Santa Maria Sun / Cover Story
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 30
Who will lead?The Sun talks to seven people running for two spots on the Santa Maria City Council
BY AMY ASMAN
The campaign for Santa Maria City Council is shaping up to be one of the most competitive political races on the Central Coast. Three incumbents and four challengers will face off to represent a city burdened by tough economic times and a controversial police department.
Current City Council members Alice Patino and Mike Cordero are both hoping to elevate their position to mayor, but they’ll have tough opposition from each other and local business owners Dan Gebhart and Marty Mariscal. If Cordero loses, he’ll also lose his position on the council. Patino, however, will retain her position.
Meanwhile, incumbent Bob Orach is looking to continue his 26th year of service on the council. His challengers include Santa Maria Planning Commissioner Etta Waterfield and Terri Zuniga, a supervisor with the District Attorney Office’s victim witness program.
The Sun e-mailed a list of questions to each of the candidates. Here’s what they had to say.
The election is on Nov. 6.
What personal qualities and/or experiences make you a qualified candidate for City Council?
Mike Cordero: I am willing to work with whoever is on our council. I have been recognized as a problem solver and someone who can be trusted by both sides of a perceived dilemma. I am more than willing to listen to anyone who may feel they have input to be considered. I feel I am a person who will give your questions consideration and not respond with what I may believe you want to hear. I will give you the truth as I know it and live with the results of that truth. I have also been an active member of our City Council for nearly four years.
Dan Gebhart: The qualities of any good political office holder are: Integrity, honesty, and commitment to solve the problem. I do not believe the number of years one has been married or the number of children is important. I do not believe the number of commissions or prior government experience will qualify one in solving problems as much as real commitment. I certainly believe I have all three [qualities]. I may not have all the answers to all problems, but by listening and comprehending all suggestions, I believe a solution can be achieved. The fact that I have already, for seven years, been e-mailing the City Council on issues and problems and solutions; the fact that I have already take risks to report violations in action (I have personally photographed graffiti in action with my cell phone.); and the fact that I have downloaded the city code and had to inform [former City Manager] Tim Ness on the code all demonstrate my commitment to the city of Santa Maria—and the fact that I am sick and tired of being sick and tired of the problems not being solved. Clint Eastwood is correct: “If they are not doing the job, you need to let them go.”
Marty Mariscal: Throughout my life I have been blessed to have many successes, but I believe that it has been the failures I have experienced that have helped shape my desire to continually learn and try new things, understand that we all need others to help accomplish big tasks, and that family and friends are the most important things in our lives. As far as qualifications, here are some of the things I believe make me a strong candidate for mayor of Santa Maria: I am a former member of the council, and have served as the mayor pro tem of the city of Santa Maria. As a council member, I represented the city and the citizens of Santa Maria on the following regional government positions:
Alice Patino: Over the past 40 plus years, I have actively been involved in virtually every facet of our community. My husband and I raised two sons who attended local schools, and we have owned and managed a local business. If you want someone who has been an active leader and devoted her life to helping build our community, I have the leadership knowledge that is needed. I have been active in the community with nonprofits and organizations such as Marian Medical Foundation, the Dunes Center, Partners For the Environment, Santa Maria Valley Pioneers, People for Non-Violence Committee, California Women for Agriculture, League of Women Voters, Minerva Club, and Rotary. In addition, I have always been involved with fundraisers and organizations that benefit youth such as FFA and 4-H, as a sewing, cooking, and beef leader. I have been a leader in the fight against drug abuse through the anti-drug and alcohol coalition Fighting Back Santa Maria Valley and the Santa Barbara County Meth Task Force. I understand the issues that have impacted our quality of life through my work on the Human Services Commission of Santa Barbara County, Brandman University Education Advisory Board, and the Alzheimer’s Association. I understand the infrastructure and systems that keep our community running through my service on the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, the Santa Maria Code Compliance Board, the Santa Barbara Economic Vitality Commission, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School Board of Trustees, as an alternate of the Coastal Commission, and, of course, as a councilwoman for the city of Santa Maria since 1999. As I was raising my boys, I always made time to belong to these organizations and to give back to our community.
