Descanso Seminar on Fire-Safe Landscapes Draws a Crowd

Clearing vegetation around the house and proper plant selection were among the recommendations for creating fire-safe landscapes at a seminar on Saturday hosted by Descanso Gardens.
The two-part program, titled “Designing for Danger,” had a sold-out crowd of about 50 people, said Cassy Aoyagi, president of FormLA Landscaping.
Attendees David and Darlene Spence said they have lived in LCF for more than 30 years and wanted to learn more about the topic.
“We’re not horticulturists,” Darlene Spence said. “We’re not hobby gardeners. We hire someone to cut the grass … so we are not particularly knowledgeable about native anything.”
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School Board OKs Financial Figures

The La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted on Tuesday to approve a summary of district revenue and expenditures for the 2017-18 fiscal year, including an unaudited fund balance that increased by about $2.1 million from the previous fiscal year.
The California Education Code requires that unaudited financial information for the previous year be submitted to the board and the county Office of Education by Sept. 15, according to a report from Mark Evans, assistant superintendent of administration and business services.
Even though the previous fiscal year ended on June 30, final totals are not completed by the district and the Office of Education until the end of August, Evans wrote. A state-approved firm then audits the reports and documentation, and everything is finalized for submission to the LCUSD board and the state by Dec. 15.
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Helping LCF’s Target Store Put Down Some Roots

Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK Target is on track to open in La Cañada Flintridge by mid-October.
Photo by Wes Woods II / OUTLOOK
Target is on track to open in La Cañada Flintridge by mid-October.

With new signage going up this week, a Target store is on track to open in October as the chain puts down roots for the first time in La Cañada Flintridge, with help from an LCF native who will manage the new location.
Store team leader Geoffrey Weaver, 29, grew up in LCF, graduated from La Cañada High School in 2007, and said he’s excited to be working in his hometown, which, he added, has been welcoming.
“The community response has been really positive,” said Weaver. “It makes things easier.”
The store remains on schedule for a VIG (Very Important Guest) opening on Oct. 16 and a grand opening on Oct. 21, with a “non-publicized” soft opening in between.
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Legislature Passes Portantino’s Bill on School Start Time

California lawmakers have approved Senate Bill 328, the school start-time proposal authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge), with the legislation passing the state Assembly and Senate late Friday.
The bill now waits to be signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, who has until Sept. 30 to make his decision.
The legislation would require all public middle and high schools in California to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., a policy that the La Cañada Unified School District implemented in 2017-18. Research has shown that the later start helps teens get more sleep, do better in school and have improved mental health.
“I am beyond thrilled that our children’s health came first today,” Portantino said in a statement. “It is fundamental to put the well-being of our students first, and I am glad that this important measure is moving forward. From Day One, this has been my top priority. The science and results are clear; our teens are healthier and perform better when school starts later.”
Portantino authored SB 328 last year, basing it on research and the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The organization issued a policy statement advising school districts to change the school day start time to no earlier than 8:30, specifically for middle schools and high schools. Studies have confirmed that insufficient sleep in teenagers poses a public health risk. A later start time has resulted in more on-time attendance, higher grades and graduation rates, Portantino argued.
“Every year we discuss as parents, educators and legislators the best practices for our children and their education. The data on this measure is clear and that is starting the school day at a later time improves the quality of education, health and welfare of our children. So let’s do it,” Portantino added.
Whether Brown will sign the bill remains to be seen, a spokeswoman for the senator said Wednesday. The bill failed to pass last year after intense debate, and the California Teachers Association and California School Boards Association have reportedly opposed it, saying it creates an unfair burden for working parents.
“We really don’t know at this point which way he will teeter-totter,” said Yvonne Vasquez, Portantino’s press secretary.

