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Supporters Confident They Can Raise Funds For New Central Library

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The San Diego City Council gave approval on Monday to a plan to build a new Central Library in the East Village. How will the new facility be an upgrade over the current Central Library? And, where will the additional $32.5 million come from to complete the project? We speak to Mayor Jerry Sanders, the director of the San Diego Public Library, and the vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. After years of planning and proposals, lobbying and fundraising, proponents of a new central library in downtown San Diego finally have something to celebrate. This Monday, the San Diego City Council gave its approval for the $185 million construction project to start on the corner of Park Boulevard and J Street in the East Village. Supporters successfully made the point that after spending millions on planning for the project, it would be a wise move for the city to move forward now, with almost all the funding in place. Opponents say the $32 million gap in funding may come back to haunt city taxpayers. We have a number of guests to talk about this week's landmark decision on the downtown library. First, I'd like to welcome San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, a major supporter of the library project. Mayor Sanders, good morning.

JERRY SANDERS (Mayor, City of San Diego): Good morning, Maureen. How are you?

CAVANAUGH: I’m great. You must feel pretty good about this.

SANDERS: Well, I do. I think this was really a complete community-driven process where the community got out and said we want this library, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, we’ve raised money, it’s time to move ahead. And I think the council listened to them and I’m gratified that the council did.

CAVANAUGH: There are people, you know, who are still not convinced that taking on a major construction project is the right thing for the City to do when city services have been cut and the state is still facing budget deficits. I’m wondering, what do you say to those arguments that remain?

SANDERS: Well, I think those are easy arguments to make but they don’t always make a lot of sense. And this is money that does not come out of our general fund, that this cannot be used for other police and fire and libraries for the branches. This is money that comes from donors. The donors certainly aren’t saying use this money for anything you want. They’re saying we want a library built. It’s also coming from the San Diego Unified School District, $20 million for a couple of floors for this to actually be a high school. It’s coming from a state grant that would go back to the state were it not used for this. And it’s coming from redevelopment money that can’t be used for any other city services, so I think this is a perfect time to do this while construction costs are low and while we have the momentum going, and I have every confidence that the group – Mel Katz and Judith Harris have led a wonderful fundraising effort and I have every confidence that we’ll be able to raise that last bit of money fairly easily.

CAVANAUGH: Mayor Sanders, what is it about this library construction you think that is significant for San Diego?

SANDERS: Well, I think, number one, it becomes a symbol of learning for the entire city. In other cities that have put in downtown libraries, they have found that it becomes the meeting place for the city where events are held, where lectures are held, where all sorts of things happen. It’s also right in the middle of a lot of areas where there are a lot of kids who are going to use that library. And I think there was something like 32 or 36 schools of one type or another within a few mile radius of this area. Kids will use this library, and I think it’s a symbol for those kids that we value the learning that takes place there.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. We’re talking about the newly approved construction for a new central downtown library in San Diego. You know, a lot of people have asked why are we building a central library when we can’t even afford to keep our branch libraries open every day. How do you respond to that? Because, you know, there’s a lot of frustration out there of that.

SANDERS: Well, there is, and I don’t blame people for that. But we’ve been very up front with them and we have told them that, you know, we’re going through a tight time. The difference is, though, is that this library, the money that’s being used for it could not be used to keep the other libraries open, and that’s what we talk about when we talk about different funding sources. Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t spend the money that we’re going to be spending on this project to keep other projects open or other libraries open. What this does do, I think it bodes well for the library system, though, in that we have seen donors come forward, and I think that that bodes well for the system in the future and I think the fundraising that’s being done here is kind of a cornerstone for other fundraising efforts that affect every library in the city.

CAVANAUGH: There are concerns that the City might have to foot the bill for the remaining construction costs, that $32 million gap, or future operating expenses for the library.

SANDERS: Well, we actually have very sophisticated donors and $10 million of the money that’s been donated so far of the $40 million that’s been raised, is actually for the first five years of operational costs so that it doesn’t come out of other libraries. And I think that’s how sophisticated the donors are. They realize the City’s in a tight place for at least the next five years and they’re putting money aside for those operational costs. The other part of it is, is that we see that the donors are also making sure that there’s a widespread effort, and I think that really helps us out as we move forward also.

