Topanga Vies for Slice of Funding Pie

By Dan Mazur

Topanga's "wish list" is long. It includes improvements to the Community House, a Topanga branch public library, a year-round shuttle bus, a middle school, a senior center, a permanent facility for T-CEP, a sprung-wooden dance floor and much more. And it all came pouring forth on October 10 as Canyon residents gathered at the Community House for a rare opportunity to meet with members of the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission.

The goal of the many community leaders who attended is to find funding for some of these projects, perhaps through the County's Community Block Grant program.

VOL.25 NO. 22
November 1 - 14, 2001



Raymond Webster, left, and Randy Bissell facilitate the workshop for the county Community Development Commission.

Each year, Los Angeles County receives approximately $39 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, as well as $13 million in grants from the Federal Government's HOME Investment Partnership Program. The Board of Supervisors allocates these grants for housing needs, business development, as well as public facilities and other services in the cities and unincorporated areas of the County.

The allotment of CDBG funds for any given area depends on demographics such as poverty, population and overcrowded housing. The total amount available for unincorporated areas within the Third District--including Topanga--is only $150,000 out of the $39 million. Despite the competition for these limited funds, Topanga Youth Services has received funding, and other projects near and dear to the hearts of Topangans may qualify. For those that do not, the Commission attempts to help find other agencies who might provide funding.

Lola Babalon, President of the Topanga Community Club, opened the meeting by introducing Elisa Vasquez of the Commission's Block Grant Division. Vasquez described the meeting as an "information exchange." After this, the Commission presents the results to the Board of Supervisors, and prepares a CDBG "action plan." The action plan will be available next spring in public libraries, after which a follow-up meeting will be held in Topanga to report what projects will be funded.

After learning about the Commission, approximately 30 Topangans in attendance split up into two discussion groups, each facilitated by two Commission representatives. Standing in front of the group with Magic Markers and large pads of paper on easels, the Commissioners asked for ideas. The Topanga citizens had come prepared, and responses were quick in coming: a County library branch, a recreation center, refurbishment of the old public pool at Camp Wildwood, a bike path along the Boulevard, expansion of the beach bus to a year-round shuttle, a charter middle school, and plenty more.

Appropriately, given the meeting's location, there were many proposals for the Community House itself. Several members of the Community House Improvement Committee (CHIC) reported on the findings of last year's survey which prioritized Topanga residents' desires for use of the site. Prominent in the discussion were a permanent office for T-CEP, youth and senior citizen recreation facilities, and an expanded and safer playground, as well as urgent needs such as bringing the kitchen up to code and meeting requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

When each group had filled a couple of large sheets of paper with ideas, everyone was asked to vote for their favorite projects, and the results of the two votes were strikingly similar. The top vote-getters were priority improvements and additions to the Community House; a public library for Topanga; and public transportation in the Canyon, including a shuttle and dial-a-ride for seniors.

The CDBG annually selects one locality within the Third District for an outreach meeting, and Topanga Youth Service's Paulette Messenheimer gets credit for drawing this year's meeting to Topanga. Messenheimer attended a CDBG luncheon in Alhambra last spring, at which a video of Topanga Youth Services was featured in the presentation.

"It was so cool to see TYS up there," she said. Linda Jenkins, manager of the CDBG, remembered Messenheimer's efforts. "We said, 'Paulette came all the way from Topanga, let's go out there.'"

"And I said, 'cool,'" added Paulette.

Messenheimer's flyers and phone calls helped bring a turnout to the Community House that impressed the commissioners. "Last year we had a meeting in West Hollywood, and the year before in San Fernando, and we didn't have a turnout like this," said Dinah Solomon, Deputy to Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

After the workshops, Susan Nissman, senior field deputy for Supervisor Yaroslavsky, introduced representatives from other County agencies--the Sheriff's and Fire departments, Building and Safety, Public Works, and Regional Planning--who would be available for questions.

Before things broke up, the Commission held a raffle as a reward for the public-minded citizens who attended the meeting. Numbered tickets were pulled from a glass jar, and those who held the matching tickets--which had been distributed with the Commission's literature at the door--received gift certificates for McDonald's (attracting fast-food franchises to the Canyon was not among the ideas proposed in the meeting).

