The following letters and other commentary express only the personal opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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Oct 16 2022

The Piedmont City Council Election this year is critically important for the future of our City. Climate Change, the Housing Element, and the City’s Infrastructure needs are certainly at the forefront, and I want a City Council that can best deal with these and other issues in a way that preserves what I love about Piedmont while improving it where needed.  I urge you to join me in voting for the 3 candidates I think can best take on these Herculean problems: Betsy Smegal Andersen, Jen Long, and Tom Ramsey.

BETSY SMEGAL ANDERSEN:  It is rare in Piedmont to think that a single person deserves the most credit for a single accomplishment, but that is surely the case for our soon to be built swimming pool complex.  The need for the Council to ride herd on that project to completion by itself compels the re-election of Betsy.  But there are so many other reasons to vote for Betsy.  With grace and sharp intellect, Betsy has tackled every issue the Council has faced.  Her roots in Piedmont are deeper than any other person presently on or seeking to join the Council.  We are so very lucky that Betsy is willing to stand for another term.

JEN LONG:  The City Council made a terrific decision when it appointed Jen to fill the vacancy on the Council.  It is indeed noteworthy that the Council chose Jen because she was the only candidate whom all the Council members felt they could support.  We the Voters should now ratify that decision.  In her short tenure, Jen has exhibited thoughtful analysis of the issues, a balanced approach to solutions, and a terrific capacity for hard work.  A resounding election victory for Jen would demonstrate to the world that the Piedmont of 2022 bears no resemblance to the city that ran its first Black residents out of the community years ago.

TOM RAMSEY:  Tom has demonstrated his ability to handle highly sensitive planning issues at a time when the Housing Element is the issue most immediately demanding solutions.  As of this writing, 14 of the 15 cities in the Bay Area that have submitted their plans to the State have had them rejected.  Make no mistake, unless we do this right the State will do it for us.  The chance that we will like what the State does to us is ZERO.  Tom’s experience as a planner is sorely needed on the Council.  His experience on the Planning Commission has demonstrated his ability to balance issues to assure that solutions further the goal of protection of the City that we love.  His 7 years on the Planning Commission provide the experience that will guarantee his effectiveness on the Council right from the start.

Electing all 3 of these candidates is the best way to assure a Council competent to navigate the uncharted seas which lie ahead.

Cameron Wolfe, Jr, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 11 2022

Candidates Who Tick All the Boxes

We live in a town with a wealth of talent and we are very lucky to have people who want to step up and volunteer for important civic positions. The work is hard. These volunteers have to listen respectfully to myriad opinions, work in partnership with many different stakeholders, pay careful attention to the regulatory landscape, and, ultimately, think holistically to make a lot of decisions that range from routine to especially thorny

I’ve done a lot of hiring in my career and there are four criteria I look for to make a successful hire: relevant work experience, capacity to learn, ability to be collegial and collaborative, and no bullies or creeps (see the Robert Sutton book for the more colorful reference). I use this same list when I vote. For me, the candidates who score highest in all my criteria are: Betsy Andersen, Jennifer Long, and Tom Ramsay for city council; and Ruchi Medhekar and Lindsay Thomasson for school board.

My husband and I have been in Piedmont for almost 25 years and I’m about to end my tenure on the school board after nine years. I know these candidates because I’ve worked with them or have watched them at work. To a person, they are smart, insightful, measured, respectful, and collaborative. They have significant skills from their professional and volunteer work that will serve us. They are thoughtful servant leaders who will ask good questions and will seek to find the best solutions given the many competing interests/viewpoints and the complex regulatory landscape.

These candidates are who I would like to see lead us in the next four years, who will honor the work and responsibility and will be respectful of the offices and staff who support these roles. I hope you will join me in voting for them.


Amal Smith

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 10 2022

Lindsay shows tremendous leadership abilities, dedication, and work ethic in advocating for all students. 

Dear Editor:

We couldn’t be more thrilled to unequivocally support Lindsay Thomasson in her campaign for Piedmont School Board. As elected parent representatives on the Superintendent Community Advisory Committee (SCAC), we have worked closely with Lindsay over the past year and have experienced firsthand her tremendous leadership abilities, dedication, and work ethic. 

