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Temporarily Tapped Out: More Time to Consider California's Clean Water Funding Bill

Environmental Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation Defense Attorney


Stephen T. Holzer



How deep does the clean water issue go in California? Let’s first take a look at some fairly recent and comprehensive findings:

There was good news and bad news regarding the cleanliness of California’s drinking water, according to a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study released in 2015.

California reservoir

The research comprised part of California’s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program, more commonly called GAMA. It included 10 years’ worth of test data from untreated water in 11,000 wells across the state. GAMA considered area population and development to weight findings from the well tests.

First the good news: Contamination from nitrates, solvents, pesticides, etc. occurred in high concentrations in only five percent of California’s groundwater resources. The bad news was that naturally occurring contaminants like arsenic or uranium were found in about 20 percent of the state’s groundwater resources.

So what should be done about water contaminants?

According to the USGS, local and regional agencies are responsible for cleaning up the problem of high contaminant levels, particularly in high population areas like the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys near Los Angeles. And the State Water Resources Control Board regulates safety under several state clean water laws, including the California Safe Drinking Water Act and the Porter-Cologne Water Quality Control Act.

But for some lawmakers, that may not be enough.

Temporarily Diverted: Clean Water Tax

Senate Bill 623, introduced by Senator Bill Monning (D-San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Cruz), would impose the first-ever consumer tax on drinking water. 

The bill would levy a 95 cent per month tax on water meters “up to one inch or customers without water meters” (see Article 5 of SB 623).  The tax would increase, depending on the size of the water meter at issue, to as much as $10 per month for customers with water meters greater than four inches.

There would be exemptions from the tax for low-income customers, e.g. if the customer’s household income equals or is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or if the water meter exclusively measures flow of non-potable/recycled water.

The taxes, estimated at $110 - 140M per year, will be diverted to a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund to clean up our drinking water sources.

But there are an interesting mix of groups and individuals both for and against the bill. As a result of the controversy, SB 623 is now on a two year track and won’t be decided until 2018, which gives us all time to contemplate.

Strange Water Bed Fellows

Farm Crop SprayerAccording to the Visalia Times-Delta, more than one million California residents live in communities with unsafe drinking water because of 300 state water systems that don’t meet federal criteria.

Many of the communities with bad water are in the middle of the state – the breadbasket of California, where agriculture is the main industry. Perhaps that’s why the farming industry is teaming up with environmentalists to support this clean water bill.

A spokesperson for the Western Growers’ Association released this statement regarding the clean water fund:

The use of organic and commercial fertilizers are necessary to replenish soil nutrients to allow for crop production. We believe it is in the best interests of the people of the state of California to have a safe and secure food supply grown in California for the benefit of people everywhere. . . SB 623 strikes the needed balance between providing the necessary resources for addressing critical drinking water needs, while protecting agriculture from certain nitrate related enforcement actions in the short-term. 

The Association of California Water Agencies, however, opposes SB 623 because the bill turns hundreds of water agencies into tax collectors, opens the door to more taxes on water in the future, and thus hinders the affordability of water, which is fundamental to life.

The Association thinks California’s General Fund and the income from the Safe Drinking Water State Revolving Fund should pay for cleaning up drinking water.

And not all environmental groups are on board with SB 623, as some contend the bill gives the agricultural industry a “pay to pollute” pass, as the bill would allow farmers to enroll in a waiver program by paying an applicable fee, potentially protecting them from environmental enforcement actions.

So one question that must be answered between now and a legislative vote in 2018: How best can we protect both our food and our drinking water suppliers? Will SB 623 take care of one challenge without sacrificing the other? 

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group.


This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


Tomato Tweaking: Genetically Engineered Crops May Be Safe for Consumption, Environment

Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation

Stephen T. Holzer



Most of us remember the Jack and the Beanstalk story. In this 18th century fairy tale, a young, poor, every-day Jack trades an old cow for magic beans which makes his mother very angry. But in the end, Jack manages to bring home untold riches, ending all of their worries – barring a potential blood feud with a murdered giant’s wife – all because of these special beans. (Never mind that Jack was technically a housebreaker. That’s another area of law entirely.)

Worker weeding farm fieldGenetically-engineered crops (or GECs) may very well be like Jack’s magic beans, based on the fear and anger they seem to sprout among environmentalists and the health conscious.

But before we get into that, let’s narrow the field of villains by first defining GECs, which should be distinguished from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Some experts contend that GECs are actually a type of GMO. Genetic modification has been going on since the dawn of agriculture – almost all of our food has been modified over the centuries. Such modifications allow for corn digestible by human stomachs, or the thousands of known varieties of tomatoes cropping up globally.

