Robert Klein

To boost their development bid in Yolo County, the Tsakopoulos family has enlisted Robert Klein II, chair of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

It's easy to understand why. Klein is one of the nation's most prominent advocates for stem cell research, and his status and connections bring some heft to a proposal to convert farmland into a housing development and research center.

Klein makes a compelling case that there's a growing need for "translational research" with stem cell therapies -- in other words, taking research that has shown promise in initial mouse and rat studies and developing it to a point that biotech industries will want to license and commercialize it. Despite the $3 billion that voters have authorized, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has only limited capacity to finance this type of translational research, Klein says, so the proposed Yolo facility would fill a critical void.

But if the case is strong, the multiple hats that Klein is wearing with this project are troublesome. Klein plans to be on the board of the foundation that would run...