Lindsay’s stellar communication skills, her inherent ability to listen to and connect with people, and her commitment to bridging the recent divisions in our community, lead us to believe there is no better person for the job. Lindsay holds herself to a very high standard and we have no doubt that she will have equally high standards for PUSD, ensuring we have a district that consistently pursues excellence for all.

Lindsay has been a strong leader in our community for many years, serving as president of Havens’ Parent Club, as parent representative on the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) and as a Wellness Center Support Committee member, in addition to the SCAC. With such extensive volunteer experience, she is well prepared to take on the important role of school board member, bringing valuable knowledge about our community, our schools, and the challenges and opportunities in front of us. 

We are particularly excited to endorse Lindsay because she is an advocate for ALL students. She brings a unique and refreshing perspective as a mother of three children in various phases of their PUSD education, including a current elementary student, a PMS student, and a preschooler (future Havens student). With such a personal stake in seeing our schools thrive, we know she will be a thoughtful and transparent leader, weighing the many different stakeholder perspectives in all decisions.

Please consider joining us in endorsing Lindsay, donating to her campaign and signing up to have a lawn sign at your home. Visit her website at www.lindsayforpusd.com to learn more.

Keri Elmquist
Michelle McGilloway
Linda Wendel

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the authors.
Oct 5 2022

Utilizing factual information and critical thinking to discuss issues allows voters to make informed decisions. Voters need to be heard and provide input on an issue that will forever change the community.

The Housing Element, while necessary, must be done with community input, excellent planning and leadership.  In the California Department of Housing and Community Development Department(HCD) “building block” of the Housing Element is “Public Participation.”

Below is an excerpt from the California Department of Housing and Community Department.

“Housing issues affect the entire community – residents, employers, and the
public and private sectors. The public participation requirement of housing
element law presents an opportunity to engage constituents in a dialogue 
defining problems and creating solutions.” Housing Element Building Blocks

Had there been better and early communication and outreach to the community, we would not be in this predicament of many citizens confused about zoning, density bonuses, and the Housing Element. Dismissing the community’s opinion without a vote is not the democracy I would like to see in this community or anywhere.

There may be a cost for a special election, yet the contribution to ensuring inclusivity by each voter in this community cannot be undervalued. As HCD recommends the following:

“While the housing element must address specific statutory requirements, it is ultimately a local plan and should reflect the vision and priorities of the community.”

We might miss the “looming” deadline. Yet, we will have done the right thing to identify the correct sites with thoughtful, measured decisions that are in keeping with the long-term strategic planning of the city along with maintaining the charm and beauty.

Saving money and time should never be a reason to remove the right and privilege to vote.

Cori Recht, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 5 2022

SB 9 is not a core element of the proposed Housing Element.

A recent letter sent to residents by the City Administrator stated that one of the 4 core elements of the Housing Element is:

“Adopting zoning changes that would allow property owners to split certain single-family homes into duplexes, triplexes, or fourplexes, which is now State law (SB9).”

It should be noted that the split of single-family homes into duplexes is not an idea that originated with the Housing Element but with state law, SB 9, which took effect January 1, 2022. 

Under certain conditions, residents can split their lots and residences to create entirely new lots and housing; applications to do so must be approved expeditiously by local governments. The City may have already received applications from residents to do just that.

The reason for SB9 is to create new housing to address California’s housing crisis so it should be part of the Housing Element.  Unfortunately, the current draft  Housing  Element calls for a study of SB9 and does not propose any actual zoning changes that would implement SB9 once the Housing Element is adopted.  That’s unfortunate because other cities implemented SB9 shortly after it went into effect and are now using SB9 as a basis for projecting housing growth. 

By going slow on SB9, Piedmont lost the opportunity to account for SB9 units, thereby increasing density in other parts of town.  Perhaps by the time the Housing Element is approved in May 2023 the city can assign some numbers to this core element.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 4 2022

Response to Letter from City Administrator

Everyone in Piedmont received a letter from Sara Lillevand, the City Administrator, dated September 30, 2022. The City Administrator is hired by the City Council and reports directly to the City Council. Therefore, we can assume that the letter was vetted and approved by the five members of the City Council.

