Emeryville Planning Commission to weigh in on proposed 54-Story Tower that would be East Bay’s Tallest

Published On December 8, 2018 | By Bobby Lee | News & Commentary, Planning & Development

A Vancouver-based developer is proposing a record-breaking 54-story residential tower for development in Emeryville’s Christie Core neighborhood. Rising at 683 feet in height, it would be the tallest all-residential building in the Bay Area and the second tallest all-residential building in the western United States.

The plan submitted by Onni Group for the 3.76-acre site at 5801 and 5681 Christie Avenue calls for 638 residential units in a building fronting the 76 Gas Station on Powell Street.

It will feature a mix of studio, one, two, and three-bedroom rental apartments. Renderings of the building show a geometric waveform design on the upper part of the tower, facing west, along with angled balconies to maximize the bay view for residents.

The developer has also proposed a separate 16-story, 238,000-square-foot office tower to sit north of the residential tower, along with 20,000-square-feet of retail space and 1,105 parking spaces. The office tower would replace an existing one-story building that currently houses the Emery Bay Café and Allegro Ballroom.

Drawings from the architectural firm, IBI Group, show a half-acre of open park space along Christie Avenue at Shellmound Way. A shared common space for both office workers and residents would sit on a podium deck at the eighth level. Residents will have access to a pool deck that sits in the air, connecting the top of the office building to the residential tower.

An existing 87,410-square-foot office building on the property, which currently houses a Wells Fargo Bank branch, would be retained.

If built, Onni’s residential tower would take the reign as Emeryville’s tallest building from the 318 feet, 30-story Pacific Park Plaza, located just north of the proposed project.

In comparison, San Francisco’s Millennium Tower and One Rincon Hill South Tower sit at a similar, but slightly shorter, height to the proposed building. Completed, Onni’s building would also rank as the tallest building in the East Bay and 14th tallest in California.


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Onni’s application has some significant hurdles to clear before receiving project approval, as the development requires changes to meet Emeryville Planning Regulations through the bonus point system. The system incentivizes developers to make certain changes to their plans for the benefit of the community, in exchange for increased in allowances for height, density, and Floor Area Ratio.

The submitted plan currently exceeds the city’s 75-foot height restrictions for the residential tower, does not specify details about affordable housing, and does not detail which community benefits will be provided. To obtain the needed bonus points, the developer will need to “include additional public open space, zero net energy, additional family-friendly units, or a contribution to the City’s small business fund or other public improvements,” according to the staff report.

The City of Emeryville Planning Commission will review the developer’s application, receive public comment, and provide feedback to the developer during the project’s first study session on Thursday, December 13 at 6:30pm, in the council chambers at City Hall.

Download the Planning Commission agenda and related docs on Emeryville.org →

About The Author

is a Bay Area native who’s lived in the Christie Core Neighborhood since 2010, Bobby enjoys exploring the far corners of our region, trying the newest restaurants in the area, or relaxing to 80's era television sitcoms and game shows. For the past six years, he's hosted a web video series called 2 Minute Finance teaching basic money management and consumer education.

58 Responses to Emeryville Planning Commission to weigh in on proposed 54-Story Tower that would be East Bay’s Tallest

  1. Boku Kodama says:

    There’s a point at which the health and wellbeing of residents and existing businesses need to be a top priority over allowing this type of development to even be considered. The traffic and pollution are already bad enough in Emeryville. This monstrosity will increase the death rate through higher rates of cancer, traffic fatalities and a growing crime condition There needs to be a class action lawsuit to stop the Emeryville government from allowing this type of deadly development from happening.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you care to explain exactly how this building will become the portal to hell that you allege it to be?

      • Boku Kodama says:

        Normally, I don’t respond to Anonymous repliers which is nothing more than a cowardly way of criticizing without being qustioned yourself in an honest, meaningful and progressive dialogue. All you need to do is walk around that area at 8am and 5pm Monday through Friday and you’ll get a first hand experience at what I’ve written. Also check out what happens on the weekend in the late evenings. I’ve been a homeowner, resident and business owner in Emeryville since 1995 on Christie Avenue. I don’t have a problem with growth. I”ve been both an urban economics instructor and an entrepreneur focused on civil and social justice for the urban poor and this building proposal violates every rule for inclusive economics and density health. In addition, you need to research the public health studies that show Emeryville is already one of the most polluted cities in the Bay Area. The only people who will benefit from this construction are the out-of-town developers who do not have to live through this and the city of Emeryville with increased taxes to assure they can maintain their cost of living standards. Civil pride of Emeryville needs to change from its current desire to be the little city that can compete with cities much large than itself to truly prioritizing the health and well being of its local residents and businesses.