Operation Walk’s Global Work Puts Lives Back in Stride

Photo courtesy Camilla Ward La Cañada Flintridge residents Dr. Paul Gilbert (right) and his wife, Cindy, a registered nurse, visit a patient during a medical mission to Havana. Gilbert is the medical director for Operation Walk and an orthopedic surgeon at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.
Photo courtesy Camilla Ward
La Cañada Flintridge residents Dr. Paul Gilbert (right) and his wife, Cindy, a registered nurse, visit a patient during a medical mission to Havana. Gilbert is the medical director for Operation Walk and an orthopedic surgeon at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

The moment a physically disabled patient can stand and walk for the first time without pain is one that Dr. Lawrence Dorr never tires of witnessing. As an international leader in the field of orthopedics, Dorr has sought to give that gift of mobility and hope to as many as possible, including those who otherwise would never be able to afford it, in some of the most remote places of the world. Through Operation Walk, the former longtime La Cañada Flintridge resident found the vehicle that would take him around the globe and change lives — not just of those able to walk again, but of everyone who shares in the experience.
“The smiles that spread across their faces are something you never forget — their whole face just lights up,” said Dorr, who founded the organization in 1994 with just a small medical team to perform free knee and hip replacements. “For a person who goes from being completely dependent on others to having that independence again, it’s an incredibly uplifting thing.”
Now, Operation Walk has performed some 12,000 surgeries across 12 countries and has about 20 chapters across the U.S. and in Canada, Ireland and Greece. The nonprofit, now called Operation Walk Los Angeles to distinguish it from the other chapters, is also working on developing a national headquarters to be run through the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons.
“I think we’ve moved on from our small ‘mom and pop’ operation,” Dorr said during a recent interview, noting that the national presence will make it easier for people to begin their own chapters and have a central place to get information about countries they might wish to visit.
“Anything we can do to grow the operation and help more people is fantastic,” he added. “These people go from being crippled to walking again … it’s something they never thought would happen. Many are too poor to ever have afforded to travel to a place to get the surgery, much less pay for the surgery itself. For them, it’s kind of like a miracle drops out of the sky.”
Part of the nonprofit’s exponential growth in such a short time is very simple, Dorr emphasized: People fall in love with the work, and want to start their own chapters upon returning to the states.
Dr. Paul Gilbert, an LCF resident and an orthopedic surgeon at USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, was one of those early converts. He and his wife, Cindy, a registered nurse, began taking trips with the group in 2005.
“We were immediately hooked. It really takes you back to the basics of why you wanted to be a doctor in the first place,” recalled Gilbert, who is Operation Walk L.A.’s medical director. “There is simply a patient who is suffering and we are able to fix it and take away their pain. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
In underdeveloped countries, facilities for people with disabilities are limited, and a person who cannot walk can be seen as an outcast in different parts of the world. They’re typically unable to work, causing further economic stress on their already impoverished families, Gilbert noted.
“When they get these surgeries they get their life back and can go back to feeling they’re productive and a part of society and a part of their family again,” he said.
Gilbert has helped to galvanize an Operation Walk medical team from USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, and earlier this year a group of about 10 went to Managua, Nicaragua. The missions also help train USC-VHH staff.
“We have tremendous challenges and the things we learn from each other make us better surgeons when we come home. We get as much out of it as the people we help, if not more,” he said.
A lot goes into just one medical trip, which can involve a team of up to 60, including surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, anesthesiologists and badly needed “lay” volunteers to help with the transportation. The nonprofit takes all of its operating equipment “down to the last Band-Aid,” Dorr said, and that can add up to 9,000 pounds of medical supplies.