Afterwards, Solomon said she was impressed by the community spirit.

"The turnout was wonderful and the interest was great. People really seem to care about their community and that's wonderful."

Solomon stressed the willingness of her office to help find funding for local projects beyond what may be available in the form of CDBG grants. "We try to help as best we can. We don't get much money, but we want to help, and we can help in other ways, and that's what we're here for. We're looking forward to a great meeting in the spring."


SuperScooper Film Ignites Support


The SuperScooper is the subject of "Initial Attack," a locally produced film about the effectiveness of these planes in fighting wildfires.

By Sarah J. Margolis

Perhaps for politicians in Sacramento it's just a problem of numbers and dollars, but to Topangans and those who live in the mountainous communities of the West, the threat of wildfire is an ominous presence. The solution? According to the Topanga-founded Citizens for Aerial Fire Protection (CFAFP), it's the SuperScooper fire-fighting airplane. That was the message at the group's premiere screening at the Community House October 13 of "Initial Attack," a short documentary film by producer Tony Morris and director-editor Tom Mitchell with music by Court Converse, narration by Eric Pierpont and photography by Thad Wadleigh.

The evening began with a potluck dinner. Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman provided a ceremonial offering and a blessing testifying to our unity in the aftermath of September 11.

Children danced behind a rearŠprojection slide of a raging brush fire. Their eerie shadows moved with giddy naughtiness amid the projected flames. Eventually, the children, naïve to the terror of wildfires, were quieted so the night's movies could begin.

Mitchell introduced the program which included several speakers involved in the project and others as well. Susan Nissman, senior deputy for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, said, with the supervisor's leadership, that the county's arsenal has increased since 1993, with rental of two SuperScoopers each year and the recent purchase of two Firehawk helicopters. She also announced that the SuperScoopers will be on board for the next five years with a renewal of their lease. But, it takes more than an arsenal, it takes a lot of different tools to combat wildfire, including brush clearance and a ground force, she said.

In a strange coincidence, another documentary with surprising parallels to "Initial Attack" was unearthed shortly before the premiere. It was produced by Canada Air, a division of airplane manufacturer Bombardier which makes the SuperScooper, and chronicled the 1978 Laurel Canyon fire. That fire threatened to destroy the canyon and was exhausting the abilities of ground forces and the firefighting helicopters available at the time. Then, in charged the SuperScoopers, with their six tons of water. The fire was out in a short time and countless homes were saved.

Bob Cavage, an aeronautical engineer advocating purchase of SuperScoopers since 1979, gave a Power Point presentation on the capabilities of the plane, comparing it to other firefighting aircraft. Morris, with the CFAFP, talked briefly about the group's mission as a non-profit, educational clearing-house for information on aerial fire fighting and about plans for other films. They plan to take "Initial Attack" to Sacramento to show government representatives in an attempt to convince the Legislature that this is the wisest fire-safety move. State Senator Sheila Kuehl has already created a subcommittee to examine the question of the SuperScooper, but advocates with CFAFP say more pressure at the grassroots level is essential.

Although the need for SuperScoopers is currently met by leasing two of them for "fire season"--the three months of the year that are traditionally driest, Morris argues that fire season is actually not the only time we should be worried. In fact, the only time we're safe is the rainy season. Santa Ana winds can start as early as March and April. The SuperScooper should be available year-round, said Morris, through a purchase by the State of California, the Los Angeles County Fire Department or the federal government. It could even be purchased by citizens, said Morris, and CFAFP is working on this idea as well.

In the time that we have been leasing the planes for $2 million per year, we could have purchased one, at a price of $22 million, by now. The planes are predicted to last 40 years. In addition, they can help clean up oil spills and put out refinery fires. And now, argued Patricia Tackett, who was in the audience, with the threat of terrorist attack, it could help with another kind of battle. "If we were attacked, it would be low tech," said Tackett.

SuperScoopers, according to the CFAFP, provide the immediate response necessary to prevent disaster. They also can carry more water than Firehawks and can load up with seawater in 12 seconds, while helicopters need a minute to take on 1,000 gallons and require fresh water or tanked supplies.