Bob Orach: My philosophy is to run the business of the city in a prudent and fiscally sound manner. I don’t believe in spending money the city doesn’t have. As a result, while cities like Stockton, Vallejo, San Bernadino, and Mammoth Lakes have had to declare bankruptcy—with several others likely to do so in the near future—Santa Maria remains one of the best-run and most financially sound cities in the state of California. I have been helping to keep Santa Maria safe, efficient, and financially sound since 1986. I hope to continue to keep it that way during these very difficult times. I bring strong leadership skills to the Santa Maria City Council, and I believe the reason for my longevity on the City Council stems from the fact that people realize how passionate I am about the wellbeing of the city of Santa Maria and its residents. I’ve been very involved in many community organizations and nonprofits, and the critical issues that affect the community affect me in the same way they affect everyone else. Ensuring that Santa Maria remains a safe place to live and to raise a family is fundamental, which is why I’ve taken an active role in making sure we have sufficient police and fire protection. I’ve played an instrumental role in the building of our four new fire stations, acquiring and remodeling a new building for the new police department headquarters. I was active in passing Measure U, which will ensure that we are able to bring back our gang suppression unit, hire more police officers, and fully staff our new fire stations.
Etta Waterfield: For the past eight-plus years, I have been a member of the Santa Maria Planning Commission. As a representative for state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, I also understand policy and the political realities of our state government. Additionally, for over a decade I have been involved with economic development with the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Commission and its predecessor the Santa Maria Valley Economic and Development Association. I believe this hands-on working experience in the both the private and the government sectors will enable me to bring both perspectives to the table to provide reasonable and practical solutions.
Terri Zuniga: I have lived, worked, and volunteered in our community for more than 50 years; raised seven children, and have 11 grandchildren being raised here. I spent more than 20 years working in the nonprofit community and have been a supervisor of the District Attorney’s Victim Witness Program for more than six years. I also serve on the Board of Directors of Santa Maria Valley Youth and Family Center, Good Samaritan Shelter, Conflict Solutions Center, and P.L.A.Y., and I am a former Recreation and Parks commissioner. Those positions, coupled with my professional and personal experiences and knowledge in the government and nonprofit sectors, have provided me the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse sector of our community. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of creating solutions and developing results for working families, civic organizations, businesses, and the marginalized in our community.
What are three key components of your campaign?
Cordero: Obviously jobs are a main concern for all communities across the country. Increasing well-paying jobs helps us better our community in many ways. More jobs equal more money to be spent in our community. The local economy gets better and our tax base goes up. We also need to have a vision. I feel a very important strategy is to be ready. Being ready means that if businesses want to relocate, they must be incentivized to do so. I don’t believe a company of any size is going to want to wait 10 to 15 months until something can be worked out or built to meet their needs. We as a city administration must be ready and willing to provide good housing, crime-free environments, and a workforce to meet the demands of a new company. That could include Allan Hancock College to help train a workforce for such a company. I would like to turn Santa Maria into a destination city and not just be the overflow for surrounding communities. Any community that has a healthy economy likely has a welcomed visiting population as well. People should want to come to Santa Maria for what Santa Maria has to offer. For far too long I have heard that Santa Maria is not a destination city. We receive the people who can’t get a room in Pismo, Solvang, or even Santa Barbara. I say that’s not good enough; I say we should enter into some long-range thinking and develop that very environment.
• Restore public safety
• Restore quality of life
• Restore fiscal discipline
• Rebuild public confidence
• To address the lack of positive business climate in the city.
• To address the image problem that the community suffers from, which is both an internal—we, the residents of the valley—and external—how others see our community—image problem.
• To generate a direction and vision for the future of Santa Maria which in my view has been lacking for quite some time
• Growing the pool of jobs by increasing the number of new small businesses in Santa Maria.
• Building community pride throughout the city through neighborhood improvement, public safety, and increased employment through newly created, locally owned small businesses.