The trips are often fraught with challenges, with many of the target countries lacking sufficient infrastructure to support hospitals. On one trip to the Philippines, Dorr recalled, the power went out in the middle of a surgery, so he did the knee replacement with the nurse holding a flashlight over his shoulder. On a trip to Nepal, there was no power from the get-go, so Dorr did everything with manual instruments, forgoing the usual power saws and drills.
“You really learn how to make decisions on the fly, how to improvise,” he noted. “We were shocked at first to see the conditions in some of these places.”
The idea of Operation Walk came to Dorr during a medical teaching trip to Russia, where at a Moscow hospital “there were weeds up to my knees.” The other doctors were hungry for the newest operating expertise, and he came away thinking that if a country as powerful as Russia couldn’t support first-rate hip and knee replacements, other poorer nations must fare far worse.
The team’s first trip to Cuba was an eye-opener, Dorr recounted, after the group found that the hospital’s sterilization process was incorrect. After much negotiation, the hospital stationed a soldier at each machine to watch the team as it tried to correct the system. Going forward, Dorr learned that navigating the politics turned out to be just as tricky as getting the medical trip into place. Bribes or “tariffs” often were requested to allow the medical supplies to go through customs.
Once, the team tried to do a trip to Mexico, but couldn’t even get its supplies across the border without a hefty fee. Even after intervention by the health minister, border officials wouldn’t budge. Dorr’s team never went back.
“I still see the face of the man I was going to operate on, this little old man, he’d been so excited. It’s still sad when I think about it,” Dorr recalled.
Due to incidents like that the nonprofit learned to create contacts and sources in each country — “angels,” as they are dubbed — who can help pull some strings if the group runs into trouble.
The nonprofit has also counted on its tireless volunteers from the beginning. Jeri Ward, the organization’s coordinator, and Mary Ellen Sieben, the operating room director, “have been the backbone of the operation,” Dorr noted. Together, the two registered nurses have taught all the other chapters the ins and outs of carrying out medical missions, and they also arrange all of Operation Walk L.A.’s medical trips, even making pre-planning visits to find qualified patients and scout hospital facilities.
“Dr. Dorr gave me a lot of confidence in the beginning. He taught me to just jump in and do it — with him, it’s like failure is not an option,” said Ward, who noted that she loves returning to countries to see the doctors and nurses they’ve worked with in the past. “It’s really like a big family of operating teams; we all learn from each other. I’ve met so many incredible people.”
Dorr also loves the simplicity of the medical missions.
“It brings you back to the romance of helping people, the reason that drives people to study so hard and get through medical school,” he said. “Sometimes you get into medicine [and] it’s a lot of bureaucratic work, there are so many regulations and rules — you can lose sight of the patient. These trips bring back that simple romance of just helping people.”
Gilbert noted that Dorr is an icon in the orthopedic world, not just for his humanitarian work but for his pioneering research in the industry. Outside of his nonprofit work, Dorr is a professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and an international leader in joint replacement. His pioneering research has aided in the design of widely used orthopedic implants, as well as small incisions and the use of computer navigation for total hip replacement. An international speaker and author, Dorr has also received the Humanitarian of the Year Award from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons for founding Operation Walk.
“He would be the first one to go into the orthopedic hall of fame if there were one,” Gilbert said.
This year, Dorr will be honored at Operation Walk’s annual fundraiser on Oct. 6 at the California Club. The fundraiser is the nonprofit’s primary way to earn money for the medical trips, and pay for the nurses’ and technicians’ travel and accommodations, although all donate their time. The doctors are expected to pay their own way. For teams who are travel-weary, there are also U.S.-based trips, providing underinsured Americans the opportunity to receive knee and hip replacements.
Looking ahead, Dorr said he hopes Operation Walk can solidify its national headquarters and help streamline the medical trips and travel for other chapters. The nonprofit has garnered praise in international circles, and even helped other countries view the U.S. more favorably, he said.
“Humanitarian help for people sometimes does more than politics. It just goes to show that helping other people is the most powerful thing you can do,” he said.