Why were the Firehawks purchased instead? Morris argues that the county Fire Department has a helicopter bias because they have always used them rather than fixed-wing aircraft.

Contact CFAFP at (310) 289-2128.


California Trail Owner Injured


Emergency crews respond to injury accident just below the S-curves.

Wendy Lee Krause, 43, owner of Wendy's California Trail, is in fair condition at UCLA Medical Center where she was taken after a serious car accident at 1:45 p.m. October 24 on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just below the S-curves. Krause suffered major injuries, including possible loss of part of her left arm, when her red 1990 Toyota pickup rolled over several times, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Krause, who was alone in the car, was driving north when, according to witnesses, the car made a sudden turning movement causing it to roll over, said CHP officer R.J. Newquist.

Firefighters and paramedics were able to remove Krause from the vehicle, which was lying on its side in the middle of the boulevard, according to Fire Captain Rick Pfeifer with Station 69. Due to the severity of her injuries, Krause was transported by ambulance to a landing zone on Topanga State Beach and flown via ambulance helicopter to UCLA Medical Center. She reportedly underwent emergency surgery.

At the hospital, she was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor driving under the influence by the CHP.


State Parks to Evict Will Rogers Horses


The stable at Will Rogers State Park may soon be empty.

"A man that doesn't love a horse, there is something the matter with him."

--Will Rogers

By Tony Morris

State Parks director Rusty Areias announced on October 10 that equestrian activities are to be suspended at Will Rogers State Historic Park. The state plans to evict 45 horses boarded at the park by January 8 unless horse owners can obtain a restraining order delaying such action. On October 21, horse owners met at the park's stables to discuss their options in light of the 90-day eviction notice which they maintain does not provide adequate time to find suitable replacement boarding.

Horse owners said they were "shocked" by the state's eviction order and have organized to halt the eviction process. Lisa Brown, a Topanga resident and private horse trainer who has trained horses at the park for 15 years, said horse owners are unified in their opposition to the state's plans. Brown and others say horses have been a part of the park for more than 50 years and to evict them would go against the wishes of Will Rogers, whose wife Betty deeded the ranch property to the state in 1944.

Will Rogers, an Oklahoma native, cowboy philosopher, movie star, newspaper columnist and humorist, lived at the ranch from 1928 to 1935. He died in a plane crash at Point Barrow, Alaska, in 1935. In a State Parks' general plan for the park prepared in 1992, horse boarding operations seem virtually required in order to reflect the personality of Will Rogers. It reads: "Will Rogers' childhood, early career as an entertainer, and lifelong hobbies reflected his continued association with equestrian activities and love for horses. One of the main reasons that he moved to his Santa Monica ranch was to have enough space to get away from the crowds and relax by roping and participating in other equestrian-related activities, and to keep the family horses. To interpret the life of Rogers at his Santa Monica ranch without horses would be to miss a vital element of his spirit."

State Parks director Areias, however, has said the state has not lived up to the terms of the deed of the Rogers' family because it requires the property be preserved as an historic resource. Citing a state audit indicating the state is violating its own general plan and environmental statutes, Areias pointed to equestrian activities and stables as a major source of pollution in the watershed of Rustic Creek. Eviction of the horses is reportedly intended to allow new environmental studies to be done, but horse owners say testing for pollution from horses has never been done and they want to know why their horses have to be removed to allow for environmental testing.

Jerry Harris, the concessionaire who operates the parks' horse boarding facilities, said he went to Sacramento for a meeting with parks director Areias on October 22, but made no progress. He was asking for a six-month extension so horse owners will have until July 2002 to present their case against eviction. Owners are concerned that if their horses are evicted they would not be able to find adequate boarding in the Topanga or Malibu area. Harris says the next scheduled meeting between the state and horse owners will be on October 30 in the administration building at the park.

In addition to the concern over pollution at the park, it appears State Parks is also concerned that the Rogers' family and the Will Rogers Cooperative Association could file suit to take back the park as a result of the state's inability to properly care for the land. A number of horse owners believe the move for eviction is politically motivated and they have been caught in the middle.

Whatever the outcome of recent developments, Will Rogers State Historic Park continues to attract visitors from all over the globe. Polo matches are expected to continue when the season starts in April.


