Thursday, April 15, 2021
News + Politics A major tenant victory at City Hall

A major tenant victory at City Hall

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Supes approve anti-eviction package. This is why it’s good to have incumbents face a challenge

Tenants took over City Hall to demand anti-eviction legislation
Tenants took over City Hall to demand anti-eviction legislation

By Tim Redmond

SEPTEMBER 23, 2105 – San Francisco tenants won a big victory yesterday in a vote that is in part a reflection of a couple of upcoming elections.

I have always said I generally don’t like unopposed incumbents; elections are when we get to hold our politicians accountable. And challenges, even the prospect of serious challenges, tend to make the folks at City Hall pay attention.

The issue was legislation that’s been dubbed “Eviction Protections 2.0,” a package by Sup. Jane Kim that would limit the ability of landlords to toss out tenants for minor lease violations that can be easily corrected and would allow renters to add roommates as long as they didn’t exceed the legal occupancy of the unit.

It would also prevent landlords from using owner move-in evictions as a pretext for getting rid of tenants and then renting out the unit for a higher price.

Now: This isn’t going to end gentrification in San Francisco. It’s not going to stop all of the speculators who are constantly trying to find ways to get rid of lower-income people to feed their greed.

It’s not the entire answer to SF’s housing problems. Not by a long shot.

But as Sup. Eric Mar noted, “Just as software gets upgraded to add patches the fix problems,” the city needs to fix the flaws that are allowing bogus evictions – more than 2,000 in the past year.

And the vote was a sign that the SF tenant movement is alive, powerful, and effective.

It wasn’t clear at the start of the meeting that Kim had six votes for the entire bill. Sup. Scott Wiener moved to sever the part of the legislation allowing the addition of new roommates, saying that it limited the ability of a landlord to control how many people lived in a building.

Actually, it only limited that to the existing city codes, which state that a studio apartment can’t have more than two residents, a one-bedroom can’t have more than three, a two-bedroom can’t have more than four, and so on.

In the early debate, Sup. Julie Christensen seemed to be leaning toward the landlord position – she complained that a building with ten two-bedroom apartments could go from 20 tenants to 40, and asked who would pay for the increased utility costs. (Landlords can petition the Rent Board for the right to pass those on to their tenants.)

“It’s important to protect our existing housing,” she said. “But we also have to incentivize small property owners.”

Sup. David Campos had an impressive response. “It’s remarkable that this board is worried about the number of people living in a unit,” he noted, “but we didn’t see a problem when landlords are making $10,000 a month or more by putting bunkbeds in apartments.”

And, he pointed out, the people who complaint that tenants who bring in new roommates might be adding new residents to a building were singing a very different tune when it came to limiting property owners from renting out apartments to short-term tenants with Airbnb. “Where were you on the short-term tenant legislation?” he asked.

The board has not passed any rules that limit the number of people who can occupy an Airbnb rental.

“I think that shows the priorities of this board,” he said.

Kim added that a long-term tenant brought in as a roommate would likely be a better neighbor than an Airbnb renter.

So it went to a vote, and when Sup. Norman Yee, who often votes with the progressives, joined Wiener, I was nervous.

But when Sup. Malia Cohen, who had voted for the entire package in committee, stuck to her position and voted Yes, the balance shifted – and in the end, both Sups. London Breed and Christensen voted in favor of Kim’s bill, including the roommate provision.

So the measure passed 7-4. That’s not enough to overcome a mayoral veto, but it’s hard for me to imagine Mayor Ed Lee vetoing a key piece of tenant legislation.

UPDATE: The rest of the measure passed 11-0, which means all but the roommate provision is veto-proof.

Christensen represents a district with a lot of renters, and is facing a serious challenge from former Sup. Aaron Peskin, who has the support of the Tenants Union. Had she voted with Wiener and the landlords, it would have hurt her in the election, which starts in just a couple of weeks, when the absentee ballots go out.

Breed is facing a likely challenge from tenant advocate Dean Preston in 2016.

Thousands of tenants have marched on and occupied City Hall. Tenant groups have organized for months around this legislation. And they pulled off a major victory.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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  16. Under the SF housing code, up to 3 people can live in a one bedroom apartment. Because this legislation has passed, does this mean that suddenly you can cram 4 people in the living room (6 adults total), and the landlord can’t evict for this AND the landlord cannot tell you that he won’t allow that?