LCUSD Back to School; Turns to Safety, Security

La Cañada Unified School District Governing Board members praised local schools for successful back-to-school events at their Tuesday meeting, the first the board has held since breaking for part of the summer after its Aug. 7 session.
“We’ve had a great start to the school year,” said LCUSD President Kaitzer Puglia, noting the successful PTA meeting kick-offs district wide and plentiful participation. “I cannot thank the families of this district enough for all that you do to make this place a wonderful learning environment.”
The board kicked off the meeting by honoring the La Cañada High School sports medicine team and its coach, who crowded the room in their red team shirts to receive certificates of achievement. The team recently placed fourth in the National Sports Medicine Competition, and students claimed individual places as well, with Allison Mueller taking first place. More than 3,500 sports medicine students from 300 high schools participated.
Puglia said she could attest to the students’ expertise in the field after meeting one who detailed the muscles and joints in the foot and ankle and explained why women’s shoes are damaging.
“And I was told that is why I should not wear high heels,” Puglia said dryly, eliciting laughter.
Separately, the board tackled the issues of security and safety on school grounds, gave a school enrollment update, and discussed a new elective that begins this year.


Board members reiterated that the issue of safety and security will be an ongoing topic at board meetings. Earlier this year, the board established a Safety and Security Task Force that is dedicated to the assessment and exploration of student, staff and school safety needs. Five working subcommittees on the task force will address campus safety, training, wellness and communication, traffic and parking, and the issue of an open versus closed campus at LCHS. Three of the subcommittees met over the summer and engaged in various levels of planning and implementation. Plans are in place for staff training on the teacher buyback day, site assessments have taken place and the envisioning of traffic flow has occurred.
“This will be a topic that we will discuss at every meeting, since it is something that needs to be continually addressed to make sure our students and staff, parents, families — everyone — are safe,” Puglia emphasized.
The board said district staff members have attended training sessions on threat assessment and simulations hosted by Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI to improve policies and procedures related to campus safety. Under Measure LC and the school’s master plan, the board has set provisions for safety and security that can support outcomes from the committee work done this year. Currently, the access control system for LCHS is open for bid.
The board listened to a presentation of fencing studies from the LPA Inc. architectural firm at each of the district’s elementary schools, giving input on topics ranging from fence material, placement and height to entry and exit points. Each school presented the distinct challenges it faces due to topography and location, board members noted.
Ultimately, the board recommended reviewing the presentation in more detail, and engaging in discussions with school principals with regard to each school’s particular needs and potential risks. The board foresees the need to refine requests for design by the end of October if the architectural firm is to begin construction by next summer.
“We’re going to have to manage expectations,” Superintendent Wendy Sinnette noted, referring to the ability to get feedback and still make an October deadline.


In her first school report of the year, Sinnette gave a synopsis of enrollment district wide, which came in slightly lower than original projections due in part to students not officially un-enrolling.
“Enrollment is always a projection until you actually have the opening of school,” she said, though she noted, “Every grade enrollment is robust.”
LCUSD’s current district enrollment stands at 4,138 students, an increase of 12% from last year. La Cañada Elementary has 648 students, with one fewer class; Paradise Canyon Elementary has 735 students, with one fewer class; and Palm Crest Elementary has 663 students, with an additional afternoon kindergarten class and 4th-grade class.
With those numbers, the district will be able to maintain its ratio commitments for transitional kindergarten through 3rd grade, with no class size larger than 22 students per teacher, and in some cases as small as 14, Sinnette said.
In grades 4-6, the class-teacher ratio is at 30-to-1 in each class, though one class at PCY is at 31-to-1.
At LCHS 7/8, there are 690 students registered, up from 667. For grades 9-12, 1,359 students are enrolled, up just one from last year.
While there were some concerns about lower enrollment for the 9th and 7th grade, those numbers have settled at 370 and 347, respectively, “so those are robust classes,” Sinnette noted.


The board discussed a new elective course being offered at LCHS 7/8, Introduction to Sewing and Design. It’s an eight- to 10-week course that is part of the “exploratory arts” elective wheel and one of the five topics that 7th grade students will rotate through this year. In the future, the LCHS faculty expects the wheel to include only four topics, thus making the sewing course 10 weeks long. The class reportedly has already purchased about 18 sewing machines.
Board members expressed support for the new subject, although a member of the audience suggested the course change its name in the future to be more inclusive of the larger design aspects.
“I think if our kids could come away with some life skills, it’s great,” said board member Ellen Multari.

