Thursday, June 28, 2007

Klein Involved in Major Land Deal-Stem Cell Research Center Proposal

California stem cell chairman Robert Klein and a prominent Sacramento area land developer are involved in a proposed 2,800-acre land deal near the capital that would also create a stem cell research center with a projected endowment of $200 million.

Reporter Mary Lynne Vellinga broke the news in The Sacramento Bee this morning. The developer is Angelo Tsakopolous, who has been active in Democratic fundraising and a major Sacramento developer for decades.

Tsakopolous' company, AKT Development, also contributed $125,000 on April 17 to Klein's private stem cell lobbying group, Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures, which grew out of the Prop. 71 campaign committee. The contribution was not reported in The Bee story.

The Bee story "raises serious and troubling questions, some of which originate from Bob Klein's dual role as chairman of the ICOC and a stem cell political advocacy," said John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights. He told the California Stem Cell Report:
"I've said repeatedly that the dual role is inappropriate and word of this deal and the suggestion that Klein is involved in it while taking contributions is even more troubling."
Klein's activities with the lobbying group have stirred other concerns in the past about conflicts in the case of a man to heads a state agency giving away $3 billion in public funds. (See below for links to previous items on this subject.) Klein still presides over his own development firm, which is based in Palo Alto at the same address as the lobbying group.

The stem cell agency said it had no comment on the development proposal. "We don't know anything about this," said Dale Carlson, chief communications officer for CIRM.

Vellinga wrote that the proposal appears to be in the concept stage, but Tsakopolous and his supporters have hired a well-known political consulting and PR firm, Townsend Raimundo Besler & Usher, and promoted the plan with Yolo County officials.

Vellinga reported:
"The plan is similar in approach to efforts Tsakopoulos has made in Sacramento and Placer counties, where he offered to fund an NBA arena and a university, respectively, with the proceeds from new development on agricultural land that is now off limits to building.

"As outlined Wednesday by Tsakopoulos' spokesman, Jeff Raimundo, the Yolo proposal is short on specifics, such as how much housing, office or retail space he would seek permission to build on about 2,800 acres of land he controls between the city of Davis and the Vic Fazio Yolo Wildlife Area.

"In meetings with Yolo officials, including a dinner held at the Sutter Club in downtown Sacramento, Tsakopoulos and his supporters have stressed the benefits of the stem cell facility but have offered little detail about what it would take to finance it."
Vellinga continued:
"'Bob and Angelo thought this up,' Amy Daly, executive director of the Alliance for Stem Cell Research, said of the new idea for a research center. 'My understanding is that Angelo is looking for a legacy he can leave. He wants to do something big. And Bob lives, eats and breathes stem cell research.'

"Daly, who worked with Klein on the stem cell initiative, also is helping promote the Tsakopoulos plan. She said there is a significant funding gap for research that's beyond the basic stage but not ready to hit the market. The new center could fill that gap, she said."
Daly also worked for the California stem cell agency as director of patient and medical organization relations from Jan. 14, 2005, to Nov. 25, 2005.

Raimundo told the California Stem Cell Report that Yolo County supervisors "first started the dialogue about a biomedical research corridor." Raimundo said the project had a goal of generating a $200 million endowment for the center, although there were no details how the funds would be raised. He said any development would likely include residential and commercial building.

He told CSCR:
"This is a real convergence of a county that wants to boost its economic development and is willing to look at biomedical research complexes along I-80, a biotech community looking for research incubators in a comprehensive university-oriented R&D complex with allied ventures, and a willing and enthusiastic landowner.

"No specific plan has been created yet, but what ultimately is built here will be determined by the county as part of their general plan update."
Simpson, of FTCR, said,
"I'm extremely doubtful of a commercial real estate project that tries to ride on the coattails of 'stem cell research.'

"Many questions need to be answered about this deal by both Angelo Tsakopoulos and Bob Klein.

"A good start for Klein would be to decide if he wants to be chairman of the ICOC or of his political advocacy group. He should not serve as both."
Here are links to some previous items on Americans for Stem Cell Therapies and Cures. "Ongoing Threat," "Background Statement," "Two Hats" and "Unseemly Position."

(Personal disclosure from the California Stem Cell Report: Raimundo is a friend and former colleague at The Bee. Vellinga is also a former colleague. I have met Tsakopolous on several occasions and have directed news coverage of some of his enterprises. I have exchanged email with Markos Kounalakis, Tsakopolous' son-in-law and president of the Washington Monthly, and once submitted an article to that magazine that I ultimately withdrew from consideration because of the length of the editing process.)

1 comment:

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