    • Anonymous says:

      Spoken like a true NIMBY. Why don’t you just be honest with us and say you oppose this building because it would bring down the value of your home you were planning to sell within 10 years?

      • Cap'n Dave says:

        Spoken like a true Republican who is only interested in monetary growth and fails to see the reality of the situation even when it’s thrust in his face, Mr. “Anonymous”.

      • Kathy Russell says:

        You are an inarticulate name caller.

    • Joanne Dickerson-Harper says:

      I agree. Many of us natives are tired of having our wants and or needs ignored. Projects that were suppose to happen 16, 20, 30 plus years ago still haven’t been done. Many of the folks will be gone in 5 to 10 years and those of us who have been here forever will be left to look at empty buildings. How many restaurants do we need? Businesses who were here and stayed during good times and bad, get shoved out for folks who really don’t have a vested interest in the neighborhood. Those people in Oakland neighborhoods bordering this part of Emeryville will be affected also. Let’s slow it down and do a little thinking.

      • E-Ville Expat says:

        You NIMBY twit!

        It is not the place of government or citizens to determine “how many restaurants…we need.” It’s not all about you!

        As far as “empty buildings” go, the Bay Area has failed to allow sufficient development to absorb surging demand. Many working class families with multi-generational roots have been priced out of the region and dispersed because of self absorbed luddites like you.

        Emeryville should be applauded for evolving with the times.

  2. Betty Tyler says:

    I think Mr. Kodama said it all! There may be a spot in Eville that has worse congestion, but I doubt it.

  3. Alice Diane Kisch says:

    I can find no mention of the cost of these residential units to their renters. What are the proposed rental rates?

    • Bobby Lee says:

      Since this plan is only going through its first study session right now, I don’t believe the developer has gotten that far in the process yet to break out rental costs. But it’s a question we’ll be asking. Proposals can and will change between the first study session and future meetings.

  4. Anonymous says:

    As long as none of the residents are allowed to enter or leave the building or have anything delivered there or invite visitors who can’t fly above the streets, then this is a great idea.

    The location is perfect for that level of use.

    • Anonymous says:

      There’s already electric multi-copters with 25 mile range. Meanwhile Amazon has functional delivery drones in testing out away from urban areas. It’s actually very likely in a few decades this building could have a busy rooftop drone landing pad – if it’s constructed to support it. Going to SF by drone wouldn’t impact the freeway or street-level traffic.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The pedestrian bridge at 53rd, already budgeted when I came to Emeryville16 years ago has not been built yet. The planning commission should tell these people to come back in 20 years when it may show up on their already busy agenda. By then the next generation of residents may get around in mini-helicopters.

  6. Anonymous says:

    it would be a great investment if the project going to sell the units to individual like 6363 Christie Ave! If not we are so tired of high rent that goes up every year and we can’t deal with the traffic any longer either.

    Yes for individual owner!

  7. Clive Scullion says:

    I couldn’t think of a worse place to put a 54 story tower, can’t we keep these in downtown San Francisco or Oakland where they belong? This will put out of business Allegro Ballroom, the best place to go to dance in the Bay Area. It will ruin the beautiful Golden Gate view of thousands of people up the hill. No significant transportation options serve this area. I could go on and on. I am not opposed to development, but the Bay Area is drowning in poor regional planning. Please make sure these things go where they belong in downtown areas that are already set up for them.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Will the large eye that can see the hobbits coming be added later? I don’t see it in the renderings.

  9. David says:

    I’m sure all the NIMBYs will be very vocal but this could be great for the city if we proceed thoughtfully. Plan adequately for transit, green space, parking and this can trigger more investment in restaurants, bars, cafes etc. Our city will be better off and we’d be doing the right thing to address housing. Housing values would stabilize and probably increase long term. Maybe with the new residents, public market would reconsider turning part of their planned expansion into a parking lot and seek out more businesses who would also see an incentive with the new residents.

