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California Today: Waiting on the Promise of Stem Cells

Good morning.

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More than a decade ago, Californians made a $3 billion wager on the healing potential of stem cell research.

Today, with that money projected to start running out in the next few years, what does the state have to show for it?

First, a recap.

In 2004, voters approved Proposition 71, a bond measure amounting to $6 billion with interest, which created a stem cell agency to help fund research. It was in part a response to limits on federal funding for stem cell research imposed by the government over concerns about destroying human embryos.

Campaigners at the time suggested the research could yield cures for afflictions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes and cancer.

The measure passed with 59 percent in support, and the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, based in Oakland, was born.

Some of what’s happened since then:

• More than 750 grants distributed

• A dozen research facilities constructed

• Roughly 2,000 scholarly papers published

• More than 2,400 students and young scientists trained

• About 30 projects that include clinical trials funded

Still, the agency has yet to finance a therapy approved for commercial use.

Critics say that’s led to public disappointment because the campaign for Proposition 71 oversold how quickly treatments might emerge. Stem cell research is a young field, scientists say — these things take decades, not years.

But stand by, they say.

“The biggest leaps in stem cell applications are yet to come,” said Ken Zaret, director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Some critics have also raised alarm over conflicts of interest at the stem cell agency that have allowed money to flow to board members’ institutions.

Few would argue for an end to the research itself.

But if California taxpayers are asked to step up again, the governance problems must be fixed first, said Marcy Darnovsky, who runs the nonprofit Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley.

“I don’t think they can just see it as a do-over,” she added.

Jonathan Thomas, the stem cell agency chairman, said he was trying to meet looming funding challenges with philanthropic support and industry partnerships. (Complicating matters: The agency’s president, C. Randal Mills, unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that he was leaving for a new job.)

At the same time, Robert Klein, the real estate developer who spearheaded Proposition 71, is eyeing the possibility of another voter initiative.

It would appear on the 2018 ballot. The ask this time? $5 billion.

(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)

• “There is no asylum here.” Contrary to law, American border agents are turning away asylum seekers, lawyers say. [The New York Times]

• A landlord was accused of harassing rent-controlled tenants in San Francisco. Now a court has ordered her to pay $2.4 million. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• “We are very, very sorry.” Water officials faced a frustrated crowd in Oroville after the dam crisis. [Sacramento Bee]

• A wealthy businessman and his wife donated $110 million to Cal Poly, his alma mater. [The Tribune]

• Is Hollywood’s new Mr. Right an immigrant rom-com hero? Kumail Nanjiani’s new movie makes the case. [The New York Times]

• “City leaders should be fighting for more access to Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign, not less.” [Opinion | Los Angeles Times]

Facebook will add 3,000 people to the team monitoring Facebook Live for inappropriate, offensive or illegal content. [The New York Times]

• Last year President Trump challenged Apple to do more manufacturing in the United States. Now, the company appears to be meeting him halfway. [The New York Times]

• Scientists found that a kind of zooplankton can filter all of the water between 300 and 1,000 feet deep in Monterey Bay in less than two weeks. [The New York Times]

• A look inside Botanica, Los Angeles’s newest healthy place to eat — and shop. [The New York Times]

• The Bay Area is becoming a global hub of faux meat innovation. [San Francisco Chronicle]

• Before photography, painters captured history. A new show at the Getty in Los Angeles has their versions. [The New York Times]

It’s been called one of the country’s most inviting urban parks.

Created in 1868, San Diego’s Balboa Park is also the city’s cultural heart.

Among the offerings: a renowned zoo (pandas!), 17 museums and cultural institutions, 10 performance spaces and the Botanical Building, a century-old lath structure with more than 2,100 plants.

Two readers, Scott Opis and Ernesto Rivera, shared photos of scenes they captured of the park.

Balboa Park’s beautifully kept 1,200 acres are crisscrossed by 65 miles of trails. There are any number of recreational activities to do: golf, lawn bowling, tennis, archery, bicycle track racing, footgolf.

The park also hosts one of the country’s most curious job titles: civic organist.

Since 1917, San Diego has had an official organist who performs free Sunday concerts at the outdoor Spreckels Organ Pavilion.

Please note: Because of a technical issue, some photos in this newsletter may not appear for people using the Times iPad app.

Want to submit a photo for possible publication? You can do it here.

California Today goes live at 6 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com.

The California Today columnist, Mike McPhate, is a third-generation Californian — born outside Sacramento and raised in San Juan Capistrano. He lives in Davis. Follow him on Twitter.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.