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Voice of San Diego set out to determine the person who provoked San Diego’s most significant and wide-ranging conversation this year.

The Voice of the Year distinction is not necessarily an honor. This list is about the people whose voices rose above the cacophony on issues everyone was talking about, and the people who made us confront the issues no one was talking about.

Without further ado …

Voice of the Year: Mark Fabiani

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

There are many powerful people and influential businesses in San Diego.

It is hard to picture a business in town, however, that could marshal a commitment from the mayor and county leaders for a $350 million taxpayer subsidy in just a matter of months. Or someone who could force the city to spend more than $2 million and monopolize the work of an entire city permitting department for many weeks to get approval for construction of his corporate headquarters.

It would be so weird to see someone do all of that and yet still sneer at government leaders — relentlessly slamming it all as uncertain, inadequate, incompetent and useless.

And yet that is exactly what Mark Fabiani has done on behalf of the Spanos family and the Chargers. For all of 2015, from right after the New Year rang, city and county leaders and business chieftains have scrambled to understand and appease his demands.

Thus, he either forced unprecedented mobilization to build a new football stadium in San Diego — almost single-handedly provoking an obsessive yearlong conversation about the dilemma — or, as a city councilman put it, he is singularly responsible for the failure of negotiations between the city and Chargers.

Either way, Mark Fabiani was the voice of the year.

Around town, you can hear various versions of what Fabiani’s role has been all along. Maybe he has been, for perhaps as long as a decade, carrying out a methodical plan to help the Chargers convince the NFL that San Diego was no longer viable for them.

Or maybe it is how he says it is: After years of starts and stops with San Diego officials, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Rams, forced everyone’s hand when he made moves to take the Rams to Los Angeles. The Chargers decided they could not let that relocation happen and so they made the best play they could to move to Los Angeles themselves.

We’re not sure what Fabiani’s role was after Kroenke made his move. Was it to poison San Diego’s chances so the NFL would feel compelled to give Los Angeles to the Chargers? Or was it to prod, cajole and strong-arm San Diego into producing something attractive enough for Spanos to justify forfeiting the Los Angeles fight to Kroenke?

If it was the latter, you can picture them clinking the champagne glasses: “You win, Stan, but thanks for getting me a stadium in San Diego.”

It didn’t happen that way, though. Right from the start, the idea the city could pull together a full stadium plan in a matter of months was fanciful. The NFL’s demands were simply unrealistic. The city had to produce a stadium finance plan that did not depend on nearby construction of homes or offices and the city could not risk a vote of the people — or the vote had to happen soon.

In February, after raising hell that the mayor had decided not to make a proposal but to set up a task force to work on the problem, Fabiani recognized how difficult it would be when he addressed the group: “It might be that — despite the great effort that has been expended — there is at least at this time no publicly acceptable solution to the stadium issue in San Diego,” Fabiani said.

This should not be controversial.

When the timeline the mayor’s task force was working on became an obvious problem with the NFL’s newfound haste to move to L.A., Fabiani again raised his voice. And once again the assembled business leaders and mayor responded, moving up their deadline by several months and agreeing to meet almost weekly.

Fabiani and an NFL official warned the group not to rely on adjacent construction plans or land sales to fund a stadium. When the task force did just that, the mayor thanked them and dutifully disregarded it.

At every stage, Fabiani was the prime mover and the whole city was reacting to what he said. This was on purpose. When the NFL decided to come to San Diego to let the fans vent about a potential move, they let their frustration out on Fabiani, not on the NFL or Spanos.

Councilman Scott Sherman said Fabiani was, effectively, the reason the team was leaving: “The only thing that’s getting in the way of this whole thing is Mr. Fabiani. If they were to get rid of him, and come back to the table, I think we could get a deal that would work out very well for everybody,” he said.

If the Chargers leave, it should be clear, it is simply because the owner was not willing to to let a race to LA happen without the Chargers winning it and the mayor was not able to change his mind. But Fabiani’s voice mobilized the city and county in a way we have never seen.

Our Voice of the Year is not an honor. It’s an attempt to identify the people who provoke the biggest conversations in San Diego. Nobody drove a bigger conversation in 2015 than Mark Fabiani.

— Scott Lewis


Check out who else made our Voice of the Year list below, in alphabetical order. Think someone should have made the cut? Email Engagement Editor Kinsee Morlan to make the case. We’ll round up the most compelling cases for a follow-up post later in the week.

Kim Abagat and Mitzi Lizarraga: They took on the school board president.

What happened at the School of Creative and Performing Arts may have stayed buried and silently fizzled away had Mitzi Lizarraga and Kim Abagat not spoken out.

Mike Aguirre: He kept pushing for answers on the mess at San Onofre.

“I’m not here to answer your goddamn question. Now shut up. Shut up,” the head of the Public Utilities Commission told Mike Aguirre last year in a memorable exchange. Aguirre, of course, didn’t shut up.

Mark Arabo: He made the rounds nationally pushing for the U.S. to welcome more refugees.

Mark Arabo has become a national voice arguing that Christians in the Middle East are facing a genocide and the United States and other countries have to do more to help.

Cory Briggs: The disruptor tries becoming a fixer.

By offering potential solutions to the city’s stadium and convention center woes, Cory Briggs is poised to enter the city’s decision-making arena and succeed in two areas Mayor Kevin Faulconer has struggled to make headway all year.

Nicole Capretz: She beat the drum for the Climate Action Plan.

A lot of people are claiming credit for San Diego’s ambitious Climate Action Plan, and each deserves some. But the one constant voice behind the plan – and the one who most often told the public how it would work, why it would work and why it was necessary, was Nicole Capretz. 

The Coastal Commission: It tested the limits of its powers.

The commission’s decisions this year have forced us to reckon once again with the fate of SeaWorld and the role affordability plays when we say we want the public to have access to the beach.

Wesley Doyle: He sounded an alarm about a police shooting video.

The public may get a chance to see for themselves what happened in a disputed police shooting earlier this year. That wouldn’t be happening without Wesley Doyle’s efforts.

The Enloe Family: They shared their story to forces changes in youth football.

After the family of a student who suffered a devastating injury on the football field decided to tell their story, the community was forced to have a serious discussion about the future of high school football in San Diego.

Aaron Harvey: He questioned gang policing and prosecutions.

Aaron Harvey started 2015 facing a possible life sentence in prison. He ended it sharing a stage with Cornel West — but not before getting a capitulation from the district attorney.

Mark Kersey: He framed the debate over how to fix San Diego’s streets.

Councilman Mark Kersey’s plan to fund infrastructure improvements is, for better or worse, framing the debate about the future of San Diego’s roads.

Ginger Shulick Porcella: She shook up the San Diego Art Insititute — disrupting the whole arts scene in the process.

In just over a year, Ginger Shulick Porcella has successfully turned the San Diego Art Institute into a place everyone in the local art scene is talking about.

Jason Roe: He emerged as the mayor’s elbow.

Jason Roe has established the pre-eminent right-of-center political power network in San Diego. 

The San Diego County Water Authority: They got the conservation message out and then some.

The Water Authority did all the usual stuff a government agency does to get out its message – its officials went on TV and gave interviews. But it did more than the usual, too.

Save San Diego Neighborhoods and Omar Passons: They forced the city to grapple with vacation rentals.

Both sides in the battle over short-term vacation rentals forcefully made their cases to the public and the City Council.

Shirley Weber: She challenged two powerful interest groups.

The lion’s share of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s legislative efforts this session focused on two of the most influential interest groups in California: teachers and cops.

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