Planning Commission Denies Unocal 76 Gas Station Alcohol Permit

For now, the city of La Cañada Flintridge will not have a gas station mini mart selling alcohol after the Planning Commission unanimously denied a permit to the Unocal 76 on Foothill Boulevard, upholding a long-standing policy.
Before casting his vote on Tuesday, Commissioner Arun Jain said he visited five gas stations in town personally on Sunday to ask them if they have a beer, wine or liquor license.
“Each one of them told me the same story,” Jain said. “They were denied and don’t have it. And that has been a very long-standing policy for La Cañada. I didn’t know that.” He added because there are nearby schools and a church, “it would be negative for the people living in that area. This granting of the license is not sitting well within the community as such and it would be a special privilege granted to you.”
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Obituary – Erik Francis Dowling

Erik Francis Dowling
Erik Francis Dowling

On Sept. 2 at 6:35 a.m., Erik Francis Dowling went to be with his dad, Thomas, and brother Kevin. Erik passed away surrounded by people he loved — his mom, girlfriend, godfather, and his brother and sister. He is survived by his mother, Betty Dowling; sister, Sarah Dowling; brother, Joey Dowling; girlfriend, Kellie Alcantara; and his many cousins, aunts and uncles. Erik was an example of what “living the dream” was, even when he was fighting a difficult battle with cancer.
He was always able to make those around him laugh, even in his last days. The number of people who showed up for him is a tribute to how cared for and loved he was by so many.
We will celebrate Erik’s life Thursday night, Sept. 13, at La Cañada Country Club at 7 p.m. Mass will be held at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, at St. Bede the Venerable Church.
In lieu of flowers, please donate to the dowlingstrong55 scholarship, with checks made payable to St. Francis High School, or visit

