Life with Larry

— High-tech evangelist Larry Smarr, who runs UCSD's California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, is being paid $249,200 a year, in part to promote commerce between big business and the public university. "My point is that the modern economy has one source of fuel, which is to take the incredible innovations occurring every day in universities and translate them into new jobs, rising prosperity, and a better quality of life for its citizens," he said in a recent speech. According to his statement of economic interest, Smarr's personal portfolio has also benefited greatly from the new technologies he has promoted through his role at the university. He reports holdings in Atheros Communications, a Wi-Fi chipmaker in which he owns stock worth between $10,000 and $100,000; online-meeting pioneer WebEx ($10-$10,000); and online fund-raising outfit Kintera ($100,000-$1,000,000). The latter was founded by ex-UCSD prof Harry Gruber, a nonpracticing physician who has employed Smarr to sit on Kintera's "technical advisory board." Smarr also holds UCSD's Harry E. Gruber chair in Computer Science and Information Technology. Other Smarr assets include "options" in Met-Net Communications and MedExpert International, which he lists as "prepublic" companies. No value for either is provided. Smarr's website says he is an "advisor to the CEO" of MedExpert. And UCSD's website lists MedExpert as a university "partner."

But wouldn't that create a conflict of interest for Smarr? UCSD spokesman Doug Ramsey e-mailed Smarr's answer: "You should know that Calit2 lists MedExpert as an 'industry partner' only because it was one of dozens of companies which wrote letters of support for the original Calit2 proposal in 2000. However, there are no funded proposals between Calit2 and MedExpert, and never have been. In the future, if such projects arise, be assured that Dr. Smarr would recuse himself from decisions on such projects, as required by UC rules." MedExpert president Jeffrey Hiller did not return phone calls. Smarr's various sources of outside income have included between $10,000 and $100,000 in fees, travel, and lodging from InterWest Partners, a Menlo Park-based venture capital company where Smarr serves on the "life sciences advisory committee," and between $1000 and $10,000 from the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer for "TV journalism, science advisor." He also collected between $10,000 and $100,000 from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, as a "strategic advisor."

Jumped gun Last week the Union-Tribune broke the story that Padres owner John Moores and his real estate outfit, JMI Realty, run by John Kratzer , had gotten into bed with the City of San Diego's wholly owned San Diego Convention Center Corporation to pitch a hotel project in Chula Vista. "The developer is working with the San Diego Convention Center Corp. to vie for the project. They are proposing an Olympic Village Resort and Conference Center, featuring a hotel with at least 500 rooms," the U-T reported. The paper added that "The team of JMI and the San Diego Convention Center Corp., Kratzer said, brings a track record of redevelopment success and local experience." Only problem: the U-T story wasn't quite ready for prime time, at least not according to an e-mail last week from convention center board chairwoman April Boling , currently traveling in Italy. "At last sdccc meeting, I gave an update on the status of the CV property," she wrote from her BlackBerry. "We are not yet at the point of a contract with JMI, that would not be appropriate until we are to the point of knowing specifically what we are to manage and our target market, etc. The board gave staff direction to continue moving forward."

Circling the wagons A recently released internal memo shows that those running the troubled San Diego City Employees' Retirement System kept a nervous eye on their critics as the fund melted down. In a note dated August 4, 2003, to the fund's public relations man, Mike Rose , general counsel Loraine Chapin complained that pension-board whistleblower Diann Shipione , who was busy blowing the top off the pension scandal, was "being treated by the media as the 'expert' on SDCERS. I don't know what it will take to change this." Added Chapin, "I am certain she is working with someone to help her with her delivery and the responses to questions, a very distinct pattern is emerging." Chapin's memo said her suspicions were fueled by Shipione's response on a KPBS radio talk show to a question about pension board members' alleged conflicts of interest. "She replied something to the effect that 'Bull markets create criminals and Bear markets catch them.' This was very reminiscent of the catch phrases found in her earlier UT article." Then Chapin wrote, "I don't see how we are going to 'win' in the court of public opinion. I was left with impression that if the general public really had any idea of just how generous public pensions are generally (San Diego specifically) we will see a backlash, the likes we have not seen before.... There were also noticeable digs at Mayor Murphy."

Shipione wasn't the only critic singled out by Chapin. "It is also interesting that one of the callers, 'Mel,' was featured. He was later correctly identified as Mel Shapiro, a political activist who regularly sues the City. As I recall, his calls are always aired. I distinctly recall an earlier broadcast with the Editors Roundtable. Mel was a caller then as well. He is getting as much if not more air time than Fred, our president. I watched the tape of Wednesday's Full Focus with Gloria Penner, also with KPBS. Approximately 15 seconds of Fred's 30 minute interview was used. Diann was again in studio, sitting as the resident expert. Call me paranoid, but the deck is stacked. Hence I go back to my initial comment. I don't see how we are going to prevail in the court of public opinion. I truly believe the less said the better. That said, I nonetheless look forward to your game plan for future press releases."

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Hi Matt, I found your 10/13/2005 article ("Life with Larry") especially interesting as I have had some interaction with him. Recently, Larry's activities have gotten much more interesting. Perhaps, you've noticed in the news that his recent hire (Maurizio Seracini) is the subject of a criminal investigation. You will find the Berkshire article (link below) most interesting. The criminal investigation will uncover much more. John


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