  17. Why is there not a movement to push rent control to all units post 1980. If rent control is the answer why are we ignoring more than 60% of the rental housing stock in our legislation? Additionally, most of the rent controlled housing stock that is vanishing is owned by small property owners tired of constantly being the beast of burden for government legislation, while large developers continue to build and profit unregulated. The days of needing to give developers an incentive are over, let’s rethink our rent control laws.

  18. I don’t know what evidence there is for your view that Lee has continued past policies on development. Even Brown has marveled at the number of construction cranes visible on the SF skyline (crane envy, as it were). And conservative commentators on these threads have called Lee a “pro-development” mayor.

    All that said, I don’t have hard data and I doubt that you do either.

  19. Lee really just continued the policies of Newsom, Brown and Jordan.

    Your complaint is really that he didn’t do a 180 on growth and development, but the voetrs gave him no mandate to do that. So if he had, he would have been accused of breaking his promises.

  20. Rent control continues but the landlord can do a one-time increase in the rent up to market.

    He cannot evict the sub-tenants just because the last leaseholder has moved out (unless they had not been approved). But a market rent might cause the sub-tenants to move anyway.

  21. Non-payment cases do not require filing with the SFRB anyway, although most LL lawyers will file it. They are the quickest and easiest cases to win. The tenant has to prove he paid the rent and, if he cannot, he is out.

    The sheriff rarely comes out because once a judgement is issued, no reasonable tenant will want to be physically removed. And they will want to take care of their belongings which the sheriff won’t do.

    Settlements usually involve the tenant moving out, but maybe getting some more time or some cash in lieu. Trials are expensive, and LL’s often have insurance cover while tenants do not. A one week trial can easily cost 20-30K in legal expenses. Not many tenants can afford that.

    Buyouts might be cheaper but, personally, I’d rather pay that money to a lawyer if I have a case. Many times all a tenant gets when he loses is 1-2 free months rent, because the LL can’t accept rent during a UD. After keeping the deposit the LL isn’t out much.

    The best reason for a payout is to avoid the restrictions that come with an OMI or Ellis.

  22. Wow, its been so long that … but I recall serving several Notices (pre-SFRB days), and only had one where the Sheriff actually came out. Some settled, some walked away. All were Non-payment. Two months free rent is cheaper than more Lawyer-time. That said, this seem like a huge gap in perception.

    In my case, with a Nuisance situation, I was told settlement is the norm. But it involves bringing a case to trial where a Judge mandates talks and settlements often occur. My guy suggested the Buyout route as potentially cheaper – even with the new complications.

    Ideally, the residents would just grow up and act right. Unfortunately, some are just constitutionally incapable.

  23. There’s a lot of bashing of Redmond on these threads. OK, the 12K figure doesn’t work, but I happen to agree that Ed Lee’s policies have set up conditions for the displacement of existing residents, which I believe harms the city. It also makes us subject to the perils of a too heavy dependence on one sector of the economy.

  24. His point is that Tim DID blame Ed Lee – it’s right there in quotes, despite Nancy Snyder’s assertion that he was incorrect in stating so.

    We’ll see if Nancy can own up to her mistake, but I’m not going to hold my breath.

  25. Fair enough, but it doesn’t measure displacement, which could be considerable. We use evictions as shorthand for people who are being forced out of SF, but it’s imprecise. As your link notes, there are a lot of other reasons people leave their homes involuntarily. Also not captured in the statistics are small commercial businesses that have been forced out by rent hikes.

    A more relevant question would be how much income does it take for a family of three to rent in SF? And, how many small businesses have closed shop in the last couple of years?

  26. There are other districts where the Supe is to the left of the constituency, e.g. Mar and Yee.

    Overall I’d say the Supervisors are more left-wing than the mayor, which indicates that they are more elft-wing than the voters city wide.

  27. Yes, on the face of it this change looks like a backdoor attempt to bypass the state ban on vacancy control.

    Even if it is upheld there is still a problem. It means that once a unit has an eviction like this, it will NEVER AGAIN be re-rented. That would be an insane choice for an owner.

