’s upper Market Street corridor sailed through the Planning Commission today.

The oversight body unanimously voted 5-0 to approve the updated rules, but only for what is known as the Upper Market Street Neighborhood Commercial Transit District.

The commissioners rejected a staff recommendation to have the revisions apply to all commercial districts throughout the city.

Such a change should require more noticing and communication with neighborhood groups before the commissioners felt comfortable moving forward with it.

“It is a little premature to go citywide with this but certainly upper Market makes sense,” said commissioner Dennis Richards, a gay man who lives in the Duboce Triangle neighborhood just off upper Market Street.

The revision now heads to the Board of Supervisors, which will take up the legislation in the New Year. Sponsored by gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, the rule change would allow a business on either the ground floor or second story storefront to have arcade games.

Andres Power, an aide to Wiener, told the commission that “arcades are fun, nostalgic and a great addition to our commercial corridor.”

Under the current rules, only ground floor businesses on Market Street between Noe and Church streets that fall under the classification of an “other entertainment” use can seek approval to have up to 10 “mechanical amusement game devices.”

Attention to the rule was raised when the owners of Brewcade, a new bar that opened last week in a storefront in the new building at 2200 Market Street, first proposed to theme it around offering vintage video games like Ms. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong. They were forced to limit the number of such games they could offer due to the zoning codes.

Diego R. Sánchez, the planning department’s director of legislative affairs, noted in his report to the commission that “these regulations are largely based on older notions of arcades.”

When the rules were first adopted in the 1980s, residents and city leaders were mainly concerned about increased congestion on sidewalks around arcades, wrote Sánchez, as well as “the accessibility to arcades by minors during school hours and an increase in crime and other anti-social behavior in areas near arcades.”

Those fears have since dissipated, noted Sánchez, with there now being a nostalgic affection toward classic video games.

“The current interest in arcades is in large part led by Baby Boomer and Gen-X hobbyists, collectors and nostalgists,” he wrote in his report. “These groups view arcades as venues for social interaction and for forming community around friendly competition. As a result of this attitudinal change, and in conjunction with increased regulation on smoking and gambling, popular concerns about possible nuisance have subsided.”

The city has been revising its arcade game rules throughout the city, and specifically in the Haight. Last month the new rules, pushed by District 5 Supervisor London Breed, were signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee.

Citywide, there was a relaxation in the police code’s regulations for venues with such games. The city eliminated several permits that business owners had needed to seek approval from the police in order to have arcade games.

“In the 1980s these were considered high impact uses. It is completely different now,” said the city’s planning director, John Rahaim, who is gay. “We don’t see them any different than other uses.”

— Matthew S. Bajko, December 18, 2014 @ 4:59 pm PST
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Gay SF man acquitted in arson case

A gay San Francisco man has been acquitted of arson after jurors found “his arrest was based on an unreliable identification,” the Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s office announced this week.

Anthony Bejarano, 48, had been accused of breaking into the garage of a luxury apartment building and setting fire to a Mercedes. Prosecutors charged Bejarano, a regular volunteer at the AIDS-related charity Project Open Hand, with felony counts of burglary and arson, according to the public defender’s office.

But Friday, December 12, jurors found him not guilty.

Nobody witnessed the crime, according to Adachi’s office, but a valet at One Rincon Hill apartments told the property manager he’d seen a man standing in front of the car just before the fire and then fleeing the building. The valet later identified Bejarano after the manager and police “confronted [him] with a single screenshot of Bejarano and asked him if it appeared to be the same man he saw near the car.”

Deputy Public Defender Chrisopher Hite said in a news release Monday, December 15, “The jury had strong concerns about the reliability of the identification. There was simply nothing else linking Mr. Bejarano to the crime – no motive, no DNA, no fingerprints. It didn’t make sense.”

Bejarano could have served up to 10 years in state prison if he’d been convicted in the June 19 incident.

According to the public defender’s office, Bejarano was in the apartment building that day to serve legal papers to a resident. Surveillance video showed him walking on the garage’s valet level, one floor above the Mercedes. There wasn’t any footage showing him on the same floor where the car was parked, and he wasn’t connected to the car’s owner, Adachi’s office said.