Engineered agriculture on the other hand, was first developed in the 1990s and has a specific goal of adding new traits to an organism. These traits might include making a papaya virus-resistant, or rice harvests more nutrient-rich. If we believed in castles in the sky, scientists might engineer a beanstalk to get there, making it grow taller and sturdier.

So how safe are GECs?

Try the Beans. They’re Not Bad.

Researchers published a report last year that may allay some of the aforementioned fear-based anger.

The study released in May, was conducted by members of the Board of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Division on Earth and Life Studies, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. (Click this link to read: Genetically Engineered Crops: Experiences and Prospects.) The authors drew conclusions based on “the National Academies consensus-study-process”: relying on field studies conducted since the 1990s, input from over 700 experts and organizations, and both peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed literature.

They contend that scientists have been developing GECs “to express novel traits” since the 1980s, though they weren’t available for commercial use until the 1990s. But at the conclusion of their data gathering in 2015, only two varieties of GECs were in wide-spread use: those that have been engineered for insect resistance, and those engineered for herbicide resistance. 

Based on their research, the authors concluded that these engineered plants are safe for both human and livestock use and consumption:

. . . long-term data on livestock health before and after the introduction of GE crops showed no adverse effects associated with GE crops. The committee also examined epidemiological data on incidence of cancers and other human-health problems over time and found no substantiated evidence that foods from GE crops were less safe than foods from non-GE crops.

GEC Agronomy and the Environment

Further, the research committee also indicated there is no conclusive proof that GECs have negative effects on the environment – though the authors do amend that conclusion with a warning that measuring long term environmental effects is a complicated process.

There have been strong claims made about the purported benefits and adverse effects of GE crops. The committee found little evidence to connect GE crops and their associated technologies with adverse agronomic or environmental problems. 

The research cites mixed evidence regarding increased or decreased crop yields and biodiversity. For example, “The quantitative contribution of GE crop traits themselves to yield in experimental plots was sometimes difficult to determine because the GE and non-GE varieties could differ in other yield-associated traits.”

Agri-industry Commercial farm field

Additionally, further studies need to be conducted to account for differences in soil characteristics, irrigation and tilling frequency, and a host of other factors like the use of glyphosates or a farmer’s financial resources. Over a decade of research was available to the authors – but they conclude more targeted testing is needed.

Lettuce Legislate GM Labeling

It seems GECs may not be as bad as some environmentalists believe. So why then, have six counties in California, most recently Sonoma County in the November election, banned genetically engineered agriculture? Our state has the largest GEC-free growing zone in the country.

It seems that despite the National Academies of Science study, the giants of environmental concern are still feeling threatened by GM agronomy.

Last July, President Barack Obama signed a law that modifies the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 – it directs the Secretary of Agriculture to devise a system for labeling food that had its DNA modified by scientists (as opposed through conventional breeding or by nature).

The US Department of Agriculture had two years as of the enactment of the law to establish the rules, and the Department recently posted 30 questions for interested parties to answer to facilitate in drafting those GMO labeling rules. The USDA says there will be an additional period for comments once the Department compiles input acquired via the questions and proposes a labeling rule.


Stephen T. Holzer is the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group and a business litigation attorney. 

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


California Employer Compliance 2017

Lawyers for Employers

by: Lewitt Hackman's Employment Practice Group



There have been significant changes to state and federal laws in 2016 affecting employers of all sizes and in many industries. We'd like to help our clients stay apprised of some of the more critical changes by reminding all of the important dates below. Except where otherwise indicated, new laws and regulations go into effect as of January 1, 2017.


Federal Minimum Salary Threshold

A federal court blocked the Department of Labor's Final Rule with an injunction in late November. As a result, the minimum salary threshold required for overtime exemptions that was to be met December 1, 2016 no longer applies. This may be a temporary reprieve for employers, as the DOL recently filed a Notice of Appeal.

In the meantime, employers should ensure they meet all state and local overtime exemption requirements.

Affordable Care Act

IRS Affordable Care ActUnder the Affordable Care Act, employers must provide employees forms 1094-B (Health Coverage) and 1094-C (Employer-provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage to Employees) by March 2, 2017.

Information reporting via Forms 1094 and 1095 with the IRS is February 28, 2017 (hard copies) or March 31, 2017 (electronic filing). 


New I-9 and Immigration Protections

Employment I-9A new I-9 Form (Employment Eligibility Verification) was released in November. Employers must begin using the new form for new hires by January 22, 2017

Federal law prohibits employers from asking for additional documents other than those required by the I-9. A new California law (Senate Bill 1001) prohibits this practice as well -- violations may incur penalties of up to $10,000. 