CAVANAUGH: What about, though, after that, that period of time, that five years, when you are out of office, Mayor Sanders. Will other administrations have to try to find that $2.8 million to keep the library running?

SANDERS: You know, I think that we’re in the worst economic times we’ve ever been. And when you look at city government, state governments, governments all over, we’re finding this is the absolute worst time ever. In 2013, when the library opens, we’ll have those five years of costs, and by 2018 I would suspect the City will be in pretty good financial shape as we continue to grow along with the rest of the economy. And at that point, it’s up to the decision makers to decide how they want to spend the money but I think that libraries will always be a very important part of that equation.

CAVANAUGH: My final question to you, Mayor Sanders, is the fact that there’s so many projects being talked about right now. Lots of San Diegans might have their heads spinning because of all the new building projects being talked about for downtown San Diego. We’ve got the city hall, convention center, we have the library that’s just been approved and perhaps the Chargers stadium. And it seems like just a short time ago we were talking about the possibility of San Diego going bankrupt. So how are voters supposed to make sense of this building boom?

SANDERS: Well, and that’s my job, is to let people know how we fund these things. And only one of them comes out of the general fund, which is what we pay for police and fire and the other ones out of, and that’s the new civic center that we’re proposing today to Rules Committee. And that actually saves the general fund money every single year over spending $13 million a year on rent or payments less than that on a new scaled down city hall where all city employees actually work in that city hall. On the other projects, that’s redevelopment money or it’s money that comes from the industries and it can’t be used for anything else. Even if people wanted to, you simply could not use it for anything else. It’ll be my job to get out and educate the community on how that works and why it’s a good time to do it now. We’re actually creating construction jobs. The library, I believe, is about 1400 good construction jobs in San Diego. The civic center would be 2300 construction jobs. And construction costs are at a historic low right now so it’s a good time to do these projects as we move forward.

CAVANAUGH: Mayor Sanders, thanks so much for your time this morning. I appreciate it.

SANDERS: Thank you, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, and we’re talking about the approval for the brand new downtown library in San Diego. I’d like to welcome a couple of new guests. Mel Katz is vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation. Mel, good morning.

MEL KATZ (Vice Chair, San Diego Public Library Foundation): Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: And Deborah Barrow is director of the San Diego Public Library. Deborah, good morning.

DEBORAH BARROW (Director, San Diego Public Library): Good morning.

CAVANAUGH: We’d like to invite our listeners also to join the conversation. Are you excited that a downtown library project is finally getting off the ground? Or do you think taxpayers are going to get stuck with the bill? Give us a call with your questions or your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. And, Mel and Deborah, I’m going to give you a moment just to celebrate.

KATZ: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: You two have been – I know, Mel, you’ve been at this quite some time. Give us a little bit of a history of the push for this project.

KATZ: The project has been talked about in San Diego since 1977 and every mayor that came along talked about a new library. It started with Maureen O’Connor wanted to build it at Lane Field, the storybook library. Then Susan Golding had it on Kettner Boulevard. Then Dick Murphy came up with the plan of $312 million to do a central and branch libraries. And Jerry Sanders, when he got elected, which was only four and a half years ago, he said to us, and the majority of the city council said to us, if you can raise enough money without using any general fund money, any bonding, any new taxes, we can build this library and we can do it in two phases. Phase one is the entire outside of the building. It will be complete, and we need $153 million. Phase two, which isn’t going to start until 2012, we need $32 million. And we’ve done it. We came up with $153 million and last Monday the city council voted six-to-two to go ahead with this project. It was an amazing, amazing day.

CAVANAUGH: Deborah, I understand that one of the reasons you’re back here in San Diego is because of the promise, the hope, for this new central library downtown.