    • Anonymous says:

      Proceeding thoughtfully is exactly what would prevent this from being built or wasting the planning commision’s time looking at a building twice the size of any other in one of the most congested and impossible corridors in the east bay where, due to the train tracks, freeway, park, and shopping malls, there is absolutely nowhere to build additional transit in or out.

      The developers are taking advantage of the temporary and waning housing crisis to propose literally absurd projects that no one in their right mind would approve. Do you want to build in Emeryville? Then propose something reasonable in an intelligent location.

      I imagine the plan is to lead with something ludicrous and then cut 10 stories off it and call it a compromise.

      Stupid, stupid, stupid proposal.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I have lived in the Bay Area for over 32 years and own a home in Emeryville for the last 16 years. This proposed 54 story residential hi-rise project is absurd in scale and scope for Emeryville. I have seen traffic and vehicle congestion in the Bay Area multiply and worsen enormously in the last 10 years specifically. This project will have traffic backed up on Hwy 80 and the streets of Emeryville clogged with gridlock. I have to believe there must be something unethical and maybe worse going on if any member of the Emeryville Planning Commission votes in favor of this project. Personal gain perhaps? Whatever happened to the height restrictions for any new projects in Emeryville? And why isn’t the Mayor, Planning Commission and City Council moving on and completing other projects that have been green lighted and approved years ago yet are still on paper only? Those projects need to get built first. I vote in every single city, state and federal election and so do a lot of other Emeryville citizens. We are watching you Mayor, City Council and Emeryville Planning Commission….and we will never forget. There is a difference between being a NIMBY and being rational, logical, environmentally conscious, realizing city planning has a purpose and obligation to its citizens and community to do that which is in the best interest of the people who live here and in the Bay Area.

  11. Joyce Jacobson says:

    Puzzled by why those who support the plan start by complaining about NIMBYS. The Bay area doesn’t have a very good track record on big projects – Bay Bridge, SF Transportation Center, sinking towers.

  12. DF says:

    KPIX 5 is doing a story today Monday12/10/18 and is looking for folks pro and con. Please call 415.505.7728 right away. THANKS!

  13. David says:

    Looks good! We desperately need housing to keep the Bay Area a socioeconomically and racially diverse region. Fighting for things to stay the same is just another way of fighting to keep the racial red-lining and residential segregationist policies of the recent past.

    Emeryville can do a great thing and provide good homes for good people. Let’s not selfishly block access.

    • Anonymous says:

      Over 2x the height of Pacific Park Plaza! What happened to the general plan that allows for a high rise in another location?

    • Anonymous says:

      We won’t have to “selfishly block access”. The intersections on Powell and the ensuing gridlock will do that for us.

      This will not “give us desperately needed housing”. Because it is so absurdly out of scale and completely unsupportable, it will waste everyone’s time and slow down the approval process for realistic projects. It should be dismissed at the first planning meeting out of hand.

      A developer who proposes reasonable scale with reasoned infrastructure at a realistic site will be able to build the same quantity of housing without the massive fight and community opposition and complete redesign of every bit of transportation infrastructure in Emeryville this project will inevitably need.

      If you need to feed 100 people, you can either tell Domino’s they need to build an oven that’s 20 feet across along with a new truck and a trained pizza deployment team OR you can just order 20 normal pizzas.

      Both options feed the people. Only one is stupid.

    • ESE says:

      thank you David. well said.

  14. ESE says:

    traffic! contextual insensitivity! :-0
    cry me a river… this is the perfect place to add density. if so-picturesque emeryville has effed up intersections, hire a new traffic engineer.
    in the meantime, adding tower housing close to transportation corridors and concentrations of workspace is SMART (and reduces regional traffic – duh)

    • Anonymous says:

      You clearly have no clue.

      It has nothing to do with bad traffic design. It has everything to do with the fact that there is nowhere to route traffic when you are jammed between an estuary, railroad tracks, a freeway, and a shopping center.

      This is not near mass transit, it’s 20 minutes from BART, and there is no concentration of workspace. The area is mostly residential minus retail and retail ain’t gonna let you live in an Emeryville ego tower with a Bay View.