Orach: To make sure that Santa Maria remains safe and financially sound, in spite of the fact that the state of California continues to funnel money away from cities to cover budget shortfalls at the state level. Throughout my career on the City Council, I have believed that Santa Maria needs to be more business friendly. Recently we’ve made headway in doing so. I played a key role in bringing Windset Farms to Santa Maria, a hydroponic vegetable farm that built a huge four-acre greenhouse in Santa Maria that is environmentally friendly. They brought 200 jobs to Santa Maria in 2011, and intend to add another 200 jobs in 2012, along with another four-acre greenhouse. They considered other locations, but stated that the city of Santa Maria—especially the City Council—really worked to make it easy for them to get through the process of bringing this unique, clean agricultural business to Santa Maria. During my tenure on the City Council, we have worked to improve and repair the infrastructure of Santa Maria, while keeping Santa Maria financially sound:
• Imported state water to improve Santa Maria’s water quality
• Completed a $33 million state-of-the-art library and built the $5 million Abel Maldonado Community Youth Center
• Constructed four new fire stations and purchased and remodeled the new police department headquarters
• Developed eight beautiful new parks and remodeled Paul Nelson pool into a state-of-the-art aquatic center
• Repaired the Santa Maria River Levee and are expanding the Santa Maria River Bridge
• Built a new intermodal transit center and expanded public transportation
• A healthy economy that creates jobs
• Government accountability
• Public safety
• Increasing public safety for families, children, and seniors.
• Creating well-paying jobs, economic stability, and sound, sustainable development.
• Assuring the community has various opportunities to be heard; only when everyone’s voice is listened to can we create new solutions and a brighter, better Santa Maria.
Job creation is a major issue in North County, as well as the rest of the country. How do you plan to help grow the local job market and economy?
Cordero: I believe I answered part of this question above in what I feel are key components to this campaign. But, it is safe to say that we could do better. We have several major businesses in our community that have generated good paying jobs. We also have some things that many communities do not have. We can promote good business with information that we have one of the longest airport runways in the immediate area. This means we could bring larger aircraft in to accommodate the needs of major companies. We also have a local railroad. If we brought in major manufacturers, their needed materials are much cheaper to ship by rail rather than trucks on our roadways. If we get these kinds of things working in the right direction, our community could capitalize on each and every one of them. When do you think the last time was that we had the airport people, railroad people, local planners, and a major company in the same room talking about the almighty bottom line that would benefit all of them? Likely it’s been many years at the very best, if ever. Perhaps the most significant contribution our council could make is to seek and help develop a more business-friendly city government. We should streamline the process of starting a business and make it so potential business people talk about how business friendly we are, and not just how hard it is to open a business here in Santa Maria. We do this by bringing people together that have the right experiences to appreciate the needs of potential business owners as well as the requirements by regulating entities.
Gebhart: Without quality of life and public safety, you cannot attract and keep quality employees. Once the city gets public safety in line and quality of life restored, employers will come with their own ideas for business in Santa Maria. I do not believe the airport will be a salvation. Allan Hancock College needs to spawn more businesses. The farming sector seems pretty much mature and probably not much more could be added there. Increased tourism could be added. But we first need to roll back the sales-tax increase. Why would someone want to shop in a city where you have to pay more for each product? We need to make Santa Maria business-attractive; cleanup up graffiti, gangs, and shopping carts, and keep it cleaned up at the perpetrators’ expense, not the taxpayers’.
Mariscal: A large reason I am running for mayor is because of the experience our company, 510 Event Center, encountered trying to open our doors in the city. ... Because of my experiences, and those of others, this would be my plan of action: The first aspect is to fix the poor relationship that currently exists between business owners, the city, and the chamber of commerce. The city is no longer the business-friendly city that it has professed to be over the years. Business owners are reluctant to expand their businesses and hire employees due to the overburdening and costly regulations the city has put into place over the last eight years. Many business owners are reluctant to publicly discuss or criticize the current circumstances for fear of reprisal or retaliation from departments they must interact with, and from the chamber of commerce. ... To have business owners hamstrung in this fashion is unacceptable and a tremendous roadblock to helping existing business expand and hire more employees. Additionally, the permitting process and maze of different regulations and departments a potential business owner must face just to try and start a business is both punitive and degrading. ... The second area I would concentrate on is working to implement the Downtown Specific Plan. Santa Maria needs to act on its promise to revitalize the downtown area. The plan has received no support, direction, or effort for its implementation from the past two councils. ... As mayor, I would work to create a real partnership among business organizations whose efforts are aimed at helping to grow our business climate such as the CEO Roundtables, the Economic Alliance of North Santa Barbara County, the Central Coast Wine Growers Association, the Santa Maria Valley Wine Country Association, and other groups with similar desires.