    So the effect is to further reduce the number of units available for long-term rental

  28. Sure, those things wont happen. But they are the only changes that would make a material difference.

    Changes like Kim’s legislation is designed to help an ever smaller number of existing long-term tenants. While making things worse for anyone not in that situation.

  29. SFRB keeps records of the eviction notices that landlords file with SFRB. If there is no filing then SFRB doesn’t know about it.

    A landlord is supposed to file it but some do not, either out of ignorance or resentment. A judge cannot be relied upon to throw out an eviction just because of the technicality of not filing the notice.

    In any event, relatively few evictions go to trial. Over 90% settle beforehand.

    It’s also possible that SFRB may over-count evictions because they count notices filed and may not know if an eviction is later dropped and the tenants stay

  30. Not second class, your rights just aren’t as a leasehold on the premises. You don’t have the liability either.

    Ideally, everyone should want to be added on to a lease. Nothing is ideal when it’s shared housing though.

  31. Bullshit. Breed and Christensen voted for it because they’re facing tough re-election battles in districts where they’re philosophically out of step with the majority of their constituents.

  32. Is this true and, if so, is it legal?

    If the owner evicts a tenant for certain causes (OMI, Ellis Act, capital improvement, previously approved condo conversion or permanent removal from housing use) and the unit is EVER rented in the future, then the landlord could not charge the next tenant any more rent than was charged to the evicted tenant. For example, if an owner does an OMI and lives in the unit for more than the required 3 years, let’s say 10 years. Under current law, the obligation to charge the old rent-controlled rate ends after three years. The proposed ordinance imposes that obligation in perpetuity – FOREVER!

  33. If rent control doesn’t continue if the master tenant moves out, doesn’t that create second class citizens? Seems unfair.

  34. this was some time ago, he was camping with buddies. Though that makes no difference, landlord was just being a jerk because he was pissed they stayed in lieu of moving, since the husband was master tenant who had been here for 12 years or so.

  35. oh please,this was his wife not some random roommate trying to get landlord to accept their rent check to become legal tenant.

  36. Interesting.

    So tthe Rent Board doesn’t count the real number of Notices. And they don’t count the actual number of Evictions.

    What exactly DO they do?

  37. delusional. suprised he didn’t say my name. not disappointed though. Greed is bad. But Hate is said to be worse.

  38. I feel I’ve made this situation pretty plain to others. I’ll answer you if you can refrain from the expletives and ask a question.

  39. ” I’m not too concerned that their profits go down $5 or $10 a month per unit”.

    My tenant, alone, now costs me >$135 mth (or 20% of his rent). Twenty years ago the whole bldg only cost $40/. Times have changed but the law continues with this “feature”.

    Sadly, it controverts another imperative in this age of Drought – responsibility for personal usage.

  40. If the return on a Sf building is lower than alternatives then, while technically the owner does not have to Ellis, the financials make that a compelling strategy.

    Isn’t a better question this – why would the city promote policies that make it unattractive for property owners to rent out their buildings? Would it not be better to have policies that encourage and incentivize that?

  41. Landlords do file non-payment UD’s with the SFRB but the point is that they are not required to. So whatever count the SFRB have, it is too low.

    Unless they scour county court records but I doubt it. They are too over-worked.

  42. Awwwww, you HAD TO ellis act a building!? Bullshit. You don’t need to Ellis for an OMI, so you clearly just kicked some folks out. You don’t deserve trust or respect.

  43. RE passthrough being a ponderous process, I think that’s a feature, not a bug. If the amount of money to be recovered is significant and legitimate, the landlord will put forth the effort and prevail. Otherwise, I’m not too concerned that their profits go down $5 or $10 a month per unit.

    Regarding the price gouging, that is indeed a problem already, but this won’t exacerbate it. Master tenants who follow the law already disclose total rent for the unit along with contact information for the rent board, so it’s more a question of sub-tenants educating themselves. But again, this legislation doesn’t make that problem worse.

  44. From what I understand, water is not handled thru a passthru; its gotta go thru O&M. I’m told O&Ms are a waste of time, unless you recently purchased and can lump in increased Mort, prop tx, etc.

    And for those who have separate meters, and can document exact usage, its still almost impossible.

