Stem Cell Committee Lays Framework at Second Meeting
Independent Citizens Oversight Committee Chair Robert Klein on Thursday announced he has resigned as chair of the California Research and Cures Coalition, the not-for-profit group he formed after leading the Proposition 71 campaign, during the oversight committee's second meeting, the Sacramento Bee reports. Klein's announcement followed criticism for chairing both organizations (Mecoy, Sacramento Bee, 12/7).
ICOC also voted to grant Klein the authority to hire interim staff and professional staff to help with initial work for the new agency (Saar, Orange County Register, 1/7). Klein said the committee would conduct as much work as possible in public view and added that his real estate company would not benefit from any transaction with the committee (Somers, San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/7).
Five working groups composed of committee members were established during the meeting that will advise the full ICOC on standards, the hiring of a president and the awarding of laboratory equipment and other issues (Orange County Register, 1/7/04). The working groups also will "play key roles" in deciding how funds will be shared among researchers, the Los Angeles Times reports.
"It would be the worst mistake to begin going through the grant process without all the regulations defined," Philip Pizzo, a committee member and dean of the Stanford School of Medicine, said (Garvey, Los Angeles Times, 1/7).
Proposition 71, a measure approved on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot, calls for California to issue bonds to raise an average of $295 million annually over a decade to promote stem cell research and provide funds for a new stem cell research center, as well as grants and loans for lab projects. The committee is responsible for distributing $3 billion in taxpayer-backed bonds for facilities and research over the next decade.
ICOC's first meeting on Dec. 17 made little progress after Attorney General Bill Lockyer's (D) office advised that the agenda be fundamentally altered because of opponents' claims that the meeting as structured would have violated the Bagley-Keene Open Meeting Act. Open-government advocates have continued to criticize the committee for not trying hard enough to conduct its affairs in public (California Healthline, 1/6).
Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of Center for Genetics and Society, appeared before the committee and said, "At the first meeting (last month in San Francisco), you said you were going to hold yourself to higher standards. But I have to tell you, you're smart people with a lot of resources at your command, and you didn't do it" (Orange County Register, 1/7).
Darnovsky said the working groups are a "particularly dangerous and ill-advised" idea because they are explicitly exempt from the state's open-meeting laws (Elias, AP/San Jose Mercury News, 1/7). Others said the working groups should be open to the public (Sacramento Bee, 1/7).
Darnovsky also said Klein's efforts to avoid a conflict of interest with his real estate company was a positive move. However, the Union-Tribune reports that Darnovsky and "other public watchdogs would like all oversight committee members to make the same commitments Klein has made" (San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/7).
George Burrows, president of Regenerative Medicine Awareness, said he was concerned that the new agency would be comprised too heavily of Klein's own staff. Some critics said no employees from Klein's not-for-profit organization or the Proposition 71 campaign should be hired for the stem cell agency.
ICOC member Jeff Sheehy said he was in favor of open government but added that the working groups' sessions needed to remain closed in order to ensure open discussions and criticism of grant proposals.
Klein said the committee "is in the birth process, and we appreciate your understanding and patience in this process." He added that the committee would be more responsive to the public after it hired staff.
The committee has begun considering sites for the organization's permanent home. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and Sacramento are all in consideration. Klein said he encouraged other cities to make competitive offers (Sacramento Bee, 12/7).
Klein said the committee planned to award its first grant by the end of May (San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/7).
San Francisco is expected to offer a vacant building at no charge to serve as headquarters of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, a source familiar with the proposal said, the San Jose Mercury News reports. The expected offer would be part of San Francisco's campaign to attract the institute's headquarters.
The building is owned by Zoro LLC, the real estate investment firm of Bernard Osher, who contributed $250,000 to the campaign in favor of Proposition 71. The building is adjacent to the University of California-San Francisco's Mission Bay campus and is near the Stanford University Medical Center, UC-Berkeley and other biotechnology companies and venture-capital firms.
Jesse Blout, director of economic and work force development for Mayor Gavin Newsom's (D) office, said the location "is important symbolically because it sends a message that the Bay Area is looking at being the cutting edge of the next generation of discovery in the world of medical research" (Krieger, San Jose Mercury News, 1/7).