Patino: Business growth builds jobs! As stated above, I plan to lower the fees and eliminate as much “red tape” as possible to make Santa Maria competitive and the easiest city on the Central Coast in which to open a small business or expand an existing business. Too often we have looked to those outside of our community to move into the area in the hope they will bring jobs. I say we are a community that knows how to pull itself up by its own bootstraps. We must look to those within our community who wish to open new businesses and make it as easy as possible for them to attain the American Dream. Locals opening businesses will be more likely to hire their friends and family within the community as well. As these new businesses prosper, every new employee will prosper with them, leading to a better quality of life for everyone.
Orach: This is a huge issue facing Santa Maria. We continue to work to attract new businesses to Santa Maria through our Economic Development Committee, an arm of the Santa Maria Chamber of Commerce. As a councilman, I have taken an active role in meeting with business people interested in bringing their businesses to Santa Maria, to help them work through the process. I’ve been active in the Santa Maria Manufacturers Association group, working to expand manufacturing opportunities for existing and potential new companies to create well-paying jobs. In talking with local business people, it is clear we have a long way to go in making the process for permitting and opening a new business more “user-friendly” and efficient. This will be a high priority for me when I’m re-elected. [The city needs to] continue attracting and encouraging businesses like C&D Zodiac, which has increased its workforce to more than 1,100 employees and quadrupled production in 2011; Windset Farms, which has become the largest hydroponic grower in the United States and will be doubling its workforce in 2012; and Hardy Diagnostics. [I will work] to make Santa Maria a destination city by capitalizing on, and promoting, resources that will attract tourism, such as the excellent Central Coast wine industry, sporting events, car shows, and community events, thus bolstering our economy.
Waterfield: I will work closely with and support the existing organizations that provide the current economic development services in the city. I will see the city does its part in creating a pro-business attitude and environment that not only attracts prospective new business but provides the support and encouragement for existing businesses to expand and thrive in our community.
Zuniga: This is one of the issues that sets me apart from my co-candidates because I would work with a broad cross-section of our community to first identify who we are as a community and what we want our community to look like in the future, and then go out and aggressively attract businesses that fit our vision. Additionally we need to address the level of violence and crime in our community; we will not attract new businesses if we do not have a safe community. We also need to partner with local school districts to assure that we are mitigating the impact of development on our schools. Employers and their families will not locate here if our schools are not vibrant and meeting the needs of their student population. It is the council’s responsibility to assure that the Planning Commission does not approve development that over-impacts our schools so we can have a strong, stable, viable, school system meeting the needs of students, parents, and teachers.
The Santa Maria Police Department and the city of Santa Maria came under scrutiny this year after a string of officer-involved shootings. What is your opinion of the way things were handled?
Cordero: This is almost an unfair question to ask me. My law enforcement background causes me to want information that I am no longer entitled to have. In addition, as many of you may have done, I almost immediately started thinking of a better way to have handled the cases that developed into shootings. ... Most of what is delivered as a police service is a direct reflection of leadership and staff support. If an organization is truly led from the top down, with strong positive leadership, then that leadership influences all line workers. Some employees accept their leadership better than others. Conversely, if an organization is experiencing poor, misguided leadership, or even selective leadership, the line personnel will also reflect that in the services they render. It is far too easy to “Monday-morning quarterback” when a situation goes bad. Just change a few thoughts around and you, too, can be a hero with a better plan. As I reviewed the last 10 months of officer-involved shootings, I have to say that there is little that lumps them all into one category. But I do feel that we need to consider that it is unacceptable and we need to work on better communication regarding our field operations. My bottom line regarding the shootings is to ask a question or two: Was enough time spent on listening to all that was offered in the way of information and was that information properly evaluated and prioritized? ... I find it difficult to answer this question without reviewing the after-action reports on all of the officer-involved shootings. In short, I feel the shootings could have been handled better from a public relations point of view.