  45. I think especially with OMI evictions a lot of landlords, especially the less heinous ones, just buy everyone out right than go through the legal shit. Sometimes good will can be bought.

  46. No, THREATENED. No evictions happened, (at least as presented).

    Was this the case where Juilie Christiansen stepped in to ‘save’ the tenants’?

    BTW, not defending the LLs. Yes they made improvements. And, no, you can’t just bully people to do what you want. That said, they people appear to be in violation of the new Kim law – where a studio apt allows only two people – and these are not even ‘studio’ apts.

    So, was this the only case?

  47. I certainly would not ignore her when she calls to say water heater is out when husband is out of town for a week. Greed causes many to be assholes

  48. It did not even increase the number of tenants, since the other guy was moving out when she moved in. But he is one of those who own several properties along with an unrelated business and does whatever he can to make money, even if it means letting a place go without hot water for days due to husband being away.

  49. There’s a diff btw having someone occupy a unit and having soomeone with tenancy rights. Your LL was trying to keep the wife from acquiring the later. Its not illegal, but an unfortunate state of LL-tenant relations.What would you do in that situation?

  50. Yeah, the general idea is that they do not want to establish a documented relationship with a sub-tenant. What you’re talking about is way overboard, generally it’s limited to just not accepting rent from the subs, or other “official” correspondence.

  51. And that happens all the time, my neighbor married and the landlord refused to acknowledge his wife, wouldn’t even take repair requests from her much less rent check with both names on it.

  52. my landlord agreed to pay my roommate OMI fee who was a subtenant, not on the lease, but they knew he was here and agreed to it. I am in 2 bed allowing only 2 on the lease.

  53. ??

    Non-Payment is a notice-type that is tracked by the RB. And in ’13-14 these notices were fifth behind Breach, Nuisance, OMI & Ellis.

    Again, I would like to see numbers for actual evictions!

  54. I am the master tenant, but when I was faced with OMI (didn’t end up happening) they would have to pay my roommate too, they knew he lived here, just would not take rent from him directly.

  55. If the max number of people in a studio is two then having one person in a studio is still complying with the fire, building, and housing code.

  56. If the max number of people in a studio is two then having one person in a studio is still complying with the fire, building, and housing code. PS: Please refrain from future personal insults.

  57. And I would suggest that the rent – while significant – is not always the primary consideration. Particularly for those who rent out units where they live.

    If I were an absentee LL, then, yeah, rent wouild be king. But as an occupant I would like to keep my ‘neighborhood’ habiltable. I would like “safe, quiet enjoyment” as much or more than the next one.

    That said, fewer people usually means less hassles, disruptions, and yes ‘wear & tear’ and reduced water, garbage, and PGE (i.e. costs). Its alway seemed one-sided to me, when laws like this get changed, the activists insist that increased costs should be eaten by the provider, with no reasonable increases allowed. (And fuggetabout O&M petitions — unreasonable to small prop owners).

  58. Greedy landlords were trying to evict people for hanging laundry, leaving a stroller in the hall, etc. instead of asking them to stop. If this wasn’t passed, you can be sure these evictions would have increased big time. Especially in areas like Chinatown.

  59. Here’s where you’re wrong. The city codes provide a maximum number of occupants I. A unit but what if the landlord and tenant at lease inception that they want to be better than the maximum and provide less than the maximum (less people less fire hazard)… You see you and Jane Kim is reading these codes backwards. If the code allows 2 in a studio then one should be allowed too. I’ll refrain from the personal insults and I hope you do too.

  60. Well, what happens if one of the two studio roomies gets ‘married’? That third person is not allowed – under the Code. Or if the 3rd in a 1BR gets married (“mooslim” or not), or if the 4th in a 2BR? In these cases, it is not the “vile” or “foolhardy” LLs fault — its The City!

    Are you suggesting there are ‘good’ reasons to exceed the Code?

    (I’ll ignore your insults, for now. I do hope we can have a civilized discussion. But I am beginning to suspect you are not quite capable of that.)

  61. The most common type of eviction is a 3-day notice for non-payment of rent and those are not required to be filed at SFRB. I’d assume the same holds for other 3-day notices like for nuisance but am less certain.