BARROW: Absolutely. I’m a native San Diegan but I’ve been away for several years working in other libraries. And every time this project came up, I thought, wow, San Diego needs this library. When are we going to get our new library? A position opens and I am so fortunate to be the library director right now when the council approves, when the mayor says yes, to go forward with this new library. So I’m very proud of San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Mel, even though Mayor Sanders gave us that rundown and we’ve seen the rundown of where the money is coming from in news reports and we’ve heard you talk about it on a number of occasions, it still seems hard for people to believe that there’s really no money coming from taxpayers. I guess you could say that the state money is coming from taxpayers and the school money is coming from taxpayers but no additional funds. It seems hard to believe.

KATZ: But it really is true. And, really, this isn’t smoke and mirrors. The $80 million from CCDC is redevelopment dollars. It has to be used downtown. $20 million from the state is bonds that have already been sold. We competed for it and we succeeded and got the largest grant, $20 million. The school district, Prop S bonds, sold, has to be used for a school, downtown needs a new high school. And $30.8 million in private dollars from donors who had the vision that this could be a major, major thing – asset for San Diego, and they came forward without even knowing there was going to be a project. $153 million, enough for the whole first phase.

CAVANAUGH: And we’ll talk about that second phase in a minute but I just want to take a couple of phone calls. There are a lot of people who want to get involved in our conversation. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Dierdre is calling us from Allied Gardens. Good morning, Dierdre. Welcome to These Days.

DIERDRE (Caller, Allied Gardens): Good morning. I just wanted to say that my Allied Gardens branch has been busier than I’ve ever seen it and while I support a new downtown library, I just wanted to know how this central library is going to support or impact my local branch?

CAVANAUGH: I think that’s for you, Deborah.

BARROW: It is. And thank you for asking that question. It is very important for us to have a robust central library to support a library like Allied Gardens. As you know, it’s a small library but as you’ve just mentioned, it’s very busy. To get all of the materials that you want and to have the support that you need there in terms of the computers and making sure that they’re up and running, in terms of the story times that you might want to have there, etcetera, all of those things are support mechanisms that are provided by our central library, and the books and the materials that you want. You can’t hold them all there at Allied Gardens. But we have them and we move them for free when people ask to have them transferred to a place where they can pick them up or where they’d like to pick them up.

CAVANAUGH: We have another question about branch libraries from Michael in Pacific Beach. Good morning, Michael. Welcome to These Days.

MICHAEL (Caller, Pacific Beach): Good morning, Maureen. I – You know, you kind of answered what I was worried about earlier when you said that the branch libraries that, you know, have very limited hours now. My thought on the central library is that the time for this was 10 years ago. I mean, in the last part of the 20th century, that’s when books went out and the internet came in. And now it’s time for us to distribute knowledge across the board. To have a central library in downtown now and not even have it completely paid for, perhaps we should’ve had the developers, when they were doing, you know, NTC, when they were at the Naval Training Center, turning it into a developers’ village, they should’ve had a central library then. But now, I mean, we – our kids don’t even read anymore. And without branch libraries open so that people can access the internet, they can’t even apply for jobs.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

MICHAEL: So what are we doing downtown?

CAVANAUGH: Michael, thank you for that. And I want to give you both a chance to comment. We’re running up against a break so let me go to you first, Deborah.

BARROW: Well, thank you. I want to say that books are in. I have heard reports from throughout the nation that libraries are being used more now than ever. And certainly in our own experience in San Diego Public Library System, this is a historical high for the checkouts, the circulation of our materials, 7.6 million items last fiscal year, the most that we’ve ever circulated. So books are in. And, yes, the internet is in, too, and we, the San Diego Public Library, are in the forefront of providing internet access to our community members. The downtown central library, the new central library, compared to our 84 computers that are available for the public, will have 400 computers. There are people out there waiting to use this asset.

CAVANAUGH: We do have to take a break. Mel, we’ll come right back to you when we return. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Monday, the San Diego City Council gave its approval for construction to start on a new central library in downtown San Diego. My guests are Mel Katz, vice chair of the San Diego Public Library Foundation, and Deborah Barrow is director of the San Diego Public Library. We’re taking your calls about this new landmark structure about to be under – shovel ready in downtown San Diego. 1-888-895-5727. Mel, let me give you a chance to respond to the argument that basically libraries are past their prime.