The letter is extremely misleading.

  1. The letter is a not too subtle endorsement of three candidates to the City Council who oppose a vote on the Housing Element;
  2. As stated in the letter, the City has been working on the issue for 18 months yet this city-wide letter was sent five weeks before the election;
  3. The letter includes the statement that any future development would have to meet Piedmont’s design standards. This is not true, see Schreiber v. City of Los Angeles and Bankers Hill 150 v. City of San Diego. Both cases illustrate that the state’s Density Bonus Law supersedes a city’s local ordinances and zoning laws. The Density Bonus Law provides developers with incentives and waivers of building restrictions for set-backs, parking and height.
  4. The letter outlines the plan to include 132 homes on City-owned land (Moraga Canyon). This land is in Zone B (Park and Public Land). Zone C is zoned for Multi-family units. The plan is a de-facto re-zone which according to our City Charter requires a majority vote of the citizens of Piedmont.  Further, once the plan is approved a developer can enforce development using the state’s Density Bonus Law that overrides Piedmont’s design restrictions thereby making development economically feasible. At that point a vote will be too late.
  5. Piedmont Municipal Code §17.08.010 provides that “[i]f a use is not permitted or conditionally permitted, it is not allowed.” Piedmont Municipal Code §17.22.020 lists the permitted and conditional uses allowed in Zone B. Multi-family units are not permitted or conditionally permitted in Zone B. To build multi-family units on property located in Zone B requires a vote to re-zone the land pursuant to §9.02 of our City Charter.

Adding 587 units to the city of Piedmont will forever change the city.  We must delay submission of the Housing Element plan until we understand all ramifications of the plan. We must review available options and then vote on those options. True engagement by the community requires a vote and the result will be a viable Housing Element plan.

Bridget Harris, Piedmont City Council Candidate

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Oct 1 2022
Dear Piedmont Senior Planner Macdonald,
     The requirement for Piedmont to add 587 new housing units to its current inventory of nearly 4,000 is huge and controversial.  Obviously, creating a few high density housing sites would be very disruptive to the “look and feel” of Piedmont, even in its few commercial zones.
     Is the City considering a gentler approach of slightly increasing the allowable number of units on existing properties?  Allowing more floor area and more impervious coverage of lots could be calculated to enable more ADUs or similar multi-family residences without drastically changing Piedmont’s primarily single-family look.  Is this being considered as an alternative to high density development?
     If incremental increase in housing density was offered as the solution, the next question would be how to implement actual construction.  While some individual homeowners might take advantage of incentives like tax breaks (primarily because they already desire an ADU on their property), that may not fulfill the entire 587 requirement.
Another implementation strategy might be to engage developers to design and build on the lots of willing property owners.  The developers would collect the rents and associated subsidies from those units until their investment and a negotiated profit margin were repaid.  Thereafter, the units would become the sole property of the lot owner, thereby increasing the value of the property for either its current owner or a subsequent owner.  The property owner would not be burdened with managing, financing, nor implementing the construction, but would have design veto over the project.  Again, the property tax that would accrue from the additional units’ value to the existing property could be waived for a number of years as part of the subsidy program.  Does this look like a feasible solution?
     Thank you for taking the time to consider these ideas.  I would appreciate your response when convenient for you.
I am a 44-year-long resident of Piedmont.  While retired now, I have a Masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning and worked as a GIS Consultant for many local cities and counties.
Bruce Joffe, Piedmont Resident
Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 27 2022

The City Council is urged to listen to the expertise of residents and take on the challenge – to investigate, question and push back against the ABAG / HCD 587-unit requirement and demand a fair process.

Dear Mayor King and City Council Members,

At the August 1st City Council meeting, in my rush to cover several topics, I was remiss in not thanking all Council Members and Staff for all their efforts to date on the General Plan. I apologize for that omission. In my career, I have served on a few Boards and fully appreciate the time and effort required by that service. Thank you.

Given the limited presentation time available to speakers at the meeting, however, I do feel that it is important to restate my position regarding the Draft Housing Element.