    In practice the rent board cannot stop an eviction and are rarely called to trial to testify. I suspect their numbers are good for OMI and Ellis, but poor for at-fault evictions

  62. Trash is always on a per-building basis and more people = more trash = more bins = higher costs.

    Yes, it is possible to do an O & M passthrough but it is a ponderous process and low-income tenants are often given a pass on it.

    All that said I think the bigger problem here will be rent gouging by master tenants. The SF tenants union really hates that. It is one of the few cases where the SFTU agrees with the SFAA.

  63. Well someone can’t spell!

    And how will they ‘bust the fire code’ when the smallest unit (a studio) allows for two occupants? Are you worried about dem der terroristic mooslims movin’ in all der wives? Idiot.

  64. The *only* realistic concern I could see is that many flats have only one water meter, thus the landlord often pays the water bill, so more tenants equals higher utility cost to the landlord. But since there’s a pass-through provision, this is all really just sour grapes from the constantly whiney realtors / landlords, who won’t be happy until they can no-fault evict everyone and AirBnB every apartment in the city without restriction.

  65. Easier for a neighboring tenant to cause another tenant to be evicted than for a LL to do so. You can easily see why.

  66. You’re clearly ignorant of the law.

    This allows master-tenants to add sub-tenants. Sub-tenants, who have a wholly different legal relationship to the landlord than the master tenant. Rent control doesn’t continue if the master tenant moves out. If the master tenant moves out, the subs have to vacate or are subject to market-rate rent. And an Ellis Act buyout only goes to the master tenant or co-tenants (not the same as sub tenants).

    No legal quagmire. Cut and dry. Already figured out. Go clutch your pearls over something else, the landlords will still make plenty of money.

  67. I assumed that only tenants were entitled to those payout. Are you sayin all OCCUPANTS will hereafter be entitled?

  68. Yes. One thing that surprised me is that the City doesn’t keep data on actual Evicitons. They only keep data on eviction NOTICES filed with the Rent Board.

    It would be interesting to see how closely they corrolate.

    Of course, we will probalby never know that. At least, not when the bark is worse than the bite.

  69. Imagine if when the owner wants to Perform a just cause eviction (OMI, Ellis, Remodel) and the lease has one name and the city roommate law allows 3. Before the owner would only have to pay relocation fees based on who is on the lease. Now the city law says he has to pay more people than what the lease. I would sue and I believe the law will be overturned.

  70. If the lease allows only one person but the tenant wants to add another one or two then the new city roommate law allows it but the lease doesn’t… This will create a legal quagmire if roommates are of a younger generation securing their rent control status for generations, and when the owner wants to Ellis act before u would only have to pay one person but now he has to pay 3. Imagine that!

  71. Well, sadly, the intent of such legis is to make “affordable” units available to the poor.

    Reality is, such-a-deal would go to friend & family; or like in NYC, be auctioned off on C-list.

  72. Yeah, and there is also the risk that had the period of vacancy control been unreasonably extended, then the entire bill might have been thrown out for either being trumped by Costa-Hawkins, or be deemed unconstitutional.

    With NYC’s rent stabilization system largely gutted, I do not believe there is now anywhere in the US that has vacancy control any more.

    And of course if it existed, the affected units would NEVER be re-rented. When NYC still had vacancy control, people would check the obituary column of the NYT and try and snag the unit while the corpse was still warm. Ambulance chasing is never attractive.

  73. No. The only possibllity, and its remote, is that Lee will strike it. (BTW, I didn’t realize the Mayor had the power to cut portions of legislation; I thought he had to sign-or-veto as-is.)

  74. In the mind of a landlord, the key issue is the rent. For the same rent, a landlord would rather have one occupant than four, but it’s really not a priority. Landlords have no interest in their units being under-occupied. At best they won’t want a slightly higher rent in exchange for an over-crowded unit. But i have never heard a tenant activist complain about under-occupation.

    And as Pete says, tenants already have the right to move in spouses, children and other close family members.

  75. I thought it was instructive that, during the Land Use mtg, Kims original measure contained Vacancy Control measures lasting … 10 yrs? 20 yrs? forever?, and Weiner gently suggested to her that she scale it back to the limits rerenting under Ellis prohibits. He said, otherwise, you will simply invoke more Ellis evictions. She sheepishly relented.