Lisa Brown has been riding horses since she was 12. She remembers well her days at the celebrated Ponyland which, for many years, was located on the site now occupied by the Beverly Center. As a horse trainer for 15 years at Will Rogers State Park, Brown is gathering signatures for a petition to halt the eviction of horses from Will Rogers State Park by state officials. The state is requiring the 45 horses boarded at the park to be removed by January 8, 2002, in order to complete environmental studies and a review of equestrian operations.

Brown received the Owen O'Hanlon Groom Award from the United States Polo Association in 1996. She was commended for her "outstanding performance during the Greenwood and Old Topanga fire emergencies" by the State of California's Department of Parks and Recreation. Brown has been an advocate for horses at Will Rogers, working to improve conditions there. She has also worked as a volunteer, showing thousands of inner-city children the stables at Will Rogers, and giving some of them their first encounter with horses.

As a horse trainer Brown has worked with celebrities including Billy Crystal's quarter horse Beechnut, who she trained for a special appearance on stage at the Academy Awards. As one who is passionate about horses, she feels the many activities offered for children ,such as horseback riding for the Junior Blind, will suffer if horses are evicted from Will Rogers State Park.


Visions Clash Over Lower Topanga

By Susan Chasen

State Parks representatives and members of the community came together at a Topanga Watershed Committee meeting on October 20 to discuss the future of Lower Topanga park.

Lower Topanga residents sought to learn about State Parks' intentions for the recently acquired parkland and to propose creative and realistic ideas for its future use, but they left feeling as disillusioned and insulted as before.

The workshop, which followed the Watershed Committee's annual "State of the Watershed" meeting, quickly deteriorated into a formless rehash of the issues involved without any hint of progress.

State Parks purchased the 1,659-acre Lower Topanga property in August and is scheduled to complete an interim management plan for it by the end of December. The plan is not supposed to include irreversible alterations to the property. However, the dismantling of the long-time residential use of the property, dating back to the early 1900s or before, is apparently slated to proceed before long-term goals for the property are set. State Parks has told about 100 residents living in 45 homes in Lower Topanga that they are to be out by July 1, 2002. Businesses are facing the same deadline, but Parks officials have said some of the businesses are likely to be retained.

A peculiar format, employing local architects as amateur facilitators for several small discussion groups, immediately angered some participants as unnecessary mediation, inhibiting direct discussion with State Parks.

Roger Pugliese, chair of Topanga Association for a Scenic Community, voiced strong opposition to the format. However, Rosi Dagit, conservation biologist with the Santa Monica Mountains Resource Conservation District (RCD)--the sponsor of the Watershed Committee which set up the meeting--insisted on sticking with the format.

The apparent leader of the architect facilitators was Clark Stevens, who has been a participant on a technical committee that is conceptualizing plans as part of a series of grants to the RCD for eventual reconstruction of a wetland in Lower Topanga. He is a strong proponent of the extensive wetland project that includes replacing the Topanga Creek bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.

"It's very disappointing," said John Clemens, a nearly 40-year resident of Lower Topanga. "If you're a human being and you're in the way, that's just tough."

According to Clemens, State Parks is essentially saying, "We're stronger. We have the power so we can do it." They have no regard, he said, "for what it means to be a human being and to have a home."

Clay Phillips, chief of State Parks' Southern Service Center which is preparing the plan in San Diego, was asked to outline the plan his office is working on. But he denied that such an outline existed. He said State Parks' goal is to provide stewardship and long-term protection of the natural and cultural resources on the site as well as recreation and educational opportunities.

"Our mission is different from the RCD's," said Phillip, "but the same in some portions."

Bernt Capra, a spokeman for the Lower Topanga Community Association, said it is not believable that State Parks--involved in this acquisition for months now--has no plans outlined for the property.

David Brown, with the Sierra Club's Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, said State Parks old plan from 1977 calls for 100 parking sites, 50 campsites and 25 recreational vehicle (RV) sites, and that it may be hard to get away from aspects of this vision.

"To get rid of our homes for RV sites," said Clemens, "would be more than insulting."

State Parks is taking the humanity out of nature, said Clemens. Allowing visitors interaction with people living simply, in harmony with nature, could be a positive idea, he suggested. During the workshop, residents said they could serve as docents. They could also provide valuable stewardship and protection against fires and vandalism, as they have already been doing by living in the area.