      • ESE says:

        i’m afraid you are sans clue, my anonymous friend.

        have you ever been anywhere with buildings?
        in cities, big buildings are CLOSE TO OTHER THINGS.

        and last time I checked I-80 is a transportation corridor. a big one. it spans the nation for chrissake.
        this project might not be at BART’s doorstep but there are other means of getting around on transit nearby, and with what could/should evolve into a cluster of towers new service can slot in later.

        useless explaining this to you though.

      • Anonymous says:

        So your approach is plopping a massive tower twice the height of everything else in an area that is impossible to enter or exit because of existing immovable boundaries, claiming it’s near a transit corridor because it’s next to the most consistently congested single mile of our freeway system (climate change be damned!!), and saying it’s near things despite it being basically in the gap between a freeway and railroad tracks with virtually no places of work aligned with the likely rent anywhere near it?

        Lordy.

      • ESE says:

        lordy yourself.
        you seem to think that if something major is added, everything else stays the same.

        this little clogged up mess of strip malls, gas stations, corporate hotels and parking lots is currently nothing more than land-banked real estate, many components nearing the end of their useful lives and due for replacement over the next 30 years.

        so add a tower… add several more… up the intensity of office space across the freeway, build a BRT line, add a trolly, create a park, make it inclusive, MAKE A REAL PLACE OUT OF A DISPOSABLE JUNKHEAP.

        this particular tower design is sorta ugly, I’ll give you that. But a cluster of coordinated tall buildings straddling the freeway along Powell would be stunning. And functional.

        stop thwarting everything and get a vision.

      • Anonymous says:

        “MAKE A REAL PLACE OUT OF A DISPOSABLE JUNK HEAP”

        That disposable junk heap is home. The people living here are people who chose that disposable junk heap, non real place, as where they want to live.

        And the disposable junk heap you dislike so much became so popular and people wanted to live here so much that property prices went through the roof…so much so that developers started proposing crazy projects to capitalize on the work others did…and make a big mess of the place in the process.

        If you don’t like the DISPOSABLE JUNK HEAP where we live, maybe you should try to San Francisco. That seems to be what you’re going for.

      • ESE says:

        i’m only referring to the immediate area around Powell and Christie – the specific siting of this project at hand. TO BE ULTRA CRYSTAL CLEAR: i’m not talking about your or anybody’s home / residential neighborhood.

        if you think this mess of an intersection is currently a high quality environment urbanistically … you’re insane.

        if, as I trust you do, think that it’s currently not that great then what I wish you could consider is that “going big” is the best way out of the mess it’s in already. This particular tower’s design is not awesome… but the idea of putting towers in this place at all is a good idea.

        P.S. what you describe is how cities are built. simple as that. the premise of urbanism is people building on the work of others, getting closer together, adding population and creating efficiencies. History of Urbanism 101. It’s not a smooth process, but if what I just described sounds like the apocalypse to you, then you should get the hell outta dodge… you’re already living in your own self-created model of dystopia.

      • Anonymous says:

        It is absolutely not “a disposable junk heap”.

        Not the corner, not the neighborhood, not the businesses that are being displaced. Not the cafe. Not the dance studio. Not the people who eat and work and play there. And all the little places that you are imagining replacing later on, they aren’t “disposable junk heaps” either.

        Nowhere in Emeryville where people live their lives is “a disposable junk heap”. It is a community, and one that people have worked a long time to build and improve.

        You might not like Emeryville. You might want to change it and make it something completely different.

        But there is absolutely nothing about Emeryville that deserves to be called “a disposable junk heap”.

        And if you or anyone else thinks that’s an ok way to describe ANY part of our city, then truly, pack up and go somewhere you like where that’s not the first phrase that comes to mind to describe where you live.

        We don’t need you here.

      • ESE says:

        typical NIMBY perspective – the present is paramount, change equals destruction, big is scary, anyone with an eye for improvement is denigrating the ordinary and honorable.

        my people have been in this neck of the woods at least since appearing on the census in 1880. in their incremental way they literally built the railroads, tracks, docks, bridges. their original neighborhoods are not surprisingly crumbling, and as immigrants themselves they would not have been surprised at how much more massive a place this is currently. they understood need, what to do about it and how urgently.

        what we don’t need around here is you. you who believe that the scale of yesteryear is sacrosanct. go back to whatever shrinking hamlet you so pine for.

