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
Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani

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.

    This article relates to: Must Reads, News, Voice of the Year

    Written by Voice of San Diego

    15 comments
    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    Can I get an anti-Voice award for the year?

    Signed,

    Silent Spanos

    Andrew Poat
    Andrew Poat subscriber

    With so many CRITICAL issues facing the City of San Diego, highlighting a professional football team spokesperson is a confusing choose for this title, in my view. Following your reasoning, the White House spokesperson must be the most important person in the world, year in and year out. They aren't because they are not the ones making the important decisions - rather, they are the ones reporting them to the public. 

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    Interesting choice no doubt.  Fabiani who I can best describe as a one of recent history's most sleazy fast talking spokesmen for even more sleazy carpet bagging businessmen and politicos.    After he completes this task I wouldn't be surprised to see him being the spokesman for ISIS or ISIL.  What impresses me most about this character is that how easily he can represent some greedy backstabbing operation like the Spanos family while avoiding soiling his fine white  linen suit.  Baghdad Bob and Boris Badenov could learn much from Fabiani's talents. He is the master of disaster and the top BS artist of the last 20 years.  And yes I guess I agree with your analysis this guy deserves the dubious honor you have bestowed upon him.  

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    Some San Diegans love turning smart people into demons.  It distracts them from their insecurities over the minor league status of our city.  But there is a convincing truth when it comes to the loss of the Chargers, and it’s that San Diego can’t afford their financial demands in comparison to what’s possible for the team in LA. 

    We can’t afford it because our economy hasn’t kept pace with the changing needs of the NFL business model, which now includes billion dollar luxury techno-stadiums created to “optimize revenue” from advertisers and fans, both of whom come from the ranks of the corporate rich.

    All things considered, San Diego isn’t corporate rich.  Our city, when you get down to it, is a small business and blue-collar town.  It’s also a place where play takes precedence over work, and whose politics are against giving public money to rich people so they can get richer. 

    It’s not in our culture to build the kind of economy that can pay for today’s pro-football or hand-over tax revenue to billionaires.  I’m thankful for that.

    San Diego may attract another NFL team one day.  There are teams with different business strategies, and San Diego will have a different appeal to the NFL once LA is locked-up.  But why blame Fabiani for what happened? 

    Let’s face it.  We live here because this is a great city to live.  Great means a place that demands less and gives more than living elsewhere.  Let’s stay focused on that promise and not one that satisfies the financial needs of corporate football or defines great as a city in the major league.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Bob Stein Well said, and agree with your insight into the real San Diego, not the Susan Golding version.


    What strikes me as strange is why a hired gun who was obviously employed to make the departure more palatable to more San Diegans, is glorified for simply doing what his boss hired him to do.  In his constant disparagement of our city, he has managed to make his employer, the incompetent trust fund baby Dan Spanos, look even more incompetent.  


    At this point, the only people who aren’t rooting for the team to leave are real die hards, season ticket holders for decades addicted to their tail gating parties. The average citizen just wishes they’d go away, because he long ago concluded they were too rich for his pocketbook and not worth saving up for because they’ve been such a mediocre team under the 31 year ownership of the Spanos clan.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @Bob Stein Well said.    This whole deal about the new stadium really hinges on one thing most people simply don't comprehend nor does the local news or even national media for that matter explain very well.  That is of course the value of the high end corporate luxury boxes.   For example the newer stadiums like those in Dallas, or the Met Life in NJ or now the Levi's stadium in Santa Clara have at least 150 luxury boxes each.  These boxes can easily rent for over $40,000 for a regular season game and of course go as high as $600,000 each for a Superbowl.   And from what I have been reading that is just the tip of the iceberg.  These next generation venues are designed to really go after huge income of the most wealthy corporate types which San Diego just doesn't have. Let's face it at least half of our employment here is based upon DoD and the Navy and some other form of government operations.  And probably another huge sector is based upon low wage tourist jobs.


    Not too many hotel maids or bartenders  will be anteing up big bucks to see a NFL game. And we certainly don't have the fortune 500 honchos paying millions and millions for prime seating and luxury accommodations. As you so well stated that is the difference from San Diego and the likes of Dallas,  the greater NYC area and of course most recently the Bay Area with Silicone Valley billionaires.


    This is why there are three teams wanting to re-locate to LA.. The money is just too much of an incentive for these naturally very greedy owners.  The NFL is now a major player in what is called the sports entertainment industry. They have had the opportunity of using huge  taxpayer subsidies to build their facilities for years.  They want to take it one step further.  Obviously these stadiums are not now designed to serve the  taxpayers who fund them.  For the last 20 years the NFL has used LA to be the boogeyman of cities to take their beloved team away from them if they didn't ante up the hundreds of millions in public funds for a new stadium.  But now we know that Stan Kroenke and Dean Spanos are in essence challenging the long standing NFL policy of not really allowing a team to take this boogeyman concept away from them in their dealings for new public funded stadiums. 