Phillips repeated what has been said before, that "residential use is not a role of State Parks...Now it's on the map. It's a unit of the State Park system."

Phillips said the July 1 relocation deadline is currently assumed in the Interim planning process.

Alexander Bevil, historian for State Parks, said he will be asking for more time. Initially he had only 15 days to complete his evaluation. So far, he said, he will recommend retaining the Topanga Ranch Motel as historically significant. He's also trying to piece together the history of the Malibu Feedbin as a structure and the Reel Inn. Stories about old movie celebrities like Peter Lorre living in Lower Topanga, he said, are difficult to substantiate.

Despite the anger over the format of the meeting, several of the architects tried to cope with the diverging passions in their groups.

Architect Oscar McGraw reported that his group, which included several Lower Topangans, was concerned about losing an historic community. "Here we have actors, artists and people who have lived there 35 years or more," he reported to the wider group.

Architect Cary Gepner's group agreed there is historical value to the community. "We want to see some way that it can be incorporated into the plan," he reported.

On the other hand, David Gottlieb, a 20-year RCD board member, suggested it was wrong to give the Topanga area and Lower Topanga special say in the vision of the park. "State Parks should get input from the wider area," said Gottlieb. "We can't keep going on with these encounter groups."

Residents of Lower Topanga said they support reconstruction of a wetland, but they don't think they stand in the way of it. Historic photographs show that even before the highway was built, when the estuary was larger, there were already many cottages in that area.

State Parks is scheduled to complete its draft Interim plan by the end of December. At the end of the workshop, recognizing the format criticisms, Phillips promised another meeting in November or December that will allow for direct community input.


"Why Poison?"

Santa Monica Mountains Coalition for Alternatives to Toxics (SCAT) is hosting a symposium entitled "Why Poison?" on Thursday, November 8 at 7 p.m. at the Topanga Elementary School auditorium, to examine the problems of using herbicides to eradicate non-native plants. Recently the use of herbicides to combat invasive non-native plant species has been discussed at meetings of the Topanga Watershed Committee, but SCAT is opposed to this approach.

Instead of herbicides, SCAT is proposing an alternative pilot program for removing plants manually. Also, SCAT is proposing a toxic-free watershed policy to be included in Topanga's Watershed Management Plan.

In an effort to inform the community of the health and environmental effects of herbicides like Roundup, which is often used for these projects, SCAT is sponsoring "Why Poison?" According to SCAT, a 1999 study showed a clear link between glyphosate--the active ingredient in Roundup--and non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a cancer that has been increasing rapidly in recent years.

The program will feature three notable speakers:

Susan Kegley, Ph.D., staff scientist for Pesticide Action Network and author of "Disrupting the Balance: Ecological Impacts of Pesticides in California."

Kirk Murphy, M.D., with the UCLA School of Medicine and Physicians for Social Responsibility, and a medical advisor for the Los Angeles Safe Schools Coalition's successful effort to reform school district use of pesticides.

William Currie, an entomologist and director of the International Pest Management Institute, who worked for 30 years with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency.


Dodge Gets Topanga Back on Track

By Susan Chasen

The interim principal at Topanga Elementary School makes no secret of the disarray he found when he took over at the school last month, but his main concern now is getting the school on a better footing for a new principal--and finding that principal.

Gerald E. Dodge is a retired, veteran principal, who is called back into service for up to 12 weeks a year. He is scheduled to be at Topanga for six weeks to help find a new principal, but his experience and outspokenness are proving helpful on several other problems as well.

Most importantly, he got the school a reprieve from a major restructuring of classes to meet state class-size limits. The changes, he said, would have disrupted virtually all 14 classes.

Dodge took over September 28 after Eileen Goodman, Topanga's principal since 1998, left suddenly to become principal at another school.

According to Dodge, Goodman's sudden departure is not the way things should be done. The timing leaves "slim pickings" for a new principal, he said.

So far, he has heard from only one qualified applicant. A few other prospective candidates proved ineligible.

"It's difficult if no one applies," said Dodge. "This is a bad time to be doing this."