California Fair Pay Act

Fair Pay EthnicityThe Fair Pay Act prohibits employers from paying employees of opposite sex different wages for substantially similar work. Any pay differentials must be based on seniority, merit system, quantity or quality of production, or other bona fide factors such as education or experience. Additionally:

Senate Bill 1063 amends and expands the different rates of pay prohibitions to employees of another race or ethnicity.

Assembly Bill 1676 clarifies that prior salary history cannot justify compensation disparities. 

Criminal Background Checks

Background Checks in CaliforniaCalifornia: Employers are prohibited from asking about arrests or detentions that did not result in a conviction, or about those incidents that have been judicially sealed or dismissed. Assembly Bill 1843 expands protections to protect job applicants with juvenile criminal histories as well. 

Los Angeles: Ban the Box, or the Second Chance Initiative, prohibits employers with ten or more employees from including questions about criminal history on job applications. Employers may ask about criminal history AFTER a conditional offer of employment is made to the applicant. There is a process involved regarding the consideration of such information, written notices, maintaining records; and notifications that must be included on all job posts. Read our Ban the Box blog for more information. 

Payroll, Wage Statements & Notices

Employee NoticesCurrently, employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees who are victims of domestic violence, sex assault or stalking – and cannot prohibit employees from taking time off to seek treatment or legal actions for these crimes. Assembly Bill 2337 now requires employers to provide written notice of their employment rights should they become victims of these crimes to all new hires and to other employees as requested. Employers are required to comply with the notice requirements when the Labor Commissioner develops a form notice, on or before July 1, 2017.

Employers who must notify employees of eligibility for federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) must also notify employees of California EITCs per Assembly Bill 1847.

Employers are not required to track hours worked for exempt employees on itemized wage statements. The clarification comes under Assembly Bill 2535.

Employees of Temporary Staffing Agencies must be paid weekly. Assembly Bill 1311 makes this law applicable to security personnel employed by private patrol operators who are also temp service employers, as of July 2016.

Single User Restroom Facilities

Restroom LawAs of March 1, 2017, single-occupant toilet facilities in any business or public building must be identified as "all gender" facilities with signage compliant with Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations. Single-occupant bathrooms have no more than one stall and one urinal. See Assembly Bill 1732.


Minimum Wage Hikes

Minimum Wage HikeCalifornia: Businesses with 26 or more employees must pay a minimum wage of $10.50 per hour as of January 1, 2017. Employers with 25 or fewer employers must raise minimum wages to this rate on January 1, 2018

Local Ordinances: In unincorporated Los Angeles County, Los Angeles City, Pasadena and Santa Monica, employers with 25 or fewer employees must begin paying minimums of $10.50 per hour as of July 1, 2017. Employers with 26 or more employees were required to start paying a rate of $10.50 per hour as of July 1, 2016; and will be required to pay $12.00 per hour as of July 1, 2017. (Click: Cty and County Wage Rates for more specific information.) 


Sick Time

Sick Leave CaliforniaCalifornia: As of 2015, employers in California must provide 24 hours of paid leave per year for employees who work at least 30 days per year. 

Local Ordinances: In Los Angeles County, employers must provide 48 hours of paid sick leave annually. The time can be front-loaded every 12 months or accrued at the rate of one hour paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. This requirement is part of the Los Angeles Minimum Wage Ordinance, and went into effect last July for employers with 26 or more employees. For employers with 25 or fewer employees, the requirements must be implemented as of July 1, 2017

Arbitration Clauses

Senate Bill 1241 prohibits employers from requiring employees, as a prerequisite of employment, to arbitrate employment disputes under the laws of another state or in another state. This protection applies to all employees who primarily live and work in California. 

An exception to the new law applies to employees represented by an attorney when negotiating terms of an employment contract, including those containing forum selection and choice of law provisions. 

New California Employment Laws: Industry Specific Legislation


Janitorial Services

Janitor LawPer Assembly Bill 1978, employers of property service workers (janitorial) must keep records of all employees to include: employee names and addresses; start/stop times and all hours worked; wage rates for each pay period; ages of any minor employees; and conditions of employment – for three years. The law applies to janitorial employees, independent contractors and franchisees. 

Employers in this industry must register with the Labor Commissioner each year as of July 1, 2018. Cost of registration is $500.00.

The new legislation also requires janitorial staff and supervisors to undergo sexual violence and harassment prevention training every two years as of January 1, 2019

Agricultural Workers

Farm Worker LawAssembly Bill 1066 eliminates the one day of rest per seven days worked exemption for California's agricultural industry. Employers cannot require agricultural employees to work more than six days per week.

