Tonight (Jan 24) Park Board to discuss Stuart Mackinnon’s motion on ‘Co-Management of Vancouver Parklands with the Musqueam, Squamish, and TsleilWaututh Nations’: Some commentary

Above: Text of the motion

(Updated) A motion entitled “Co-Management of Vancouver Parklands with the Musqueam, Squamish, and TsleilWaututh Nations by Vancouver Park Board Commissioner (and current Chair) Stuart Mackinnon (Green Party of Vancouver) will be presented to the Park Board today (Monday, January 24, 2022) at a meeting starting at 7:30 pm (agenda link). The “therefore” part of the motion is:

“THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation direct
staff to define and develop an implementation plan with the Musqueam, Squamish, and
Tsleil-Waututh Nations for co-management of parklands within their traditional territories that
are currently under Park Board jurisdiction per the Vancouver Charter
.”

People can follow the meeting online or attend in person. If you have comments you can write an e-mail to pbmeetings@vancouver.ca and all commissioners. If you wish to speak, you could indicate so and may have an opportunity at a future committee meeting. Unless someone signs up to speak, it appears this motion could be debated and voted upon without the public even having had a chance to speak. Top of the agenda says, “Regular Board meeting items are not available for speaker registration. To hear from delegations on a topic, the Board may refer the item to a future Committee meeting.” More details on meetings: https://vancouver.ca/your-government/park-board-meetings-and-decisions.aspx.

This is a complex and important topic and merits a high level of public awareness, discussion and dialogue. The motion in itself is very general and lacking in details but has huge implications, considering not only reconciliation, but also that First Nations are partnering with major privately-held developers whose ownership/control is not known publicly, in multi-generational deals worth billions of dollars, the details of which are not known to the public. One example is the Senakw multi-tower development proposed beside Vanier Park at the south base of Burrard Bridge, in which Westbank is a 50% partner. In social media, the chair of the Squamish Nation Council is actually talking about full jurisdictional control. There has been only limited coverage on this motion in mainstream media and social media, so the motion merits a bit more attention.

Below we provide media links, plus text and PDF versions of the motion as well as correspondence to Park Board commissioners we’ve obtained from long-time parks commentator Elvira Lount (who articulates concerns about legality, practicality, cost, anti-democratic, conflict of interest). We also include a copy we obtained of correspondence from the Kits Point Residents’ Association (KPRA) to commissioners.

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Making Home or Sharing Home—Choose One (City Conversations We Should ALL be Having, by Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles.

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Making Home or Sharing Home—Choose One
(City Conversations We Should ALL be Having)

By Brian Palmquist (first published on 24-Jan-2022)

January 24, 2022—My earlier post, “Making Hay or Making Home,” elicited lots of commentary, questions and confusion. In trying to make sense of it, I am proposing what I call ‘Sharing Home.’

Sharing Home—a Modest Proposal

“But why would anyone go through the risk, expense and incredible hassle (including being out of your own house for god knows how long) of taking up the mayor’s offer,” asked my friend, Carol. “He’s guaranteeing that he will take away an undefined amount of your land  lift, i.e., profit for going through this in the first place. You’d end up in a smaller house, with no guarantee of compatible fellow-owners, no big financial payoff, and you would have lost your space and privacy. Why would you do it?”

“That pretty much sums up the responses of existing homeowners who are trying to get their heads around this,” I answered. “Meantime, politician Jean asks, ‘How would this work? Affordable for whom? Rental or ownership? How big? Would the two affordable homes be on the lot with 4 other units or somewhere else? With the money from the land lift going to so many different things (11 listed in motion) how can we know that a decent amount will go to housing? What about the folks in current basement rentals who get evicted for this? Would they have a right of first refusal at their old rent in one of the new units?’ Lots to unpack there,” I added.

“Academic Tom picked up on this, saying ‘The city currently does nothing for basement suite tenants when they are displaced by conforming RS uses (e.g. tear down to mansion), which is unfortunate, as the new uses do zero for affordability. I agree a good use for the land lift would be to provide benefits for displaced basement suite tenants. Because so much of the lift from redevelopment would be captured, this program would mostly serve to change what happens to existing RS homes when they are redeveloped. So I don’t see harm, and I do see help, relative to the current RS status quo. Naturally if the city is to add homes with minimal displacement, RS is the place to do so, as these areas have the fewest renters per land area. I don’t think this is enough density, but it is far better than the status quo.’ Lots there as well,” I said, rolling my eyes in confusion.