      • Anonymous says:

        “anyone with an eye for improvement is denigrating the ordinary and honorable”

        Uh, no.

        But, anyone who freely and unapologetically describes Emeryville or any part of it as “a disposable junk heap” is denigrating the ordinary and honorable and the city of Emeryville.

  15. Anonymous says:

    108 “affordable” units is a joke! We REALLY need housing, and Emeryville could be perfect to fill the bay’s needs, but Omni would need to do better than 15% of units labled “affordable”.
    Plus, proposing a building that is 563 feet over the max height is completely contextualy ignorant!

  16. I don’t want to be a Developer Target says:

    I can’t imagine that there won’t be a huge outcry against this from the entire East Bay 80 corridor.

    I’m certain that the developer is the one trolling here with cries of NIMBY-haters and stopping progress for no good reason —

    Without name calling or exaggerating I can confidently say that there is no way to get this done that would not grind this area to a halt. We already watch traffic that crawls past us at least 8 hours a day –

    People can have dreams of building – I get it. I am not against progress. But I would love some semblance of an idea of what they’re thinking in dealing with traffic – and where Emeryville is going to support the kind of transit that would be necessary?

    We don’t even have good access to BART!

    And this doesn’t even begin to deal with the fact that construction of a building like this would effectively shut down the city for the duration, since it would require a complete overhaul of all of the city’s systems – water, sewer, electricity, etc.

    And then it will be a super expensive all-rental building which will bring lots of people who don’t have a vested interest in keeping this a great place to live.

    If the planning commission doesn’t stop this as a joke right away they are fully sus.

    Tell the developers to come back with a plan that, first and foremost, addresses traffic flow. Then one that follows the height restriction, or a reasonable variance. Then — what services they are going to finance to make this a low impact to the city – will they build a monorail system around the city and to BART? Will they be contributing to allow BART to increase service and security?

    Maybe build a ski-lift type contraption to get over the bridge? LOL

    I like the idea of potentially making Emeryville a “car-free” or zero emissions city – but this outsized building doesn’t have to be built in order to make progress.

    Please – anyone who is reading this – show up to the meeting on Friday. I’ll see you there.

    • ESE says:

      pretty offensive that you presume everyone with an opinion alternative to your own must be a developer plant. having people disagree with you does not make you a “target”.

  17. Anonymous says:

    As for traffic, the site is within walking distance of the Bay Trail, the Capitol Corridor Amtrak route, AC Transit Transbay bus routes, and grocery stores. Traffic is going to happen regardless; it’s better to put this thing in middle of the Bay Area instead of forcing people to commute from Stockton.

    The transaction, design, planning, financing costs of constructing 10 x 5 story building equivalents is much higher than approving 1 x 50 story building to provide the same number of housing units.

    Similar to everyone on this thread, I live nearby the proposed site, in an urban area, that desperately needs housing. If developers want to invest in housing, then we should encourage it AND require that traffic impacts are mitigated.

    Stating the “project is too tall” is analogous to stating the “project provides too much housing”. We should be encouraging more developments that seek density bonuses, more inclusive housing, and public investments.

    • ESE says:

      thank you this heartening display of logic.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Bay Trail is transit? To serve the two people who commute from Emeryville to the Berkeley Marina? And Capitol Corridor? So people can live here and commute to Sacramento? Uh, yep, that’s exactly the opposite of what we need.

      And you mention walking distance to grocery stores…plural? Nope. They may not have updated your handy developer guide yet, but that other grocery store decided to back out. So you’ve just got Trader Joe’s. Maybe residents can make the trip to Pak n Save on Amtrak.

      And no, the cost and time wasted on this will be obscene. There are realistic projects that conform to Emeryville’s city plan that are a better use of everyone’s time. Rebuilding the entire city infrastructure to support some developer’s profiteering wet dream, not so much.

      BTW, developers willing to invest in housing in the East Bay are dime a dozen. You can’t shake a tree without a developer falling out asking for a variance. Fortunately, most of them have the good sense to propose projects that are a) appropriately scaled, b) located in a place where traffic mitigation is possible without building a 3 story monorail or a ski lift, and c) have carefully avoided suggesting the jamming of a 54 story, wide angle rectal probe up our city’s tightest and most inaccessible cavity.