KATZ: And, you know, Michael has an opinion that so many people do and it’s really, you know, not, you know, really valid. When you look at the Library of Congress in Washington, less than 1% of their material is online. People love to come in, they love to browse. And when they go to look for one book, one book brings another book which brings another book. Deborah mentioned how this new library will have 400 computers. The Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation just did a study and that study showed that 50% of all teenagers use their library computer as their main computer to get on the internet. People don’t all have computers. Our branches have them. But we will have more in this central library and it will be a gathering place, a meeting place and a technology advanced place.

CAVANAUGH: Deborah, you told us how you envision the new central library will help the branch libraries around San Diego. How is the present central library with its limited facilities perhaps hurting the branch libraries around San Diego?

BARROW: It really is difficult to operate in a 1950s building in a modern day when your population has grown so much and libraries have become so much more integral to the public and to our daily lives. So what we have in our central library is a place that is not large enough, it’s not enough space for people, it’s not enough space for the books, it’s not enough space for the computers. If we start with people, you can’t have a meeting there. That’s what people need to do now. They want to attend a cultural event, they want to hear authors, etcetera. They want to be able to study in a quiet space. They can’t do that in our current facility. If you look at books, we’ve got about half of our materials in basements because we’ve grown over the years and we have those needs and we want to send the materials out to the branches when people need them but those books are not available for people to browse, as Mel just described. And then there are the computers. People want to use computers. There’s a rush every morning to get into the library to use our computers. There are not enough of them. But I also want to correct the idea that it’s only people without access at home who come to the library. A study recently, the same study that Mel just referred to by Bill and Melinda Gates, funded by them through the Institute of Museum and Library Services, had found that 69% of Americans are using their libraries and half of them use the libraries for the internet and then 27% or 22%, I can’t quite remember, don’t have access at home. That means all the other folks do have access at home and are still coming to the library to have high speed access, to also use the connectivity to special resources that we have online.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take some calls. Lisa is calling us from Carmel Valley. Good morning, Lisa. Welcome to These Days.

LISA (Caller, Carmel Valley): Good morning. I had a follow-up question for the panel in terms of technology. Computers aside, so many books are being made available in digital format and with space being a concern, are there any plans to create a digital learning environment at this new library?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Lisa.

BARROW: Absolutely. We have a digital library now and we certainly plan to have a better one in the new central library. As I mentioned, we will have 400 computers but in addition to that, we subscribe to special online resources that allow people to do research, very targeted research, that gives them the answer that they need, the right answer, not the answer that my nephew wrote about surfing in OB but instead an answer from someone who is truly an expert. Now, my nephew, he’s good, but he’s not an expert. And what you want sometimes is to find out the expert answer, and that’s what we will provide. We have e-books, we will have even more. But remember that everything isn’t out there already on – in digital format. It is gaining, that’s true, but we’ve got a million items in our library right now and many of those are not digitized and will not be anytime soon.

CAVANAUGH: Mel, remind us what’s going to be inside this new central downtown library.

KATZ: You’re going to enter either from 10th Ave – 11th Avenue or 12th, which is Park Boulevard, and you’re going to enter into a large garden. And from this garden, there’s going to be a coffeeshop out there. There’ll be no doors on the library. They’ll be completely folded into the walls. So you won’t know if you’re in the garden or in the lobby. The children’s area in this library will be 15,000 square feet. That’s almost as big as some of our branches. Deborah mentioned the meeting rooms and how there are no meeting rooms today, there’ll be six meeting rooms in this library. There’ll be 29 individual study rooms in this library. We’ll have a 350 seat auditorium with state of the art technology and then we’ll have a 400 seat multipurpose room on the up – on the very top floor that can be configured any way that people want.

CAVANAUGH: And what about the people’s garden? Where is that?