When police showed the valet the screenshot of Bejarano, he said that was the man he’d seen, and police released the image to the public. Bejarano was arrested June 25. Police searched his home and sent his clothes to a crime lab, which didn’t find any accelerant. There wasn’t any other forensic evidence linking Bejarano to the fire, either.

During the two-week trial, Dr. Mitchel Eisen, director of forensic psychology at California State University Los Angeles, testified that the valet’s identification of Bejarano “was made in a highly suggestive manner,” according to the public defender’s office, since it was “based on a single photo instead of a lineup and at the behest of the valet’s boss while he was surrounded by police officers.”

When police arrested Bejarano last year, a spokeswoman said he faced “six felony counts of arson including arson of an inhabited structure,” and he was “suspected of committing at least four arson fires in the South of Market Area.”

Tamara Aparton, Adachi’s spokeswoman, said Bejarano “was never charged with six counts,” only four, and the district attorney had only charged him in two fires. A judge dismissed the two counts from the second fire due to a lack of evidence.

Bejarano, who’s been out of custody since Friday, couldn’t be reached for comment. Officials confirmed his sexual orientation to the Bay Area Reporter. Asked about whether Bejarano had volunteered at Project Open Hand, Maria Stokes, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said in an email, “We do not release that information.”

Adachi said in the news release that the case highlights the trouble with eyewitness identification.

“Eyewitness misidentification is the most common element in wrongful convictions that are later overturned by DNA evidence,” he said. “Fortunately, Mr. Bejarano’s public defender was able to spotlight the many holes in the case.”

Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said in an email, “We respect the jury’s decision.”

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Clark prosecuted the case.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 3:04 pm PST
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AG Holder announces end of DOJ transgender discrimination

Attorney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today (Thursday, December 18) that the Department of Justice will stop discriminating against transgender people.

The DOJ will no longer claim that “Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex does not encompass gender identity per se (including transgender discrimination),” the national Human Rights Campaign said in a news release.

“This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” Holder said in a statement. “This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants. And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

Holder’s decision “to fully embrace the legal standard set forth in Macy will go a long way towards advancing equality for the transgender community,” HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow stated. “Transgender people continue to face some of the highest levels of discrimination in the workplace. We are thrilled to see the Department of Justice take this important step.”

Warbelow’s comments refer to Macy v. Holder, the 2012 case in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that discrimination based on someone’s gender identity is sex discrimination, which violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The employment commission filed federal complaints earlier this year in Florida and Michigan claiming that two companies had discriminated against transgender workers.

Ilona Turner, legal director for the Oakland-based Transgender Law Center, said in a statement, “We are thrilled to see this clear commitment from the Department of Justice on the issue of transgender rights. No longer will our government be arguing that transgender people are excluded from the protections of the law. This announcement will have far-reaching effects for transgender people both within the federal workforce and beyond, influencing the courts as well as other employers looking at their legal obligations under Title VII.”

She added, “Our communities remain disproportionately unemployed and living in poverty. Legal protections against discrimination can make a real difference.”

— Seth Hemmelgarn, @ 2:25 pm PST
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Gay-owned gym in SF receives permit approval

The vacant warehouse-like space at this building, located in the city's Potrero Hill area, is set to become a gay-owned gym.

The vacant warehouse-like space at this building, located in the city’s Potrero Hill area, is set to become a gay-owned gym.

The gay men behind Fitness Urbano are one step closer to opening their gym in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.

At its meeting this afternoon (Thursday, December 18), the San Francisco Planning Commission unanimously voted 7-to-0 to approve the gym’s permits. Work can now commence to turn the 6,600 square foot warehouse space at 80 Missouri Street into a home for yoga, Zumba, and mixed martial arts conditioning classes.

“Many new residents are coming into this area. It is a great opportunity for a non-formula-retail gym,” said Larry Badiner, the city’s former zoning administer who is now a consultant and spoke on behalf of the gym owners.

The gym faced no opposition, and the commissioners quickly moved to approve the project.

“Yeah, I am in favor of it, it has all the right things,” said commissioner Michael Antonini.