When Piedmont’s Housing Element requirement was initially announced, the Piedmont Planning Staff informed the residents that, even though the requirement of 587 units was nearly 10 times the previous requirement, ‘Piedmont should take on accommodating 587 units AS A CHALLENGE’. There was no mention of Piedmont challenging the 587-unit number despite the extraordinary increase over the previous General Plan requirement (60 units). If that discussion did occur between the Staff and the Council, then those minutes should be made available to clarify the record.

It appears to me that we are at a juncture where the solutions proposed in the Housing Element and the acceptance of some of those solutions by a significant number of residents are at odds. That is why I propose challenging the premise that 587 new units can be accommodated in Piedmont.

Why challenge the State HCD (Housing and Community Development Dept.) requirement?

One reason is that the State Auditor was directed to evaluate the needs assessment process that the HCD uses to provide key housing guidance to local governments. The Auditor’s report, dated March 17,2022, concluded that the HCD does not ensure that it’s needs assessments are accurate and adequately supported.

The Auditor found errors such as; not considering all the factors that State Law requires; no formal review process for the data it uses; the HCD could not support its use of various vacancy rates.

What was the HCD’s response to these very serious findings about their processes and due diligence?

The HCD said they would review their processes over the next year, but they did not commit to reviewing or modifying any of the current cycle of projections. The HCD 6th Cycle projected a need of 2,300,00 housing units for California. However, prior to that, in August 2020, the HCD projected a need of only 1,170,000 units for the same time period – about half the current requirement.

On the Federal side, Freddie Mac’s projected need for 6th cycle housing was 1,320,00 units in February 2020. These wide variations in projected housing need coupled with the State Auditor’s findings about the HCD’s procedures converge to magnify the need to examine the HCD 6th cycle requirement with a very healthy skepticism and to institute a very serious investigation or as some other like-minded cities have done – that is to band together and legally challenge the HCD on their process and projections.

We must remember that the General Plan is on an 8-year cycle and Piedmont will need to submit a Plan again in 2031. The State will likely impose another housing requirement on Piedmont then.

How many units will be required and where will those units go in 2031? What legacy will be left for the City Council of 2031?

All that adds to the urgency in challenging the 587-unit requirement now. To work toward an acceptable compromise of this issue with the HCD, it would also be very important for the City to establish an acceptable and attainable number of units that the planners believe can reasonably be accommodated in the current 6th cycle.

In any negotiation, if Piedmont can emphasize it’s prior compliance with the HCD requirements and exhibit a good faith effort to accommodate a significant new housing increase over prior General Plans ( say a 2-fold or 3-fold increase ) it would go a long way toward establishing the seriousness of Piedmont’s position and commitment.

Nevertheless, based on the uncertainty of the HCD population projection process, it is very important that we and other cities push back and demand more transparency and accuracy from the HCD now.

Another reason – numbers matter. Many of the objections to the Housing Element come down the extraordinary means needed to try to accommodate 587 units while trying to maintain a sense of identity for Piedmont. If, for example, Piedmont’s Housing Element were only a 3-fold increase over the existing requirement and Piedmont need only accommodate 180 new units, I believe that the Housing Element would now be approved and in our rear-view mirror. This is just an example, but it makes the point that numbers do matter – and accuracy and fairness of process also matter.

Another reason – our Fair Share. In the Aug. 1 Council meeting, many residents stated their beliefs that Piedmont should provide its fair share of housing units. I wholeheartedly agree, but how is the fair share derived? I believe that it is vital that our fair share should be derived from a fair and open process given the magnitude of its impact on our City.

There should also be some recognition of Piedmont’s constraints – that it is predominantly built-out and that the City faces reconstruction or new construction of its Essential Services Buildings ( ESB’s ) which could significantly affect some of the few available parcels in the City.

Recent meetings and discussions all expose the fact that the Housing Element, the structural integrity of the ESB’s (which, in my opinion, should be Piedmont’s HIGHEST PRIORITY) and a Master Plan for the Downtown parcels are all intertwined, yet none of these issues has a solid implementable plan. That fact strengthens the position that Piedmont should not proceed with submission of a Housing Element containing 587 units. That is why I strongly urge the City Council to listen to the residents and take on the challenge – to investigate, question and push back against the HCD 587-unit requirement and demand a fair process.