Gebhart: Certainly the [Albert] Covarrubius case was handled extremely poorly. From what I know of most of the other cases, incidents were handled appropriately. I would like to warn citizens not to jump to conclusions until all the facts are known. I know my opinions of certain incidents have changed once I knew all the facts. I believe we need some sort of citizen rating of police officers based on their interactions. Police officers are human and do make mistakes. They are under a lot of stress and may have a “bad” day. Judges are also human and they have prejudices and make poor decisions. Since most of the time judges will believe the officer without question, the private citizen needs some kind of recourse other than expensive litigation. I have found that the officer-complaint system does not really work and just rubber-stamps the police department. Some have suggested that the police department should be placed under the control of the council. That would be a mistake and render the Santa Maria Police Officers Association ineffective as a PAC, which is what it has turned into.
Mariscal: As a citizen, I was concerned that the only statements generated by the council were that they could not comment because the incidents were under investigation. As a former council member, I understand this position. As a citizen, I was disappointed because the statements did nothing to help the community know that there was real concern, not only about each incident, but about the overall negative pall that was falling over the city from both an internal and external perspective because of the incidents. I have heard from many residents that they felt the statements themselves were cold and impersonal and lacked any hint that the city would be working on possible solutions to the root causes of the shootings. I feel that this helped fuel an already large distrust in the city and the police department at the time when the community needed to be reassured the most.
Patino: The city and its staff handled this very well. They were out in front of the issue, providing the media with as much information as they could about each incident without any of the typical “no comments” that other organizations make. The city had press conferences, news releases, and put information related to the shootings on its website. Frankly, they were as transparent as they could be given the difficulty of the circumstances and the laws dictating employee privacy. In addition, outside investigators were immediately called in to look into these tragic events and the city manager even called in the highly regarded Office of Independent Review from Los Angeles County to perform an audit of the police department.
Orach: First, Santa Maria has a very good police department with very hard working dedicated officers. When people violate the laws of our country, state, and city, our police officers are forced into action. Unfortunately, we’ve had a rash of folks—several of whom violated the law outside our city boundary—who chose to run and were pursued by multiple law enforcement agencies into our community. Under these high-pressure situations, our officers are put to the task of protecting the public, property, and themselves. Violators of the law create these situations and are ultimately the cause of the situation and unfortunate outcomes that affect us all physically and emotionally. There are certain procedures and protocols that are required of the City Council, not to mention state and federal law. These steps were followed precisely as required, so I would say the City Council handled the situation exactly as it had to. The appropriate steps were taken to investigate how we reacted ... and how can we improve the outcomes of these types of incidents in the future. Those investigations are currently underway by an array of independent professionals who will be bringing their findings to city management and City Council. I’m confident that any necessary changes will be implemented at the direction of the City Council, city manager, and department heads that oversee those activities.
Waterfield: I believe that the city is headed in a constructive direction to learn from the past but also move forward in a productive way that will enable the city to provide the level of public safety that we all deserve and expect.
Zuniga: My position was and continues to be that the chief should have been relieved of his duties sooner. The City Council should have led the way by communicating with police officers and city staff. Instead concerns were dealt with in a sort of business-as-usual approach leaving the community to wonder what was happening and who was in charge. For years, Santa Maria police officers had expressed their distress about the chief, but the City Council did little to alleviate or address their concerns and failed to offer any consequences regarding the chief’s performance. Instead the City Council allowed frustrations to grow and morale to suffer, which left the city with too many officers out on leave and created a department that was understaffed and overworked. Anyone who runs a business knows this type of negligence is detrimental to the entire team and the community it serves.
What would you do as a City Council member to address the public’s concerns about local law enforcement and public safety?
Cordero: Normally council members receive only a minimal amount of information. Therefore our perceptions may be somewhat skewed by the limited information. However, what is not skewed is the overwhelming testimony received by the many people of our community at our bimonthly council meetings. People speaking for or against the police department sent a powerful message. The overwhelming message from the public was the dissatisfaction of police management. ... It was apparent to me that we needed some changes to bring about a more positive relationship between the police management and the … Santa Maria Police Officers Association (SMPOA). A no-confidence vote by the majority of the association against the former chief was a monumental statement. As your mayor, I would attend all public meetings I possibly could ... . I would make an effort to maintain consistent contact or information exchange with SMPOA members so, when asked by members of the public, I can respond intelligently about what’s going on in the police department. I would also like to have regular information exchanges with police management so I can hear more about the overall operations of the department. These information exchanges would be for my own edification and not for the purposes of micromanaging the department. I would also be in favor of a system where the police and fire chiefs are held responsible to the City Council. The day-to-day supervision or management of the chiefs could and should remain with the city manager. The council would take recommendations from the city manager, but the council would maintain the final responsibility for the hiring and/or firing of these two positions. ... Under the current model, I would like to see at least two council members involved in the hiring of the new police chief. ... I feel the hiring of someone in this very important position should be a collaboration among several key people within the city. This would be a preventative measure to keep the chief’s position more transparent.