      The planning commission should come prepared with Google directions from Emeryville to San Francisco and tell the skyscraper and developer both to take a hike. I hear the Bay Trail is very nice this time of year.

      • ESE says:

        again with Anonymous’s shortsightedness…
        one grocery store pulled out AND NEVER CAN ANOTHER BE ADDED!!! (oooh you got us there!)

        not.

        that New Seasons space will be filled with a store in time… *especially* if the customer base within a quarter mile increases.

        the cost and time spent on this project that, yes, will likely get the boot (due to you and your short-sighted friends stalling anything outside of your feeble imaginations) will be wasteful.

        speaking of wasteful… meanwhile development pours into Tracy, obliterates farmland, 580 jams solid at 3am for people trying to pay their bills by selling you your eggnog latte at the Powell Plaza Starbucks.

        PS yes people do commute on the Bay Trail, and more would do so if homes and work were adjacent.

      • Anonymous says:

        “You’ve got us there!”

        Who is “us”?

      • ESE says:

        take your lithium. your paranoia is returning and clouding your judgement.

  18. Mark B. says:

    If you drive down Hollis towards Berkeley between 1 and 7 P.M. you are sure to come to the conclusion that we need a moratorium or at least a slow down on building, not a 54 story high rise. The fact that you would consider such a building means that you probably don’t live in Emeryville.

  19. Anonymous says:

    A feeble imagination is what designed this monster. An artist designs to the constraints. The more constraints, the more creative they get to innovate within them.

    The unimaginative take something they’ve seen somewhere else and try to transplant it to a new place, no matter how bad the fit.

    • ESE says:

      partial agreement. aesthetically this design could be muuuuch better.

      but the more constraints, the more likely to stall, waste time, fizzle, and result in no housing. (per your apparent plan to block from the outset)

      a community can be supportive of the premise without supporting the envelope; in such a circumstance a developer’s design team can see an opportunity to improve details having cleared the fundamental hurdles.
      just sayin… it happens.

      • Anonymous says:

        The community is supportive of the premise of building housing.

        Change the envelope to be appropriately scaled for the location: not twice the height of the next largest building in Emeryville, not one of the largest buildings in the state, and not even one of the largest buildings in Emeryville given the traffic issues around that location.

        The fundamental hurdle is that the building is too damn big by a factor of at least 100%.

        Fix that fundamental hurdle, and then we can all talk design.

  20. Anonymous says:

    This should surely be a non-starter. The reasons are obvious as have been stated here.

    I would guess there would be mass protests if this moves forward unless it is chopped by about 75%. anan

  21. anonymous says:

    The Christie, Powell area is already gridlocked during many morning and afternoon hours. So by all means, add a few thousand residents, a few dozen businesses and make it completely innavigable.

  22. Sue Rombach Kelly says:

    Love all those parking spaces inside the building…3000 from both buildings. How will they get out of them onto the streets which are overflowing with Freeway entrants every morning & evening. Also we just happen to have 2 fault lines running nearby and counting traffic in both directions there are 6-7 freeways & if you want to count the Richmond Bridge traffic there’s 1 & 101 as well!! Plus… Watergate is built on fill..will this one go down to bedrock?
    this is a really poor idea. Emeryville is a perfect small town as it is!! Let’s keep it that way.

  23. Hunza says:

    Why is no one here addressing the fact that this area is going to be subject to sea level rise within a decade or so… w exceedingly inadequate foundation near two fault lines…A quake will liquefy the land here…FFS….where are the core samples from the geologist or whoever checks to see if a site is sound enough to build this monstrosity to someone’s ego…a Canadian developer…FFS! Any new building here should not include any parking…the trend is to use public transit/walking/cycling to reduce gridlock.

  24. Erin says:

    Any updates on what happened at the Planning Commission meeting last week?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Watch out Emeryville. Your corrupt little government will sell you out again. The developer pay offs should surface if any concerned citizens demand accounting for all projects and look for the payoffs. After living in Emeryville for 25 years and participating in local politics from day one, it became apparent that it was a Wareham company town. All community input is a facade. They will do what they want. Someone is getting their pockets lined…

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