“Let’s try to, first, clarify what’s in Making Home, as best we can.” I paused at the enormity of that task. “Then perhaps we can address the ‘What about this? What about that?’” Carol nodded agreement so I continued.

“Jean and Tom’s comments underline the vagueness of Making Home. The Mayor proposed all-ownership as well as hybrid own/rent combinations, He indicated there would be a fee or Community Amenity Contribution (CAC) payable to the city to capture some of the so-called land lift presumably arising from building up to six homes on a lot zoned RS—unfortunately, that CAC and other city-imposed costs makes homes in the resulting sixplex less affordable than existing condos or townhouses—I covered that in my previous post.”

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Making Hay with Making Home: Thoughts after Mayor Stewart’s ‘Making Home’ Presentation (City Conversations No One Else is Having #17, Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles.

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City Conversation No One Else is Having #17
Making Hay with Making Home
: Thoughts after attending the Mayor’s Zoom presentation about his ‘Making Home’ Initiative
By Brian Palmquist (first published on 21-Jan-2022)

January 19, 2022—Thoughts after attending the Mayor’s Zoom presentation about his ‘Making Home’ Initiative—trying to make Making Home work.

6 into 1 goes…just show me the numbers, please!

“Darn, I just can’t make the numbers work!” I exclaimed, throwing my pencil down as my son entered my study, my fancy name for a desk by a window in the basement.

“What can’t you make work?” he asked, a bit surprised at the vehemence of my reaction. It looked like I was doing some simple math, surely not something to get excited about.

“I attended the Mayor’s Making Home zoom presentation last night [Jan 19] and I’m trying to make sense of the costs and benefits of what he’s proposing…and so far, I can’t.”

My son looked puzzled. “Didn’t the Mayor provide the numbers?”

“No,” I responded, “and his staff moderating the Zoom questions and answers (Q&A) did not pass through any questions about costs and benefits for homeowners or the city. I know because I asked two simple questions early on and they were never addressed.”

“Well,” he suggested after a short pause, “others in attendance must have asked practical questions around costs and benefits?”

“If they did,” I responded, “they never made it to the Mayor. And the way the Zoom session was monitored, I could only see other attendees’ questions after they had been answered. In other words, we only saw the questions that were answered, not those that weren’t. Very frustrating, with lots left unaddressed.”

“So what’s with the numbers?” he asked, changing the subject before I went on an ‘I hate Zoom’ rant.

“Well,” I answered as I laid out two hand written sheets in front of him, “the Making Home program is presented as a way for younger and less affluent folks to ‘get onto the property ladder,’ as the Mayor likes to say, and for older and more established Vancouverites to stay in their neighbourhoods while cashing in on their value in a way that allows, for example, younger family to live near them. In exchange for sharing the increase in value that comes with building up to six homes on a 33-foot lot like ours,” his eyebrows raised at that thought, “the homeowner gets to build way more than would otherwise be allowed, at least double what the maximum current zoning allows.”

“Sounds good so far, other than where do six homes go on this lot,” my son interjected. “What’s the issue?”

“The issue is that it makes no financial sense.” I laid two sheets of paper in front of him.

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability: Part 4 (Supporting It) (City Conversations We Should ALL be Having, by Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles.

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability: Part 4 (Supporting It)
(City Conversations We Should ALL be Having)

By Brian Palmquist (first published on 16-Jan-2022)

This is Part 4 of the “Four Steps to Rental Affordability” series of City Conversations We Should ALL he Having. Part 1 talked about the definitions of affordable housing; Part 2 looked at the approach Burnaby is taking to require rental affordability. Part 3 considered how to prioritize the creation of affordable rental housing. This Part looks at ways to support affordable rental development across the broad lower density swaths of the city.

Supporting the swimmer—floaties?

“In spite of my somewhat caustic comments about the involvement of government in the confusion of affordable housing,” I continued after our beer break, “there are key roles for governments in all of this, which we need to support.”

He awaited my thoughts.

“Our discussions about definitions, requirements and prioritizing have generally focused on larger, multiple unit developments. I’ve so far ignored the opportunities to create affordable rental housing within our current so-called single family home (SFH) zoning district, which cover about 70% of the city’s geography and contain about 68,000 homes, according to the current Mayor’s estimates.”