Respectfully submitted,

Donald Chandler AIA Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 24 2022

Piedmont City Council and City Staff need to take Project Management Seriously –

“…, we have exceeded the original $15M estimate by a whopping $7.5M or 50%.” 

While cost overruns on public projects are sadly nothing new, the Pool project’s overrun before construction bids have been received and after scope reductions have been made is hard to fathom and extremely disappointing. 

With that in mind, consider that the City will soon have to face up to the State’s mandate to bring Essential Services Buildings or ESB ( police, fire and city offices ) up to State code requirements.    For comparison, consider that the Pool project is heading toward a $22-23M price tag while the ESB project costs, as compiled by the City Staff in April, 2020, was estimated to be between $80 to 100M – and that was with very preliminary plans and scope.  Without vastly better methods of cost control for the ESB projects, overruns of the scale of the pool project could easily cause a financial crisis for our small town.

A little background.   In the lead up to Measure UU, the Pool project was represented as a $ 15M project with a $4.5M Contingency added to cover latent conditions, change orders, scope changes, etc.  That resulted in the $19.5M Measure UU Bond. The $4.5M Contingency was prudent and warranted given the status of the plans at the time.

Now plans have been fully developed (and modified once to reduce the cost) and yet residents are still being asked to fund an additional $2.6M to complete the project.  There is also a separate special funding plan seeking $500K to install Heat Pumps to make the project all-electric.  So the project is currently about $3M over budget.   If we add the original $4.5M Contingency to the current $3M overage, we have exceeded the original $15M estimate by a whopping $7.5M or 50 %.   That is quite a miss and underscores my main message – that Piedmont must adopt a more rigorous and professional Project Management model.

What is that model?  It is one where the design team, the project management team and the estimating team all have equal weight and input into the project from the very early stages.  The team needs to avoid iterative design exercises – where a design is completed and then estimated and then often redesigned and estimated again.  The design and estimating processes must go forward simultaneously.  This management model is not new.  It is a model used by most major corporations or entities which have a significant building programs.  But these are top down decisions.  The Owner, in our case the City Council, must lead and require this model of Project Management if the City hopes to avoid replicating the Pool experience in the future.

Regarding the Pool project, it is up to the City Council to establish accountability for how the Pool project got to where it is.  I maintain that the issue is poor project management and definitely not hyperinflation as claimed by some.  ( Hyperinflation is defined as monthly inflation of 50% or more.- we are not experiencing that. )  No, our problem, our issue to resolve, is our current method of Project Management.   It is not serving us well.   We should not, cannot, continue to exceed our budgets and then go hat in hand to our residents to bail out our projects.

How Piedmont manages the Pool project moving forward and the ESB projects in the very near future will depend largely on the will of the City Council and City Staff to chart a different path.

Respectfully submitted,

Donald Chandler  AIA, Piedmont Resident

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author.
Sep 22 2022

Questions on the proposed Housing Element were posed by Garrett Keating followed by Answers from the City Planning Department, plus Interpretations.

  1. Is the relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park being considered as part of the Moraga Canyon Site Assessment?

Answer:  City staff considered the broader policy issue of identifying City parkland in the Housing Element sites inventory, starting on page 157 of the Draft Housing Element. Ultimately, staff recommended a Draft Housing Element that did not include parkland in the sites inventory as a primary site. Blair Park was identified as a possible “alternative site” in the text description of the sites inventory. Dracena Park and all City parks were considered for housing sites during the development of the sites inventory in the Draft Housing Element.  On August 1, 2022, the City Council directed staff to include Blair Park in the sites inventory as a primary site as part of a proposed Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study in order to consider all of the interrelated changes that may be necessary to locate housing in Moraga Canyon and improve City facilities at the same time.

The Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study will start with a request for proposals (RFP) or request for qualifications (RFQ). The RFP or RFQ will include a project description for the types of land uses and changes to be considered.

