Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Problems With CIRM's $1 Million, Free HQ Lease

Back in 2005, the California stem cell agency snagged a free, 10-year lease for office space in San Francisco to house its $3 billion effort.

But today something is amiss. All the details are not clear, although CIRM is looking at having someone set up a nonprofit to handle the lease, according to our source. We understand that the agency cannot afford to assume additional expenses because of a 3 percent cap on administrative overhead, which is locked into state law by Prop. 71, the measure that created the agency.

According to the most recent auditor's report on CIRM, the city of San Francisco provides about “20,000 square feet of premium office space free of charge” through November 2015. The value of the office space and “other incentives” was $1 million for the year ended last June 30.

Currently CIRM has 42 employees. It is limited, again by Prop. 71, to no more than 50.

In addition to the office space is the question of parking, now free for CIRM staffers. One estimate places the cost of parking as high as $600 a month in San Francisco, although it can drop below $400. For 50 employees, that could mean $360,000 a year.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, CIRM Chairman Robert Klein and Terry Fancher of Stockbridge Capital Partners announced the signing of the free lease with some ballyhoo on June 24, 2005. A city news release said the lease was “critical” to San Francisco's successful, $18 million bid to win the CIRM headquarters. Fancher's Stockbridge Partners, a real estate investment fund, donated the space.

We asked CIRM last month about the lease issues. Don Gibbons, chief communications officer for CIRM, replied,
“We have no problem with Stockbridge and are not seeking to change the lease, which has six years remaining. However, we have had very preliminary discussions with the City regarding how the lease and related costs could be handled in the future. One option that has had very tentative discussion is a non-profit to own the office space, which would allow us to avoid these costs now as well as in the years beyond the current lease.”
Use of a nonprofit in such a fashion does have a precedent in state government. More than one governor has lived in a house in Sacramento owned by such a group, which provided the home to the chief executive of the Golden State at little or no cost.

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