My son interrupted. “Why do you say ‘so-called single family home zoning districts’? Isn’t that where your home is located?” I smiled before answering.

“Various haters of SFH love to beat up on the RS zoning districts—I think RS stands for Residential Single. I am regularly sent articles about the destruction of SFH in California, in New Zealand, in Minnesota, you name it—the implication is that we are way behind other jurisdictions in their elimination of SFH zoning districts. But the facts couldn’t be further from the truth.” He waited patiently for me to continue.

“There has been virtually no single family zoning in Vancouver for several years now. It started with the legalization of secondary (mostly basement) suites. That was the first tough slog.” He raised his eyebrows in question.

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability: Part 3 (Prioritizing It) (City Conversations We Should ALL be Having, by Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles.

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability: Part 3 (Prioritizing It)
(City Conversations We Should ALL be Having)

By Brian Palmquist (first published on 9-Jan-2022)

In this Part 3 of the “Four Steps to Rental Affordability” series of City Conversations We Should ALL he Having, we will look at one of many ways to prioritize affordable rental development. Part 1 talked about the definitions of affordable housing; Part 2 looked at the approach a large municipality adjacent to Vancouver is taking to require rental affordability. 

Priority means…they’re swimming faster?

After a beer break, we continued our conversation.

“There are apparently rules in Vancouver around expediting planning and building permission for affordable housing.” I paused so my son could mentally shift. “But those rules are so complex that nobody, not staff, not city management, not politicians and certainly not applicants and their designers, has any idea how the queue of projects awaiting consideration is determined, or managed. Or if they do know, they’re not saying.”

He appeared to be listening politely, so I continued. “It’s been this way in Vancouver and many other larger municipalities for decades, and it’s only got more complex over time. When I started my career, the volume of all projects in Vancouver was substantially smaller and the processes were pretty much first-come-first-served. Also, the actual queue length and time to get permits was much much shorter than today, although still too long.” He smiled at the knowledge of my universal impatience.

“Together with the first flood of co-ops in the 60s and 70s, there was a rush of strata projects, which had first been enabled by the 1966 Strata Titles Act. Many of the stratas were themselves quite affordable, so there was little need to mess with a queue largely consisting of affordable co-ops, strata and rental.”

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability: Part 2 (Requiring It) (City Conversations We Should ALL be Having, by Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles.

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability: Part 2 (Requiring It)
(City Conversations We Should ALL be Having)

By Brian Palmquist (first published on 5-Jan-2022)

This is Part 2 of the “Four Steps to Rental Affordability” series of City Conversations We Should ALL he Having. Part 1 talked about the confusing definitions of affordable housing. This Part will look at another municipality’s approach to encouraging  affordability in new rental home creation, and what that might mean for Vancouver.

Is that a Developer Headed out of Town?

“Did it surprise you,” I asked my now somewhat bleary-eyed son, “to discover that the west coast is really the Wild West when it comes to how much of what type of affordable housing is required in each rezoned project site in Vancouver?”

“Well,” my son answered, “you did run through a set of definitions that pretty much concluded that—is there an alternative that might make life less stressful for renters—all citizens, actually?”

“Maybe,” I answered. “Not in Vancouver at the moment. But the City of Burnaby is doing some interesting things. You may recall, the current Burnaby Mayor was elected in a landslide when he promised to fix his predecessor’s policies, which had led to many evictions and ‘demovictions.’ A demoviction is where a landlord decides to substantially alter or demolish and replace an existing rental building. In Burnaby this was causing major dislocations of many longtime tenants in affordable rental buildings, often in favour of strata projects.”

My son’s silence continued. I suspect he was telegraphing that ‘You may recall’ was not a likely scenario, so I continued.

“Burnaby has implemented a Rental Use Zoning Policy that seems to be working so far, but has caused quite a stir in the development community. In summary, for a project replacing rental, the policy:

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability. Part 1 (Defining It) (City Conversations We Should ALL be Having, by Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles.

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Four Steps to Rental Affordability. Part 1 (Defining It)
(City Conversations We Should ALL be Having)

By Brian Palmquist (first published on 4-Jan-2022) (Note: After publishing, some corrections/clarifications were needed, mostly to change from “secured” to “below” market rental. Changed text is underlined below.)

January 4, 2021—Affordability is probably Vancouver’s #1 challenge—to paraphrase a friend: “Nothing else matters if you can’t make rent!” This multipart City Conversation aims to explain the complexities in (somewhat) simpler language, together with proposals that will improve affordability for the majority of Vancouverites who are, in fact, renters.