  1. The Housing Element 102 presentation projected 82 units for the Corporation Yard.  Does that assume the Corporation Yard is relocated to Blair Park? If not, can you tell me the acreage that is available for housing in the Corporation Yard and how you arrived at 82 units for the Corporation Yard (50+32)?

Answer: Here is some background about the corporation yard site for the purposes of the Housing Element sites inventory. The corporation yard, alone, is approximately 13.6 acres. It is an approximate number because this land is also steeply sloping in some areas, and it has existing uses and facilities. Of the 13.6 acres, 3.7 acres are expected to yield 132 housing units. 100 of the 132 would be multifamily residential units at approximately 50 dwelling units per acre.  Please see Figure B-1 from the Draft Housing Element below.

On August 1, the City Council directed staff to re-distribute the housing units identified for sites in the civic center area. It is possible that some of the housing units (mainly moderate and above moderate housing units) could be added to the corporation yard site and a new Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study. These units would appear, if necessary, in the next iteration of the Draft Housing Element sites inventory this fall. Also on August 1, the City Council directed staff to include Blair Park in the Moraga Canyon Specific Plan study area.

Interpretation:  relocation of the Corporation Yard to Blair Park is currently not being considered in the identification of housing sites in the Housing Element.  The map shows that the Corporation Yard is to be maintained and staff does not indicate that they are considering it for housing.

  1. The City Administrator discussed the income levels required for new residents to be eligible for low-income housing.  The City Administrator presented income data for city/PUSD employees, citing the number of employees that fall into the 4 categories between $69,000 and $150,000. I believe she concluded that 80% of city/PUSD employees are considered low-income.  Is that correct?  The income eligibility levels are based on the income for a family of 4.  Did the city administrator’s presentation account for this – are the employee numbers she presented for employees with families of 4 (or more) or were those incomes for individuals?

Answer: To follow up the email I sent on Monday, I confirmed that the income categories described on slide 10 of the presentation on August 18, 2022, were based on a family of 4 people and that the City and PUSD employees’ incomes were evaluated against this baseline family income. The analysis did not base the employees’ income categories on the size of their actual families.

Interpretation Using individual income levels of city/PUSD employees to characterize those employees’ eligibility for different low-income family housing overstates their eligibility.

  1. The Planning Director presented a new total for ADUs of 142 and a new income distribution of 84/42/16 = 142. He attributed this new distribution to guidance from HCD and ABAG.  Can I obtain a copy of that guidance from the two agencies or can you direct me to a s source for it? 

Answer: Click on the following link to review the ADU projected income levels from ABAG guidance from June 2022: https://abag.ca.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2022-06/ADUs-Projections-Memo_final.pdf

Interpretation These new ADU allocations help Piedmont in that they count towards the city’s low-income unit target, lessening the need for low-income units elsewhere.  It should be noted the City has very little control over the actual rental or monthly rent of these units.

 Would moving the Corporation Yard to Blair Park make that side of Moraga Avenue more eligible for development.

“It is our understanding that a number of these facilities have significant capital deficiencies and that they are likely to require substantial renovation and/or replacement at some point in the near future. Because these sites are in strategic locations, it will be possible for the City to engage with the private sector to establish partnerships that would lead to the redevelopment of these facilities along with the identified housing programs.  These sites have value that the City can potentially leverage to attract private partners and to move forward on the basis of a public-private partnership that meets the community’s needs for improved facilities, along with the provision of additional housing.” From the City FAQ about Civic sites:

Both sides of Moraga Avenue can accommodate housing but on which side does the City have more leverage to improve facilities and add housing?  Working with developers, the City can certainly add low income housing to Blair Park but there are no facilities on that side of Moraga to improve, with the exception of the park.  The Corporation Yard offers multiple upgrade options. The City intends to expand Coaches Field to a 150 x 300 multi-purpose field and major reconfiguration of the space is needed.  The Corporation Yard itself is outdated – would a developer contribute to its relocation to eastern Blair Park for the right to develop the site?  The Moraga Canyon Specific Plan needs to include this analysis to achieve the best return to the community on the public land that will be converted to housing.

Garrett Keating, Former Piedmont City Council Member

Editors’ Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author and the City of Piedmont Planning Department.

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