Topanga Elementary has only a few weeks to do its own hiring - most of which has already passed. Ultimately, Dodge said, the Los Angeles Unified School District might produce a better choice because it can seek out promising assistant principals.

One of several difficulties in finding a principal for Topanga is the school's small size--only 277 students--which means the principal will have no administrative support unless a parent organization like the Topanga Enrichment Program (TEP) pays for it. Also, it competes with year-round schools where assistant principals often make more money than a principal working 10 months at Topanga.

According to Dodge, small schools don't get the same resources provided to larger schools. The attitude, he said, is: "Well, they'll be alright."

The salary range for Topanga's principal is $59,871 to $74,572, depending on the level of experience, according to the district Human Relations Department. To qualify requires eight years with teacher certification, working full-time in a public school, and at least five years teaching in the classroom.

Despite the challenges, Dodge said he is optimistic.

"We're hoping we can find someone who will really want to be here and will do a super job," said Dodge. He described the school as "gorgeous," with safe brick buildings that are rare today, and as having a great parent community.

Dodge said the principal's office was very disorganized when he arrived--with old useless files as well as incomplete work for the current year.

Perhaps most surprising, he said, was that the year began with class sizes exceeding state limits of 20 students for kindergarten through third grade.

"I was shocked," said Dodge. "Things should have been done a lot sooner. Some classes had 22 to start.

"If it's a known number," he said, "you don't wait five or six weeks into the semester."

He said he appealed to the District because rearranging classes would be unfair to students who are already making friends and getting acclimated.

Even though he managed to avoid reshuffling the classes, he joked that he came to Back-to-School Night with two California Highway Patrol officers at his side, for protection.

But actually, they were there to discuss the traffic problem at the school.

"Nowhere else in the world is a school on a cul-de-sac," said Dodge.

One of the CHP officers said the red "no parking" zone in the circle is going to get a new paint job and then it's going to be strictly enforced.

Dodge explained later that he would also like to get rid of the buses--which have to make a four-point turn just to get out--for traffic reasons, but also because it is inappropriate to have older students dropped off there.

"Where are they to go and who is going to supervise them?" asked Dodge, who said some teenagers do end up hanging around the school.

It was a temporary solution years ago, that is still going on, said Dodge.

Also at Back-to-School Night, Pat Mac Neil from Topanga Coalition for Emergency Preparedness (T-CEP) urged parents to create an emergency plan for the school.

"There's not really a good plan in place here," she said. "T-CEP is more than willing to come and help a group of parents put this together. . . .When a fire's on, it's too late."

Barbara Metzenbaum encouraged parents to visit the newly automated school library and to consider donating books in a child's name.

Also, Kevin Reed has been announced as the third parent representative to the school Leadership Council which is serving as the selection committee for hiring a new principal.


Dog Poison Update

By Tony Morris

Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture officials visited Topanga to investigate recent dog poisonings reported by residents living on Tuna Canyon near Skyhawk Lane. Paul White with the County's Pesticides Regulation Division and Richard Sokulsky, Deputy Agricultural Commissioner with the Environmental Protection Bureau Agricultural Pesticides Enforcement, met with Abigail Bok and Buck Schneider. Bok's dog Penny led officials to the location of the suspected poison which appeared to be a peanut butter-like substance containing grain. A similar substance was found in the stomach contents of the Schneider's two dogs who died of strychnine poisoning. The source of the material is still under investigation.

Although strychnine was determined to have killed the Schneider family dogs, Elmo and Gelby, tests on the remains of a coyote found in the area were not conclusive. County officials said testing for strychnine must include the animal's salivary glands or stomach lining, and due to the advanced decay of the coyote's remains this was not possible.

State Fish and Game have been notified of the poisonings in Topanga as the state is responsible for monitoring wildlife which may have died due to the illegal use of controlled poisons. The use of strychnine without a permit is illegal.

Topanga residents should also be aware that gopher, rodent and snail bait can poison other animals. In a separate incident, the Bohman family lost their three-year-old golden retriever, Darby, on October 18 after he ingested a toxic substance. Tests are now being conducted to determine the source of the poisoning. There is a possibility that Darby died after swallowing anti-freeze which can cause kidney failure.


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