Rental Housing—Swimming Upstream? Photo Credit Brian Palmquist

Introduction

“Okay, Dad, I know you started a long academic series of discussions with me about affordable housing but I need something quicker and more concise! And hopefully more riveting!”

My son was playing the part of his younger generation—faster and simpler, please and thank you.

Affordability is not a simple challenge. If it was, it would have been sorted long ago. But I get his confusion and impatience—I’ve read lots on the subject, frequently tire of it all, but know it’s essential to the future of our city.

“All right, “ I answered him, “I think I can summarize affordability in four steps, but they’re complicated enough that we need to separate rental from ownership. Those steps are: Define it; Require it; Prioritize it; and Support it.”

He shrugged in a “Whatever” way, waited quietly for me to continue, in itself no small concession when facing his verbose Dad.

Affordable Rental Housing—Confusing Definitions

“Your mother and I arrived on the west coast during the hay day of affordable housing, the mid-1970s. In fact, my first several projects as as an intern architect were what was then called social housing—both housing co-operatives and rental housing projects. They were principally funded by the federal government, although cities like Vancouver often contributed leased land, as with False Creek South, or non-profit societies contributed land, or money, or both.” I continued.

“Even private sector housing benefited from government largesse. The Multiple Unit Residential Building (MURB) program used subsidies and relatively cheap mortgage money to support private sector projects, both strata and rental. So we had social housing as an umbrella name for affordable strata, housing co-operatives and rental, whether private or public. Buying or renting a home was always more expensive here than elsewhere in Canada, but affordable compared to today, a fact many folks of my generation don’t get when they complain that ‘these young kids don’t know how hard we worked for what we own,’ etc. In any event, in the early 1980s the federal government wound up its social housing funding programs, leaving a funding vacuum.” 

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City Conversations We should ALL be Having (by Brian Palmquist)

Brian is a guest writer for CityHallWatch. An architect whose career in Vancouver has spanned four decades, with projects ranging from first proposing the laneway-housing concept to serving as the managing architect on major multi-building development plans, personally designing more than 1,000 social and co-op housing units, and consulting on thousands more. Please visit this page for a list of all his articles, including this 2021 series “City Conversations No One Else is Having.” (Our brief intro to the Special Council Meeting he is referring to is here.)

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City Conversations We should ALL be Having
by Brian Palmquist (first published 14-Dec-2021)

Storm Clouds Gathering

“Dad, do we have any hope of making Vancouver more livable and affordable in my lifetime?” My son had just finished reading my most recent City Conversations No One Else is Having, describing City Hall’s latest undemocratic policies and actions—there have been so many of late that we were both getting somewhat overwhelmed and depressed. It was his birthday so I wanted to cheer him up.

“Yes,” I replied, “I honestly think we can rescue the city.”

“How?”

I have been thinking about this subject for a while now. There have been a few positive glimmers in my rants about what I feel is destroying the Vancouver I and many others spent our careers designing and building, where nature and neighbourhoods meet so often and so well. But there are not enough glimmers, at least not yet. The onslaught against Vancouver’s physical, planned character, what makes it such a special place, has been relentless these past several years. As a result, most of my two dozen or so City Conversations starting in the late spring of 2021 have been at best desultory, at worst despairing. My adult son, the foil in many of my City Conversations, has become absent of late—mind you, that may have as much to do with his seasonal replacement of cycling with snowboarding.

Yet I remain hopeful about Vancouver’s future. City Conversations have uncovered a growing network of sympathetic voices—they encourage our modest efforts, more importantly they tell us what others are doing in their own neighbourhoods and day-to-day actions that give us hope for our shared future.

At the risk of embarrassing these good folks, I will mention a few by name, others by passion.

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A focus on little-noticed but big-impact changes to building heights in C-2 (commercial) districts (including Commercial Drive): Decision day today (Dec 14) on ‘Streamlining Rental’ rezoning policy

Today, Council will be debating and voting on many changes with citywide zoning implications concerning “streamlining rental.” One change that actually isn’t limited to rental — but also would apply to strata and commercial buildings — is the proposal to increase the heights of C-2 (commercial) zones in all parts of Vancouver, including Grandview-Woodland.