As of January 1, 2019, agricultural employers must provide overtime wages for more than 9.5 hours worked (or more than 8 hours starting January 2022); meal breaks; and meet other wage and working condition requirements.

Employers with 25 or fewer employees have an additional three years to comply with the criteria above. 

Private Education

Private School Minimum Salary ThresholdAssembly Bill 2230 requires a new minimum earnings test for private school teachers to be exempt from overtime:  salaries for these employees must be comparable to those offered to public schools in the same district or county. The new test is effective as of July 1, 2017



Salon Services

Salon Worker LawBusinesses licensed by the Board of Barbering and Cosmetology (BBC) are required to post notices regarding wage and hour laws and workplace rights as of July 1, 2017, under Assembly Bill 2437.

Another new law (Assembly Bill 2025) will require BBC schools to provide basic labor law education to license applicants.

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.


November Propositions |California Ballot Initiatives' Pros & Cons Part 2

Los Angeles Environmental AttorneyLos Angeles Business Litigation LawyerStephen T. Holzer
September 21, 2012

Los Angeles Environmental Attorney


Last week we took a look at Propositions 30 through 35 – the first six of the 11 new ballot measures Californians will see when they head to the voting booths in November. In this blog, we'll review the remaining five, Propositions 36 through 40.

If you want to read the Official Title and Summary for each measure prepared by the Attorney General, click on the blue text of each proposition and you'll be hyperlinked to the Secretary of State website where those documents are hosted.

We've also included hyperlinks to the main opposition and support sites for each proposition.


Proposition 36  – Three Strikes Law. Repeat Felony Offenders. Penalties. Initiative Statute.


If enacted, this measure would revise the “three-strikes” law, requiring a third-strike life sentence only in cases where the third-strike conviction is for a serious or violent felony. 

If the third offense is for a non-violent crime like shoplifting, repeat offenders would be punished by receiving twice the normal sentence for the crime instead of life imprisonment. However, rapists, murderers and child molesters would be exceptions—if convicted of even a minor third-strike crime, these persons would receive life sentences. 

Prop 36 Opposition:

Current and former District Attorneys and law enforcement seem to be divided on this one. But key opposition members to the measure include the California GOP. The "Save Three Strikes" movement says:

1. The 1994 Three Strikes law cut crime rates in half when it passed in 1994.

2. Prop 36 would allow nearly half of the state's current 3-strike inmates to be re-sentenced and then released.

3. Low-level criminals released under AB109 are already causing enough crime – worse criminals with two or more convictions could be released under this new ballot measure.

Prop 36 Support:

Again, law enforcement and DAs fall on both sides of this argument. Drafters of the measure include legal eagles from Stanford Law School, the Legal Defense Fund, and the NAACP. Proponents say:

1. Prop 36 will make room in California prisons for more dangerous prisoners, as non-violent third-strikers will have their life sentences reduced.

2. The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates Prop 36 potentially saves the state $100 million each year – funds that would help schools, prevent crime and decrease the need for tax increases.

3. The current law is too harsh in awarding 25 years to life sentences for repeat, non-violent felons, for such crimes as possession of small amounts of marijuana, writing bad checks, or theft of inexpensive items.


Proposition 37  – Genetically Engineered Foods. Labeling. Initiative Statute.


This Proposition would prohibit claims that food is “natural” where such engineering has taken place and, additionally, would require labeling indicating such engineering had occurred.  There would be a number of exemptions offered, including exemptions for food that has been certified as organic, food that is made from animals fed with genetically–engineered materials and food containing minimally-engineered materials.

Prop 37 Opposition:

Various California farm bureaus and agricultural associations, the California Republican Party and quite a few heavy hitters of the food industry are opposed to this one, arguing that 37 is deceptive and flawed, and will:

1. Ban perfectly safe foods only in California, unless they're specially relabeled and/or remade with higher cost ingredients.

2. Result in higher food costs for consumers, as manufacturers will be forced to use more organics and implement new record-keeping and other operations. Billions of dollars in costs will be passed on to families.

3. Institute more costly bureaucracy as government agencies will need to monitor food, growers, packagers, retailers, etc.

Prop 37 Support:

The "Right to Know" movement is supported by the California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG), the California Nurses Association and other health groups, United Farm Workers and such companies as Amy's Kitchen and Whole Foods. They claim:

1. Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are genetically engineered foods and other products that have not been subjected to long-term health studies and are not proven safe.

2. A growing body of studies links GMOs to allergies, organ toxicity and other health problems, as well as environmental concerns such as a loss in biodiversity, increase in pesticide use and the emergence of "super weeds".