KATZ: The one that we just talked about…

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

KATZ: …on the downstairs and then on the very top floor there’s going to be a sculpture garden and an art gallery. So it’s interesting. Michael was from Pacific Beach and when he called, our library there has every six weeks a new art installation, the same thing will be done here with local artists and it’s going to be a sculpture court and an art gallery.

CAVANAUGH: And yet that inside of the library is the part of the funding that we don’t have secured yet. How certain are you, Mel, that you’re going to actually be able to raise $32 million from private donors to finish off the library?

KATZ: I am just so confident about it. And it’s just so hard to describe why is someone confident about something like that. You know, number one, we’ve raised $40.8 million, $30.8 for the building and $10 million for the operating from people that didn’t even know we had a project. All of a sudden, you’re going to see steel coming out of the ground. We had three top nonprofit people come and testify at the city council, the head of the Contemporary Art Museum, the head of the new Children’s Museum, and the head of development for the zoo, they all said that they raised 60% of their dollars once people knew there was a project. There’s a project. The mayor is behind this. He wants monthly reports from us, and he’s willing to go on any fundraising calls we want. And then you saw the names of our donors. We have already, through them, they have gotten contact from different people who’ve said, your gift was so inspirational, we are now going to make a gift to the new central library. And, last, Judith Harris and I, backed up by 14 other foundation members, raised the money without it being a project. It’s a project now. We will raise this money and we have until 2012 to raise it.

CAVANAUGH: Right, because that’s when you have to start furnishing the inside.

KATZ: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s – We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And if you’d like to, you can comment online at KPBS.org/thesedays. Let’s take a couple of callers because our lines are pretty full. Bernie is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Bernie. Welcome to These Days.

BERNIE (Caller, San Diego): Morning. Good morning. I wanted to congratulate Mel and Judith Harris and Deborah for their leadership in this project. I’m a donor to this project. I have worked my entire life in human resources and I know that literacy is absolutely related to people getting higher paying jobs, and libraries will help do that. I’d like to ask, though, the question to Mel as to the number of jobs and the types of jobs that will be created as a result of this project getting started and that impact it could have on the San Diego economy.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Bernie.

KATZ: Thanks, Bernie. This is a shovel ready project like Maureen said. On July 28th, we are going to break ground and people will actually see bulldozers and work starting on this project. Over 1400 people are going to be put to work and over 700 of those are construction jobs. And 90% of those workers are going to be local workers. This is going to be something that helps stimulate the San Diego economy.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you, Mel, the same question that I asked Mayor Sanders. I know that you have your operating costs set for 5 years after the library opens but does that revert to the City, that $2.8 estimated operating cost money revert to the City after that 5-year gift is finished?

KATZ: You have to remember that the $5 million in operating, $1 million – $10 million, $2 million a year for the first 5 years, plus parking, plus other rental revenue, will be taking this library up until 2019.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

KATZ: I think that this is going to be a whole different economic picture for the City of San Diego but also, it is going to be giving us in the foundation who raise money for all the branch libraries and the central library time to raise more money so that we can start an endowment. We would love to have this never have to go back to the general fund but if it has to, it won’t be until 2019.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s talk with Robert calling us from Normal Heights. Good morning, Robert. Welcome to These Days.

ROBERT (Caller, Normal Heights): Good morning. I – I’m calling, I’m actually a business operator in the East Village area and my wife is a librarian so for me this is a really exciting project to see get underway. My question is, if you’ve ever been to the downtown library, you’ll understand that the homeless population that really does cause a certain degree of concern and obviously moving into the East Village, I mean, the same homeless population is there. So what is the City doing to kind of address this as a simultaneous issue? You know, how do we go forward in building this library and at the same time addressing what’s going on in East Village?

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Robert. What about that, Deborah?

BARROW: Well, you know, the City is addressing that right now. In fact, it was in the newspaper this morning, discussions about how we can help the homeless and what sort of facilities can be provided for them, so that’s something that will be answered by the City. But in addition to that, this library is going to be a draw for many, many people, many more people. Right now we get about, I would say maybe, 1500 visitors per day. When we have this new library, we anticipate will be as many as 4000. Other libraries similar to our new central library experience as many as 6000 to 8000 per day. So you’re going to see many more people using the central library.