In this post we focus on something Vancouver’s planning department (Director of Planning, Theresa O’Donnell) is trying to slip through without being noticed today (14-Dec-2021) at the last City Council meeting of this calendar year. It is buried on the 264th and 265th pages of the 348-page “Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Areas – Amendments to the C-2, C 2B, C-2C and C-2C1 Zones and Creation of New Rental Zones for Use in Future Rezoning Applications in Surrounding Low Density Areas Under the Secured Rental Policy” paper. No mention of this is made in the 11th-hour staff memorandum to City Council (9-Dec-2021) (see our detailed analysis of that memo at this link).

Above: A screen grab of pages 264 and 265 of the 384-page PDF referral report on “Streamlining Rental” showing the staff-proposed strike-and replace to Vancouver’s zoning bylaw.

The staff-proposed changes to zoning described here have nothing to do with “streamlining rental.” And they have not been explained to the public or elected officials. How did they even get in there?

The Grandview-Woodland Community Plan (see Vancouver.ca/grandview-woodland), adopted by City Council in 2016, before the current chief planner worked for the City, is very clear about ensuring that “other City policies that may otherwise allow for additional height will not apply” and the document also explains why (Section 6.1.1, image below). This we consider to be a social contract between the City and residents.

Above: Grandview Plan (30-year plan adopted in 2016) says “zoning will remain unchanged in this area”

The problem is with the proposed strike-and-replace changes to sections 4.3.1 and 4.3.2 of Vancouver’s Zoning and Development By-law to increase C-2 heights. The proposed changes go against the Community Plan, have not been discussed in any detail publicly or with Council, and would encourage large-footprint chain stores to move into Commercial Drive in new developments, forcing out the fine-grained shops that define the much-loved character of the Drive.

Above: Grandview-Woodland Community Plan (2016) page 43 of 272, regarding urban design principles for Commercial Drive.

A Council decision to reject these changes proposed by staff could help protect the intent of the Grandview Plan, and would not affect density anyway. A rejection of the proposed changes would also help to avoid any further erosion of trust in the integrity of community plans. This is no small matter, as Vancouver moves toward the very final stages of the citywide Vancouver Plan, the Broadway Plan, and numerous other planning initiatives.

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City Council big decision day Dec 14 (Tues) on ‘Streamlining Rental’ citywide rezoning policies: Critical analysis of staff’s last-minute memo on Public Hearing questions

(Updated, with revisions and new additions. Apologies for any delay. The staff memorandum was just published on Friday so it would understandably be a scramble for anyone to do detailed analysis so quickly. Reposted here as a new post to ensure e-mail subscribers receive the full updated text by e-mail. Below is the latest, updated text after we did our original post.)

Just two business days before Vancouver City Council votes to decide the final outcome of a Public Hearing that was held over three sessions in November (Nov 2, 4, 9), Vancouver’s chief planner (Theresa O’Donnell) issued a 12-page memo to Council entitled “Streamlining Rental Around Local Shopping Areas – Additional Questions from Councillors arising from the Public Hearing.” It provides detailed responses to Council questions that arose during the Public Hearing. The policies proposed by planning staff are complex and have huge implications. The whole memo carries important information, but to help make sense of the memo, we share below a critical analysis of selected points, from experts in urban planning. (We have already published many posts on this topic. Type “streamlining” into our search field on the top webpage to get a list.)

To complete the Public Hearing, closing comments, questions of staff, debate and a final vote are slated for the final schedule Council Meeting of this calendar year, with the meeting starting at 3 pm on Tuesday, Dec 14, 2021. How Mayor and each of the ten councillors vote will set the stage for election-related activities leading up to the Oct 15, 2022 civic elections.

Below we go into an analysis. The fact that the chief planner (Director of Planning) had to provide a detailed 12-page memo attempting to clarify crucial matters to Council at this 11th hour shows just how complex the proposed policies are. The public did not have this information prior to making spoken or written submissions to elected officials for the Public Hearing, and we’d bet that 99% of the people who had any awareness and concern about these matters, whether they were supportive or opposed, are even aware of this memo.

Our expert advisors find that there are errors and half truths in what’s coming out of planning, including this memo. The City is now in the final stages of developing a 30-year citywide Vancouver Plan, yet polling of public input was badly twisted. Many people do support more housing choices in RS-zoned areas, but certainly would not support these policies if they knew the implications.

The whole memorandum is worth a read, but below we provide expert comments on a subset of the staff answers to Council questions from the Public Hearing. Further below is the PDF of the memorandum.

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