  76. Denyial of Domestic Partner is already the law.

    BTW, what happens if the newlyweds bust the Fire Code limit on Occupancy?

  77. Yeah, I thought about saying that but decided to just ask for an explanation to the failed logic instead. Only pretty vile and / or foolhardy landlords try to enforce artificially low (below allowed occupancy) tenant numbers. The types effected by this law are the ones who would deny a newly-married tenant’s spouse to move in…

  78. Yes, Ellis is the catch-all safety valve for any property owner who feels stuck running a business that is long past its “sell by” date. The Ellis Act was specifically passed to provide a counter-balance to those cities who go so far with rent and eviction control that it is considered no longer in the public interest.

    So yes, any further tightening of rent control has the effect of driving a few more landlords out of business, either via Ellis or by re-configuring the use of the unit. and that in turn reduces the rental inventory and therefore raises rents.

    In the end the government can never force people to be in a business that that very same government has made untenable through over-regulation.

  79. Imma let you finish, but Tim Redmond totally wrote that. Are you going to apologize for being flat out wrong?

    “My thesis, of course, is that the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith didn’t
    create $4,000 a month rents and 12,000 evictions – it was the policy
    decisions of the Lee Administration, which has to rank among the most
    clueless civic leadership institution in modern history.”

    https://48hills.org/2015/04/10/sfs-housing-crisis-the-talk-of-miami/

    That 12,000 evictions number is from the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, and covers a period of 1997 to 2014.

    http://www.antievictionmappingproject.net/combined.html

  80. I fail to see how this does that – and I speak as someone who got rid of a nuisance roommate while I was a tenant in the past. Explain?

    Also, this law doesn’t “punish landlords’, it encourages them to follow codes, laws, and basic decency. To say it punishes them betrays quite the victim complex.

  81. He’s probably so consistent because Bobfuss / siddle / sam / pchazz / fishchum / et al are so consistently vile, greedy, and cruel.

  82. A major victory would be getting Ellis or Costa-Hawkins repealed. And then bring condos, SFH’s and new build under rent control. And implementing vacancy control.

    The rest is fluff and there really isn’t much more the city can legally do that it hasn’t already done.

  83. Most SF landlords give a rats ass about politics and only care who helps their bottom line. They don’t see Republican or Democrat–they see money.

  84. Very glad that this passed! I don’t get why Tim is surprised Julie Christensen voted for it–she has in general been an advocate for housing affordability at all levels, including supporting rent control and low-income SFers.

    Sometimes, Tim seems too caught up in the politics of the city and who is on which “side” to see people for who they actually are.

  85. Which comes first – the chicken or the egg?

    Typically the process starts with the landlord setting an asking rent, which is part guesswork and part a matter of checking comps in that neighborhood.

    But that asking rent may be too high or too low. The only way that the correct rent is determined is by seeing what response you get from tenants.

    If you buy or sell things on Ebay then you should be familiar with the concept.

  86. You say that on every post you make to every article. There are plenty of Lefty Trolls, you and Jusher come to mind.

  87. Not really sure what has changed, the limits on number of tenants remains, it is very very rare that landlords evict on minor infractions. So for the average tenant and landlord things are much the same. I guess tenant activist can claim a “major” victory.

  88. The room mate portion will get challenged and overruled by the courts. It’s akin to getting fired from work for smoking pot when state law says you can take medical cannibis.

  89. Great way to punish good tenants who want to get ride of nuisance tenants. Anti landlord laws don’t always punish just landlords.

  90. Well this is also the guy who claimed Ed Lee was responsible for like the past 15 years worth of evictions so go easy on him,

  91. Yep, also true. I was speaking from the progressive perspective. This has been the year of accusing your opponents of being a Republican.

  92. Tim, please provide your documentary evidence for the claim that there have “2000 bogus evictions” in the last year. That is a direct challenge to your journalistic integrity.

    There may well have been 2000 evictions in the past year. But claiming that every single last one of them is “bogus” is a stretch, especially since easily the largest category of evictions is non-payment of rent.

  93. This is mostly good stuff. It’s moments like these where progressives need to remember that moderates are also tenants and not actually Republican landlords. Noticeably this came from one of the more sensible progressives.

    Closing loopholes are good. Progressives should do more of that and less imaginary economics.

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