Gebhart: I would advance all the suggestions I have already e-mailed the current council. I would like to find a police chief who has already solved the problems Santa Maria faces. I am not interested in Santa Maria being a training ground for a new chief. Joe Arpio’s name comes to mind. There are many new technologies in policing, and I would like to see the department go in that direction. I do not believe we need any more officers. I see much efficiency to be had in the police department. After all, if the goal is to reduce crime, what do we do with all the extra officers we hired once the crime is reduced? Officers are not cheap. I do not believe in gang suppression. I have seen it fail in other cities. I believe in gang elimination. I believe the city can make it so uncomfortable for gangs to exist in Santa Maria that they will go elsewhere. I cannot detail my plans in public, because, after all, one of the major factors in winning a battle is the element of surprise. If the city would read the e-mail I have sent them, they could possible figure it out. I would need the cooperation of the federal and state governments to be effective. A gang ordinance of some kind should be drafted.
Mariscal: Leadership starts at the top and as mayor I would work tirelessly with the chief and other members of the department to create a cohesive police department. The dissention and internal issues of the department have been well known and reported on for many years. We need to make sure our officers and other employees of the department know their work is vital to the success of our community, and that they are appreciated. Additionally, the community needs to believe that our police department knows that they have a responsibility to make our community better. To this end, I would work to reinstitute a community-based outreach program with the requirement that the chief, senior managers, and line officers spend time making this outreach program successful. I would reinstitute an active Neighborhood Watch program, and foster better communication among neighborhoods and the officers who patrol them. The community needs to know that they can trust and count on officers, and officers need to know that the community supports the work they do and are willing to help them succeed.
Patino: People have a right to feel safe in their homes, parks, schools, and streets. I believe we need to be proactive and continually aware of the elements in our city that would try to define us as anything other than a great city in which to live, work, and raise our families. As a member of the City Council, I have called for a town hall meeting to talk to residents and to open the door to better communication. I have met with people from faith-based organizations to talk about cleaning up the neighborhoods where crime is being committed and to see how we can help them improve the safety and quality of life everyone. As mayor of Santa Maria, I will use the full force of the mayor’s office to continue these efforts to make our city the type of community everyone can take pride in!
Orach: The City Council and city manager brought in an interim police chief to help improve the department to a well-functioning unit. We are in the process of hiring a new, highly qualified chief of police who will provide the leadership, guidance, and direction necessary to take the Santa Maria Police Department into the future. Community policing is one of my main goals going forward to restore confidence in our public safety. We all need to become active in making Santa Maria a safer place to live. We all need to resolve to take responsibility for our actions, nurture our children to become active law-abiding citizens, and to work with our neighbors to maintain the quality of life where we reside. In addition, we are presently remodeling a building in which to house our police department. We have recently added four new fire stations. With the passage of Measure U, we will be able to increase the number of police and fire response personnel, and to re-establish our gang suppression unit. We are doing everything possible to insure the safety and well being of the people of Santa Maria.
Waterfield: Public safety is a quality-of-life issue, and we must continue to adjust our city budget for the tough economy, while resolving to protect and preserve public safety funding. Government’s No. 1 role is to protect the liberties of the people, and that starts by ensuring we have adequate police and fire protection.
Zuniga: I would work to address the concerns of our police officers, and ensure the new police chief has a strong commitment to community policing. Most importantly, I would work tirelessly to make certain our police department has the equipment, infrastructure, staff, and training opportunities to support the department and the difficult and growing demands of the job. As a result, morale would improve within the ranks; there would be better and more thorough policing of our streets, and a police department and City Council working together to solve problems. Additionally, I would support a more significant role of the City Council in the selection process and performance evaluation of key management, with special emphasis on public safety.
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