As the Bay Area Reporter noted in a story published today, longtime friends Kevin McCullough and Luis Chirinos teamed up last year to launch the business.

Since 2012 Chirinos, who grew up in Venezuela and studied to be a mechanical engineer, has been looking to open his own place. He moved to California in 2000 and has been working as a personal fitness instructor and massage therapist through his business Physical Change.

McCullough, who first met Chirinos 10 years ago, is a massage therapist whose studio Body and Form is in the Castro.

The pair signed a five-year lease for the gym space and will be hiring a contractor to remodel the interior and build locker rooms and shower facilities.

They both plan to transition their current client base to the new gym once they open their doors, which they hope will be sometime between March and May of next year. They are also recruiting other personal fitness trainers and massage therapists to operate out of their gym.

— Matthew S. Bajko, @ 2:04 pm PST
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Two vehicles burned in Castro area arsons

San Francisco police are investigating several vehicle fires that were reported this morning (Wednesday, December 17), including two that occurred near the Castro area.

At 5:15 a.m., in the 400 block of Liberty Street, near Sanchez Street, police responded to a vehicle fire and put it out. The fire department advised police it was “a possible arson,” Sergeant Monica MacDonald, a San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman, said in a summary.

Police responded to another incident at 5:30 a.m., on Rayburn Street near Noe Street. Firefighters extinguished the fire, and the fire department’s arson unit was at the scene.

In November, three cars were burned in the Castro, also in apparent arson attacks.

No arrests have been reported. MacDonald, who said nobody was injured in the fires this morning, didn’t have any suspect descriptions.

In a Facebook post today, Supervisor Scott Wiener, whose District 8 includes the Castro, said the “disturbing acts” are “very dangerous, for obvious reasons. The police are actively investigating, and I’ve been in touch with them throughout the morning. If you have any information please let the police know.”

Anyone with information in the cases may contact police anonymously at (415) 575-4444 or text a tip to TIP411. Type SFPD in the subject line.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 17, 2014 @ 5:00 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


SF supes approve settlement in lawsuit against gay former sheriff’s lieutenant

San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted this week to pay $50,000 to a man who’d accused a gay former sheriff’s lieutenant of domestic violence.

Former sheriff's lieutenant Vincent Calvarese in 2012 (Photo: San Francisco Police Department)

Former sheriff’s lieutenant Vincent Calvarese in 2012 (Photo: San Francisco Police Department)

In a plea bargain reached in May 2013, Vincent Calvarese, 50, the ex-lieutenant, entered a no contest plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge. The charge stemmed from a July 2012 incident in which he allegedly attacked the victim, who was in his early 30s at the time.

Calvarese was sentenced to three years of adult probation, 150 hours of community service, 52 weeks of counseling, and ordered to stay away from the victim. He retired from the sheriff’s department this spring.

In August 2013, the victim filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California claiming his civil rights had been violated because he’d been unlawfully detained, among other complaints.

The victim had sought $75,000 through the lawsuit, in which he listed Calvarese, the sheriff’s department, and the city as defendants. (The Bay Area Reporter doesn’t publish the names of domestic violence victims without their permission.)

Tuesday, December 9, nine supervisors voted in favor of the settlement. Supervisor Eric Mar was absent. Former board President David Chiu recently took his seat in the state Assembly, and his supervisor’s seat is still vacant. The second and final vote on the settlement is set for December 16.

According to the victim’s federal complaint, the problem started when he and Calvarese saw each other at the Gold’s Gym (currently Fitness SF) at 2301 Market Street July 19, 2012.

“For unknown reasons, Calvarese approached [the victim] and got into his face in an aggressive manner,” then “made several rude and unwarranted comments. … Calvarese loudly identified himself as a San Francisco Sheriff’s Department officer and told [the victim] that he was going to see him in jail.”

Eventually, Calvarese “sucker punched” the other man “in the back of the head,” and the man fell, the court filing says. The victim “did not attempt to defend himself and curled up on the floor in fear as onlookers restrained Calvarese.”

The man claims he was “held against his will until police arrived,” and when they got there, officers also “detained” him until two witnesses told police he’d done “nothing wrong.”