YMCA Plan Receives Encouragement — and Resistance

At 65,000 square feet, a proposed expansion sought by the YMCA of the Foothills for its location in La Cañada Flintridge is a big undertaking — too big to be resolved in just one city Planning Commission session.
The commission met Tuesday night to discuss a planned expansion that would have two phases, including construction of a three-story building. The main phase of discussion Tuesday concerned construction of a parking deck above the front parking lot, and commissioners approved an adjustment in the line dividing the YMCA lot from private property next door. But eventually, they voted for a continuance of the hearing because of neighborhood disgruntlement.
There were rumblings from commissioners about technical variances, from neighbors concerning traffic congestion and residential driveways, and even from Earth itself as a 4.4-magnitude earthquake shook the room at City Hall.
“I am moved by your speech,” Commissioner Jeffrey McConnell said jokingly to John Pride, landscape architect for the Y, after the earthquake was felt during Pride’s statement to the commission.
The meeting ultimately came to no major conclusions, as a number of the YMCA’s neighbors called for more information, more opportunity to give feedback and formal environmental and traffic reports.
YMCA Chief Executive Tyler Wright presented the need for the project.
“This expansion will increase accessibility both to and inside the facility, create multi-generational community space and expand the youth creative program,” he said.
Project architect Stephen Finney, president of Glendale-based firm CWA AIA Inc., emphasized the importance of safety and access throughout the project. Finney said the YMCA’s limited parking was contributing to traffic congestion on Foothill Boulevard, with Y members often parking across the street and then darting across Foothill to reach the facility. The planned parking structure, the main point of Tuesday’s meeting, is intended to alleviate overflow traffic and dangerous parking situations.
The parking garage would have two stories and 268 spaces, 67 on the new upper level. This structure would be 38 feet tall, well over the city standard of 15 feet. But given the 25-foot setback at the structure’s highest point and the scale of other buildings on the street, commissioners said they would have approved the necessary height variance. The overall project would need several variances requiring the city’s approval, and commissioners did not have major objections but did not approve them based on the need for further YMCA communication with the neighbors that may alter plans.
Phase 2 of the project includes replacing the old East building with a new three-story structure. It would not be taller than the previous building, but the addition of a basement would increase the technical height of the building, necessitating a height variance. Commissioners said it could be approved given that the building would not have an actual increase in height.
With new structures being built, the YMCA has also requested the approval of a five-foot setback from Foothill; commissioners said it could be approved because of the irregularity of the lot and necessity for that space along the hillside.
The length of the new parking spaces would need to be reduced to 2 feet below city standards in order to accommodate the parking spaces required as well as two-way traffic aisles to reduce parking congestion that flows off the site. Commissioners seemed willing to permit that as well since LCF requirements for parking stall sizes are irregularly long.
To complete Phase 1 of the project, 48 trees would need to be removed. Most of them are mature pines. Pride said such trees are particularly flammable and in a year with so many fires, are hazardous to the community; he plans to replace them with 53 new trees native to Southern California. Commissioners said they would be willing to approve this due to the fire concerns and the regeneration of green growth that 53 native trees would provide.
Additionally, YMCA would need to comply with mitigation measures such as bird nest avoidance, noise during construction, traffic management plan, and construction management plan.
These technical sticking points with the city were paired with neighbors’ passionate opinions. Neighbors and YMCA members packed the room, many with opposing views.
“I was a board member of the Pasadena Y and I witnessed its demise. Today there is no Pasadena YMCA. They are irreplaceable and if we don’t support the Y now, we will never get it back,” Tony Schwarz, a YMCA member and neighbor, said in support of the project.
Sun Choi, a senior at La Cañada High School and part of the YMCA Youth Government program, encouraged approval of the YMCA proposal.
“The Y is not just a place about working out and lifting weights. It’s a place for children to learn about respect, responsibility, healthy lifestyle and friendship,” he said.
Not all of the neighbors, however, supported the expansion. Main points of contention included congestion of the residential driveway of Rancho Cañada road, construction obstacles and lack of information about the new design that they felt should have been shared. These neighbors encouraged the commissioners to delay the decision so that the Y could either shift the main entrance east, or simply “stay within their limits” as to the scope of the project, as Anita Susan Brenner, who lives to the west of the YMCA, put it. She also voiced a long-held wish by neighbors living in that section of LCF: their own private residential driveway.
“Commissioners, come out and walk through it with me. The solution is if you remove the Y’s west entrance and redesign that entrance to the parking lot and have a signal there and at Palm [Drive], but give us our driveway on Rancho Cañada Road. It is a minimal cost to give us our private driveway.”
Neighbors on the west side of the Y share their driveway with the west entrance of the Y, which has caused many altercations and car accidents, neighbors reported. Those neighbors propose moving main entrances to the east side and adding a traffic signal there while leaving the west side to the residents along Rancho Cañada.
“I only heard about the expansion project two weeks ago. We understand the need for more parking, but there are some concerns. We share a driveway on the west exit and there have been altercations and car accidents,” said resident Vin Seong. “The parking structure will increase traffic on the west entrance. The east entrance is not shared with private residents.”
This upset neighbors to the east of the Y and, Finney said, would ultimately result in a whole new set of problems.
Several neighbors on the west side pointed to a fire that broke out in September 2016 when they said traffic congestion from the YMCA hindered neighborhood evacuation and blocked fire trucks for up to 15 minutes as firefighters tried to get to the fire.
Seong and others also voiced complaints that they felt excluded from information and called for a decision on the project to be postponed so they would have more time to ask questions, get information and receive more thorough traffic and environmental impact reports — though the city doesn’t require them for the Y’s current plan — and feel that their voices are being heard. The YMCA did hold a meeting for the public Aug. 20 at which, officials said, they tried to gather input, but some neighbors said they felt they did not have ample time to prepare or didn’t even know about it, using words such as “steamrolled” to describe their feelings.
After about three hours, the planning meeting adjourned after commissioners encouraged the facility to continue with the project, saying that it would be an improvement to the community but that better communication and collaboration with neighbors are needed. No date for another hearing on the proposal was set, but neighborhood meetings hosted by the Y seem likely to follow the debate.
“People don’t like change because change impacts someone,” said Laura Olhasso, who is leading the capital campaign for the YMCA expansion. “We are trying to provide safety and accessibility to our members.”
CEO Wright indicated that he thought the meeting was very productive.
“I appreciate all the comments and suggestions we received from the commissioners, staff and neighbors,” CEO Wright said. “I’m looking forward to having further discussion with our neighbors and working together for the well-being of our members and our community,”

Space Academy Launches Partnership With School in Spain

Artur Chmielewski
Artur Chmielewski

Jet Propulsion Laboratory has been running its Space Academy for five years, but starting this year the program will be coordinated with a school in La Cañada Flintridge’s sister city, SEK International School in Villanueva de la Cañada, Spain.
The communities are sister cities because they share similarities beyond the name. The European Space Astronomy Center is located in Villanueva de La Cañada, just as JPL is located here, prompting the two cities to coordinate on a science program.
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