CAVANAUGH: And you do expect that members of the homeless population will use this library, though.

BARROW: Our library is open to everyone so, yes, and it is a beacon of knowledge, it is a center for learning and it may, in fact, inspire people. We have found that some have reported that they’ve been able to get jobs because they’re applying online. We know that jobs are scarce. There are people also, though, who are learning new skills by using the library.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. John is calling us from downtown. Good morning, John. Welcome to These Days.

JOHN (Caller, Downtown San Diego): Thank you. Congratulations, Mel and Deborah. I had two questions. One, how many branch libraries are in the system currently? And how many new and renovated libraries have – projects have benefited since the foundation’s formation? Secondly, when is the groundbreaking and who can attend?

BARROW: Oh, wow. Thank you. We have 35 branch libraries, and we have opened 7 since I’ve been at the City of San Diego. We’ve opened one more just before I came on board. We opened the North University Library, lovely library in the northern area of San Diego. And we opened last year our Logan Heights Library, beautiful library in the southern part of San Diego. We’re really proud of what’s happened here in San Diego in terms of branch libraries.

KATZ: And the Library Foundation, which raises money for the central but also for all the branches, were responsible for raising the dollars for these 7 libraries that opened. And as far as groundbreaking, it’s going to be on July 28th, a Wednesday, at ten o’clock in the morning right at the library site, which will be on 11th and J and it’s open to the public. And it is going to be a great celebration.

CAVANAUGH: You know, the City of Seattle recently built a new central library in their downtown. I wonder – wondering what we might have learned from that project, good and bad, about perhaps cost overruns or any problems they might have encountered or what – how it’s been received since it’s been open.

KATZ: One thing that we learned is that it’s a great comparison because they had an old library that was over 50 years old like our old library, plus the same size. They were getting the same 650,000 people a year that we’re getting. Their new library is getting two million people a year. Deborah’s number, about 4000 people a day, that is what Seattle is getting. So it is fantastic what it’s doing. And I’m sure Deborah can talk about some of the things that they learned there but one of the things is you have to be flexible. When they opened, they didn’t have a big enough computer center, so they had to, therefore, be able to expand the walls, and the walls were not easy to expand. We have learned from that and we will be very flexible.

CAVANAUGH: And Deborah?

BARROW: I – We are so gratified to have the Seattle Public Library as an example for us to look at and follow, and we’ve certainly been in contact with the folks there. The big thing we learned is that, yes, people still want to go to their libraries in record numbers, they want to check out materials, they want to use the computers. And, therefore, we will have 400 computers in our new library. We will also have a technology center where people can actually have classes. We will have a homework center, a teen center. All of these elements, we’ve found other libraries similar to the one we’re building have been very popular. And, of course, the children’s room, that’s the first place that children are introduced to literacy.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

KATZ: And Seattle’s library is the – their new one is the same size as our new library.

CAVANAUGH: So it really is a very good point of comparison. Let me ask you, Mel, run us through again the timeline that we’re looking at now before we can actually enjoy this brand new central library downtown.

KATZ: July 28th, groundbreaking, then it will take 3 years to build the entire library. We should be open on July of 2013 to actually walk through the doors. We, at the Library Foundation, have until January or February of 2012, 20 months from now, to raise $32.5 million dollars. We raised the original money, enough for phase one. We are not going into the general fund. This does not affect branches. This does not affect fire or police. We will raise the $32.5. Judith Harris, who raised the money for your KPBS Center right here, and I can guarantee you we will work on it and we’re backed up by the mayor, by the council, and by 14 people on the Library Foundation.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much for coming in and speaking with me today, Mel Katz and Deborah Barrow, and congratulations to both of you.

BARROW: Thank you so much.

KATZ: Thank you so much.

CAVANAUGH: If you’d like to comment, please go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, more on downtown construction projects with KPBS political correspondent Gloria Penner. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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