3. Companies revise their labeling all the time so there shouldn't be a cost increase in food as the Prop 37 opposition claims. A study shows there was no increase in food costs in Europe when their countries switched to GMO labeling.


Proposition 38  – Tax to Fund Education and Early Childhood Programs. Initiative Statute.


This measure offers an alternative to Governor Brown’s proposal (Proposition 30) to increase the income tax on individuals earning over $250,000/year and to increase the sales tax.  Proposition 38 would, for a 12-year period, increase income taxes on virtually everyone, from a .4 percent increase on very low earners ($7,316/year) to a 2.2 percent increase on individuals earning over $2.5 million annually.  The monies raised would be devoted exclusively to schools, early childhood education programs and repayment of State debt.

Prop 38 Opposition:

The primary opposition comes from the supporters of Governor Brown's Proposition 30, and the California Democratic Party, as well as the California Teachers Association. The No on 38 crowd says the measure will:

1. Kill jobs in small and family businesses and imposes a significant tax hike on most Californians.

2. Not allow for change – this law if enacted, will continue for 12 years.

3. Force schools through complex red tape to receive basic funding and creates new programs even though necessary school functions have been cut back.

Prop 38 Support:

Supporters of this ballot include the California State PTA and various school districts and school boards around the state. They claim Prop 38:

1. Restores budget cuts to schools, allowing teachers to be re-hired and programs to be restored.

2. Ensures that funds raised will go straight to the schools – state politicians won't be able to touch it.

3. Guarantees local control: parents and teachers decide how to spend the money.


Proposition 39  – Tax Treatment for Multistate Businesses. Clean Energy and Energy Efficiency Funding. Initiative Statute.


This Prop would require businesses with multistate sales to pay State income taxes according to the businesses’ percentage of total sales being made in California.  Presently, multistate businesses can base their California tax liability on a formula that gives weight to payroll and property outside the State, usually resulting in more favorable tax treatment than would exist if Prop 39 becomes law.


Prop 39 Opposition:

The opposition to Prop 39 is primarily lead by the California Manufacturers & Technology Association (CMTA), who says that, the measure:

1. Makes California's hostile business climate and uncertain regulatory environment worse, by raising taxes on job creators.

2. The three factor formula for determining tax liability has been in place since 1966, including through California's "boom" years in the 1980s and 1990s.

3. Is a job-killer because it's a $1 billion tax increase on job-creating, multi-state companies.

Prop 39 Support:

The "Close the Loophole" faction is supported by California's National Organization for Women (NOW), The American Lung Association/California, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and various environmental and conservation groups. Supporters say Prop 39:

1. Closes loophole created in 2009 costs the state $1 billion per year and tens of thousands of jobs.

2. Creates 20k – 30k construction-related jobs because of the direct investment in energy efficiency and clean energy projects.

3. Will help reduce the state budget deficit by generating an additional $500 million in annual General Fund revenue starting next year, and $1 billion after five years.


Proposition 40  –  Redistricting. State Senate Districts. Referendum.


If enacted, this measure would have held the 2010 realignment of State Senate Districts by the “Citizens Redistricting Commission” in abeyance, and would have had the judiciary set interim districts until the 2010 realignment could be voted upon in a future State-wide election.  

This one gets a little confusing. If you vote "yes," you're voting to maintain the State Senate maps drawn by the Citizens Redistricting Commission. A "no" vote indicates you want the State Senate maps redrawn. 

To further cloud the issue, the original backers of Prop 40 – the ones who wanted a "no" vote, mostly the GOP – have withdrawn, though the measure will remain on the ballot. And now the original "No" movement wants you to vote "Yes." The OC Register has something of an explanation in this editorial:  Prop. 40 (redistricting): Yes.

Prop 40 Opposition:

The Yes on 40 coalitions is the initial ballot writers' opposition, and consists of the California Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters/California, California Forward, and other groups. Yes on 40 says the prop will:

1. Uphold the will of the California voters, who passed Proposition 11 in 2008 which created the Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.

2. Hold politicians accountable by ending "backroom deals" and ensuring transparency.

3. Uphold a unanimous California Supreme Court decision to protect the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Prop 40 Support:

Remember, the initial supporters of this measure wanted a "no" vote, but have now backed out and cannot get the Prop 40 removed from the ballot. The GOP could get the vote they initially campaigned for and now no longer want, just because most voters will be confused. 

Read California Ballot Initiatives Pros & Cons Part I, posted last week. Or continue with a look at ballot measures that will affect Angelenos: Los Angeles County Measure by Measure.

Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and Chair of our Environmental Law Practice Group. You may reach him at 818.990.2120.

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.
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