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They Came. They Saw. They Cut the Ribbon

Dec
20
2004

The awkwardly named Independent Citizen’s Oversight Committee for the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine gathered at San Francisco’s UCSF Friday and did pretty much what everyone expected. Robert Klein, the guy who pushed Prop. 71 up a mountain and past the ballot box was elected committee chairman. His chosen co-chairman, Edward Penhoet, also got the gig he was expected to get.
Poorly executed PR on the committee’s part kept the press focused on silliness: How the meeting was announced and its agenda set. It’s pretty hard to blow a touchy-feely cause like this one but Klein’s spokeswoman doesn’t seem to know much about pre-press conference schmoozing and that kept reporters focused on what will, in the end, be seen as minor details. But it’s set a tone that’s not going to go away any time soon. The committee’s biggest critic, Charles Halpern, who wanted but didn’t get nominated for the vice chairman’s job, is making noises about filing suit alleging that the meeting wasn’t legit and attempt to overturn the vote. He’ll get lots of ink on that, never fear.


Halpern’s approach is typical of the attacks that Lefty good-government types launch against Progressive libertarians like Gov. Arnold Schwarzneggger and complicated private-public partnerships like the stem cell initiative. First of all, they’re late to the party. Objection to Klein’s “coronation” didn’t surface until after the initiative passed and certainly no one – not even the measure’s biggest back in the California Assembly – realized how ironclad the initiative really is from any kind of legislative oversight. Controller Steve Westly, reading the political winds correctly has gotten out ahead of some of the criticism by creating a financial oversight committee which is one of the smarter moves of his political career, particularly if things go bad. But still, what’s left to chew over are attacks on process – which come off as silly sour grapes — and not a disciplined focus on what could really go wrong, results that could be enriching for some but not others. Westly will investigate this stuff but someone’s gonna have to force him to do it.
The stem cell initiative is, as Westly underscored Friday the “the smartest thing California has ever done,” and it’s going to be a big pay day for lots of people, most of them here in Northern California. First of all, if the Regenerative Medicine Institutes gets built south of Monterey, something has really gone wrong. The institute’s construction and staffing will mean jobs and a series of investment bonanzas for Silicon Valley.
There is nothing wrong with this. It isn’t illegal. Nor, really, should it be. And the cashing-in isn’t going to be discouraged or prohibited by complaining about open agendas and closed meetings. That means public vigilance – particularly of the financial interests of committee members – is necessary. A raft of deals will be cut – between universities and businesses, between the state and the university system (I’d look for the concerns about patent and royalty payments to be resolved by some deal with the UC’s) and between the various members of the committee and the yet-to-be-created biotech companies and venture firms – will be financially and socially enriching. But that means all financial proceedings should be as open as possible. I’d rather see Halpern and the Lefties fight and fight hard for financial disclosure by committee members rather than worry about meeting agendas. But knowing little about how business really works and less about Silicon Valley’s friends and family culture, the good government guys probably aren’t going to be able to see the forest for the trees. Here we go again. Sigh.
Make no mistake, this is a Silicon Valley initiative. Westly, who made his money at eBay in a deliberate stop in his political career, could not have been more clear about this. “I get it,” he told his audience. “I come from Silicon Valley, the land of entrepreneurship that has changed this state, this nation and this world forever.”
Silicon Valley was amply represented Friday and not just by the controller. ICOC Chairman Klein lives in Palo Alto and is friendly with – and got financial help to pass the measure from venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. Kleiner partner Brook Byers sits on the board of directors of Genentech, the mother of almost all Silicon Valley biotech companies (committee member Dr. Ted Love worked there) and the venture firm has invested in Genomic Health, whose board member, Michael Goldberg, a Woodside resident, also sits on the citizens’ committee. Penhoet, who will be the committee’s vice chair, is head of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, a non-profit that runs pretty much on the money Moore made as an Intel co-founder.
With all this business and science brainpower on one committee, it’s going to be interesting to see how the votes break. So far, the universities are hanging with the business folks. It’s a formidable block as the votes in favor of both Klein and Penhoet showed. The dissenters on Penhoet’s nomination were the committee’s patient advocates that may foreshadow an interesting split between folks who are playing their politics – state legislative politics – pretty well. The other nominee for the vice-chairmanship, Dr. Frank Staggers, is married to State Senator Teresa Hughes. He got votes of support from Sen. John Burton’s appointee Jeff Sheehy (who is staking out a nice little piece of turf as the committee’s press-savvy critic), from David Serrano Sewell, who was appointed by State Treasurer (and Friday’s meeting co-chair) Phil Anglides as well as from self-described San Jose “homegirl” Dr. Josephine Phyllis Preciado and Elk Grove physician Dr. Francisco Prieto.

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