2020 is set to be a monumental year for big decisions and discussions about San Diego’s future.

But as this year’s Voice of the Year list makes clear, many of those discussions are already happening: What is the future of work, and who counts as an employee? How do we change a law enforcement system that sometimes prioritizes officers’ lives above all else? What’s the right response when someone with a gun and a manifesto wants to tear your community apart? As we build out our neighborhoods and transportation system, will fighting climate change be our guiding principle, or will we give priority to people who like things just fine the way they are?

Some of the people on this list are elected officials who used their platforms to elevate big policy discussions. Others are regular citizens who were compelled by circumstance to speak up about issues in their community.

Though many of the people on this list do admirable work, inclusion is not meant to honor them or to validate their positions (see, for example, previous Voice of the Year entries on Bob Filner, Dean Spanos and Duncan Hunter). It is an acknowledgement that they managed to drive public discourse in San Diego for the past year – for better or worse.

Now that we’re all on the same page, let’s do this.

The 2019 Voice of the Year is …

Hasan Ikhrata

Hasan Ikhrata / Photo by Megan Wood

There may not be a better way to demonstrate the outsize influence Hasan Ikhrata has had on local politics and debates over the future of San Diego than this: He has been here only a year.

In that time, the new director of the San Diego Association of Governments declared the agency’s tax-funded transportation program broke and warned the region was on the verge of breaking state laws on greenhouse emissions reductions.

He promised to revolutionize the region’s transportation system by making transit competitive with driving.

It created a sharp divide among elected officials in the region, with progressives embracing him and his urban vision for San Diego and conservatives marking him as a political foil who was undermining their quality of life.

The political battleground that SANDAG meetings turned into revealed that the unanimity that previously ruled regional decision-making was in fact a farce, a farce that deprived San Diego of the debates that might yield answers on our true priorities on climate change, economic development, regional equity and environmental justice.

Ikhrata has still not unveiled any meaningful details on his so-called 5 Big Moves plan to revamp the region’s transportation system. The background information on it so far is not especially different than any other urban planning document: full of jargon, light on specifics.

But he has committed to a simple principle that would indeed be revolutionary, and to which he should be held accountable: a transit system capable of moving someone from anywhere to anywhere in the county as quickly as they could get there by driving.

Ikhrata and Mayor Kevin Faulconer have also spearheaded an effort to redevelop the old SPAWAR property into a massive transit station, “San Diego Grand Central,” that would serve as a hub of the entire network and connect with the airport. There’s a long way to go but the Navy has taken some steps to redevelop its property the way Ikhrata and Faulconer envision.

Opposition to Ikhrata’s ideas has grown into a fully fledged movement, arguing that he and the agency are engaged in a “War on Cars,” that his plans to implement some form of congestion pricing constitute a civil rights violation and, increasingly, staged opposition to programs adopted before Ikhrata’s arrival so long as they involve bikes or transit. And that oppositional group, led by County Supervisors Kristin Gaspar and Jim Desmond, has already dealt Ikhrata his first big loss, tweaking his plans for $500 million in spending changes earlier this year.

Ikhrata’s success or failure is far from certain. We don’t yet even know exactly what he’s proposing (though we expect to soon). In the meantime, his ideas have triggered massive heated – and healthy – debates among leaders who disagree on the best road, or rail, forward for the region.

– Andrew Keatts

Read the Full Voice of the Year 2019 List

Each of the people on the list played a major role in shaping civic discussion in 2019. Click on the images to read more.

The Kevin Beiser scandal felt familiar in the #MeToo era, in which people have increasingly been willing to come forward to share stories of sexual misconduct by powerful men. Read the full writeup here.


Barbara Bry

It’s not often that campaign emails spark such an immediate and visceral reaction that they succeed in framing an entire race, but that’s what Councilwoman Barbara Bry’s mayoral campaign managed to do this year. Read the full writeup here.


Keashonna Christopher, a counselor at Porter Elementary School in Lincoln Park, blew the whistle on conditions that – if they’d existed in places like La Jolla – would have caused an uprising. Read the full writeup here.


Jim Desmond has given a voice to rural and suburban residents who have no real interest in spending a lot of money to make transit as fast and convenient as driving – especially if that spending comes at the expense of highways. Read the full writeup here.


This year, Mara Elliott saw both how well her voice can be received and how intensely it can be opposed. Read the full writeup here.


Nathan Fletcher is almost weekly staking out positions that have generated intense conversations. Read the full writeup here.


Eddie Gallagher’s case elevated an important question: What good is military justice when the commander in chief won’t take his thumb off the scale? Read the full writeup here.


Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein put his Jewishness front and center after the Poway shooting, but his message was also one of solidarity. Read the full writeup here.


Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez played a leading role in a number of high-profile conversations this year, but they all pale in comparison to the discussion about what it means to be an employee. Read the full writeup here.


Summer Stephan, Mark Kersey and Brian Maienschein each amplified and perpetuated a conversation that shows no sign of abating: What is the future of San Diego Republicans? Read the full writeup here.


After the Sweetwater Union High School District cut 20 bus routes from San Ysidro High in response to a budget crisis, parents and students organized quickly. They got attention, and results. Read the full writeup here.


When a historic police shooting bill came to the Assembly floor this year, lawmakers one after the other talked as much about the bill’s author, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, as the massive change they were about to usher in. Read the full writeup here.


One of the loudest, most intense public debates of the year started with a quiet medical practice in South Park. Read the full writeup here.

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