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In the early weeks of the pandemic, UC San Diego’s Kim Prather, the distinguished chair in atmospheric chemistry and distinguished professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, voiced concerns about the potential for the coronavirus to become airborne near the ocean.

Her comments came at the same time many places closed their beaches, which drew the wrath of surfers who assumed Prather’s concerns were what was keeping them out of the water. She also fueled a larger discussion about the virus’s behavior outdoors and the delicate balance of public health guidelines and people’s overall mental well-being.

As the pandemic dragged on, Prather has remained at the forefront, helping to explain the latest understanding of its spread and how to mitigate exposure. She’s changed the worldwide scientific consensus and how top public health officials talk about COVID-19.

This formula – a San Diegan becoming a leading voice on a closely watched issue, and jumpstarting a dialogue that draws in people far and wide – is precisely what we typically look for when we’re compiling our  Voice of the Year list, a package we produce every year singling out the San Diegans who – for better or worse – provoked the biggest civic discussions in the region.

But the circumstances that made Prather’s voice and expertise so notable this year are the same ones that make creating such a list virtually impossible – and unwise.

The reality is that two gargantuan crises – the pandemic and racial injustice – dwarfed everything this year. And while there were people here in San Diego who took active roles in responding to and addressing those crises – whether it was Supervisor Jim Desmond elevating conspiracy theories and demanding businesses be allowed to open at all costs, or teenage activists urging their schools to implement racially conscious curriculum – the truth is that they were all bit players in a much, much larger saga.

And sure, local conversations continued despite the strange circumstances swirling around us. San Diego blew another real estate deal. The extent of the city’s surveillance efforts spilled into public view. An election happened.

But creating a list focusing on those issues and events would feel a bit like fretting over where to find a stamp to mail your cable bill while your house is burning down – you should probably do it eventually, but maybe now’s not the best time.

So, just as this wild and soul-crushing year has forced us to re-evaluate everything from the necessity of offices to how we conduct elections, we felt the conditions weren’t right to compile a Voice of the Year list at this moment. Instead, we’ll be running a series called Rethinking San Diego, examining new approaches San Diego could apply to some of its biggest plans and policies.

The hope is that things will return to normal enough next year that it will make sense to focus once again on the people leading local conversations on public transit, the border and more. Or, maybe things will take still more crazy twists and turns and will necessitate an approach we can’t even fathom right now.

Either way, we are grateful for your support as we continue to tell San Diego’s stories and demand accountability from its leaders – even when doing so looks a bit different than you’ve come to expect.

What VOSD Learned This Week

We spent the week dissecting outgoing Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s record on a number of consequential issues.

On housing, Faulconer won high marks from stakeholders for changing the dialogue on building, but it could take a while for his reforms to actually move the needle.

Faulconer spurred some major actions on homelessness, but only after his relative inaction fueled a health crisis that battered the city’s homeless. He’s also hoping to scale out his homelessness solutions statewide. What do they entail? Bolstering services – and using police to force the homeless to utilize them. One of his homeless solutions was a services hub, but the acquisition of the building for that plan was among many real estate deals that dogged his tenure.

Speaking of police, Faulconer stayed mostly silent on major policing issues, from a scandal within the city’s crime lab to use-of-force policies to body cameras and more.

***

Elsewhere in politics: Why did the state close outdoor dining? It turns out it’s not because outdoor dining is particularly dangerous.

We talked about the wild, dysfunctional and frustrating vote for Council president on this week’s podcast.

And Kayla Jimenez talked with Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear about her transit priorities as she takes over as SANDAG board chair. Speaking of Encinitas, you may be just shocked to hear that it’s trying to get out of a new state housing density law.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“It didn’t feel like multilevel marketing (MLM) at first; I never had to sit in an arena and listen to Rachel Hollis tell me to clean my face. I wasn’t selling ‘butter-soft leggings’ or shilling Amway — I was a part of Motherhood in America.” – This essay comparing American motherhood to a multilevel marketing scheme is pretty great.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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