The account differs from details offered in 2012 shortly after Calvarese’s arrest. At that time, Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said that the victim had “pushed and punched back.”

In the federal complaint, the victim – who was himself charged in a separate domestic violence case – said Calvarese had denied knowing him outside the gym, but he “provided evidence of his prior sexual relationship with Calvarese by showing [police] text messages and photos exchanged between the two men.”

The victim claims he “was bombarded with media attention,” and he “suffered a total loss of privacy and was forced to relocate.” He’s also “suffered extreme emotional distress due to the assault at the gym and the unwanted media attention that followed this high profile incident.”

In the court documents, the man says that sheriff’s officials “have a history of using violence, intimidation, and false imprisonment against innocent people to carry out unlawful schemes and motives.”

As evidence, he pointed to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s own domestic violence case. In March 2012, Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment that stemmed from an incident in which he bruised the arm of his wife, Eliana Lopez. Lopez disputed the charges.

The county’s “failure to discipline or retrain any of the involved officers is evidence of an official policy, entrenched culture, and posture of deliberate indifference toward protecting citizens’ rights …,” Calvarese’s victim says in his federal complaint.

The victim added Mirkarimi and other officials “knew and/or reasonably should have known” about Calvarese’s “repeated acts of misconduct,” and they “sought to cover up, and/or tacitly authorized” Calvarese’s misconduct. The victim didn’t provide details of any of Calvarese’s alleged misconduct other than the incident at the gym.

During the original case, Calvarese and the victim both declined the B.A.R.’s repeated interview requests, and neither could be reached for comment for this story.

In December 2012, the victim himself was charged in San Francisco Superior Court with misdemeanor counts of domestic violence-related battery, criminal threats, and vandalism after he allegedly threw a vase at another man, threatened him, kicked him, and punched a hole in a wall.

In a plea deal reached this past June, he pleaded guilty to vandalism. His sentence included three years of probation and 50 hours of anger management.

About five months after Calvarese agreed to his plea bargain, he was sent to rehab after experiencing unspecified medical issues and skipping several of the classes he’d been ordered to attend.

Officials weren’t able to say much today (Friday, December 12) about the lawsuit settlement the supervisors voted on Tuesday.

Mark Nicco, an attorney for the sheriff’s office, said he couldn’t talk about the specifics of the case, but he said Calvarese retired in March. He couldn’t say whether he’d retired voluntarily. He also couldn’t comment on Calvarese’s pension.

In an email, Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the city attorney’s office, said, “We recommended what we consider to be a prudent settlement from the standpoint of taxpayers’ interests. It avoids the risks of litigation, which are actually heightened in these kinds of federal civil rights cases. Unlike most civil suits, Section 1983 cases provide that the prevailing party is entitled to attorneys’ fees. So if a jury were to award even a small symbolic award to a plaintiff, the city could be on the hook for fees that could be an order of magnitude larger – possibly well into six-figures.”

John Burris, the attorney representing the victim in the federal lawsuit, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Despite the victim saying in the lawsuit being settled that the media attention had been “unwanted,” he’d given the B.A.R. his cellphone number, said on multiple occasions that he would eventually share his story, and exchanged text messages with a reporter who was seeking updates (in one of those messages, he called the reporter “Goldilocks.”) It’s also not clear whether any outlet other than the B.A.R. ever approached the victim directly. The victim’s Facebook page indicates he’s now the co-host of a TV show devoted to sex.

— Seth Hemmelgarn, December 12, 2014 @ 8:31 pm PST
Filed under: Uncategorized


Storm postpones SF Pride toy, food drive

Blog_To_drive
This week’s rainstorm has postponed the planned food and toy drive that the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee was to hold at Jane Warner Plaza, 17th and Castro streets, Friday, December 12.

Instead, the second annual food and toy drive to benefit the Homeless Children’s Network will take place in the plaza Friday, December 19 from noon to 4 p.m., Pride board President Gary Virginia told the Bay Area Reporter.

New toys and canned and dried goods will be accepted. For more information, visit www.sfpride.org.

— Cynthia Laird, December 11, 2014 @ 2:54 pm PST
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