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Price Gives $1.8 Million for Public Interest Chair at USD

San Diego financier and retailer Sol Price announced Wednesday a $1.8-million gift to the University of San Diego to support a permanent professorial chair in public interest law intended to make state government regulatory agencies more accountable to the public.

The funds will pay for a full-time faculty member at the USD Center of Public Interest Law to train students to advocate the interests of under-represented Californians in state courts, in the Legislature and in dealings with the more than 60 state agencies that regulate business, the environment, law, medicine and trade.

The USD center was established in 1980 by USD law professor Robert Fellmeth, an original member of public watchdog Ralph Nader’s “Nader’s Raiders.” The center has sponsored legislation, initiated lawsuits and carried out detailed studies on a variety of consumer-interest issues.

The work has included studies of the state’s system of disciplining doctors and lawyers, of the way that the Lottery Commission used its money for advertising, and of the way state policies address child abuse and child welfare.

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“I strongly feel that, as government gets more complex, you need enthusiastic students to keep throwing light on the process,” Price said in announcing his gift. The USD center, with 13 staff members, oversees 50 student interns who first study regulatory agencies and the law, and then carry out advocacy projects. Center graduates now include city attorneys specializing in consumer fraud in Los Angeles, Sacramento and San Diego, as well as the staff counsels to state legislative judiciary committees and the director of a consumer-based network monitoring utilities.

“It’s important that someone challenge the system,” Price said. “State agencies start out protecting the public, but soon industry ends up owning the board or commission.”

Price, an attorney by training and longtime Democratic Party activist, founded the Price Club wholesale warehouse chain in 1976, which last year had revenues of more than $5 billion. Based on revenue, Price Club is the largest San Diego-based business and more than twice the size of San Diego Gas & Electric Co., the second largest.

Price and his wife, Helen, established the Price Family Charitable Trust, which contributed $1 million to the San Diego Hospice in honor of grandson Aaron Price. He also gave $2 million to UCSD for its student center named after his family.

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