    So now we know LA will get the new $2 billion stadium  with probably very little public funding. It might even backfire in that it could end the ability of other teams threat to move from their respective cities if they don't get more and more public funding for even bigger and larger stadiums.   So it has its potential risks no matter how one chooses to look at this game changer.  It's best for San Diego to get out of the the business of subsidizing an NFL team.  Time for San Diego to see this as a blessing and say good-bye to the entire greedy Spanos clan forever.  It will be a glorious day when Spanos packs up and departs for good!  Can I get an Amen!  


    My only concern is he won't leave.  And stay and force the poor taxpayers of this city to fork over to him millions and millions of dollars every year for eternity.

    Erik Bruvold
    Erik Bruvold subscribermember

    Offering a contrarian view since if you look at Saint Louis it is pretty clear that whenever professional sports talks about relocating the dominant the discussion.  Mark F. does it perhaps better than anyone but the Chargers could have brought Marcel Marceau back from the dead and they would have still been the main lead many a news cycle.  

    TJ Apple
    TJ Apple subscribermember

    Well deserved Fabiani and if the Chargers do leave town please leave with them.

    Derek Hofmann
    Derek Hofmann subscribermember

    @TJ Apple As someone who thinks there are better uses for my tax dollars than subsidizing sports franchises, I think it wouldn't be such a bad thing if the Chargers leave town because it shows that we as a city can stand up to bullying from the NFL. That's something we could be proud of.

    If the NFL wants a stadium, let them build one with their own money, not ours.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    The Voice of The Year properly belongs to those San Diegans that have no voice. These are citizens that are being cheated out of their lawful rights by government officials, but lack the money to hire a lawyer to take their grievance to court. One might think that the Voice of San Diego would step in and investigate government wrong doing when it is brought to their attention; but no. The Voice of San Diego brags about their investigative journalism but does not deliver when it comes to investigating their special friends in government and the business community.  

    TJ Apple
    TJ Apple subscribermember

    @Richard Gardiol  Huh? Actually Richard I have found VOSD receptive to investigative assignments. We can't expect the staff to be everywhere but we can send suggestions that are followed up on and will receive coverage if warranted. I would encourage you to gather your thoughts and channel them to VOSD.

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @TJ Apple @Richard Gardiol Thanks for the advice TJ.  I believe I just did that; and if you follow my comments you will see that I have done so repeatedly.  VOSD relies on donations to fund their cutesy journalism, and will not investigate or even report on anything that could upset the apple cart.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @Richard Gardiol "The Voice of The Year properly belongs to those San Diegans that have no voice."  Sorry Richard that statement makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.    I agree with you that there are too many people in this town that have no voice. But it is because they choose not to have a voice.  They are either too apathetic, too stupid or just too uncaring  and lazy to give a damn about their community and fellow citizens to open their fat mouth and voice an opinion  ... any opinion.  That has been San Diego's problem for as long as I can recall.  And I can recall things back to to when I was 2 years old.  Personally I think the Voice of San Diego is doing the best job of any news media outlet to bring as many important issues about city and local affairs to the public.  After all it is a free service to most of the free loaders (me included) and others who contribute money to this worthwhile operation.  And it is professional and honest.   

    Richard Gardiol
    Richard Gardiol

    @Phillip Franklin @Richard Gardiol  Sure Fabiani , the mouth piece for a greedy billionaire gets a lot of press while regular people can't get any attention even when their is compelling evidence that they are being screwed by City government. These are the people that should properly be named Voice of the Year. Real people fighting for their rights, not a blow hard pushing an entertainment venue. Alas, VOSD is focused  on soliciting  donations and following the herd to the next sexy story.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    @Richard Gardiol @Phillip Franklin Richard I don't think that VoSD named Fabiani as Voice of the Year was necessarily a compliment to the man.  Quite the opposite.  He is the loud mouth highly paid spokesman for a most hated family (Spanos) who can't muster the the ability to speak for themselves.  The Spanos family is a bunch of real life carpetbaggers who have no concern for this city.  Neither does Fabiani.  Yes when Faiani speaks people given him a ear because they are basically stricken by what he has to say.  Most of those are in the media who fear losing the Chargers will hurt their bottom line because they will lose advertising dollars for what their mealymouthed talking heads ass-kissing  representative like to say at the Union-Tribune  and on TV.  These people want to say things that will make the general public like them and buy their crappy furniture at Jerome's and  eat  at Jack-in the Box or  what ever their advertisers tell them to buy.    San Diego has no voice because most don't know what to say or how to say it and only listen to those who tell them what to think.  This is the basis for the decline of a modern culture.  It is why people vote against their own best interest because they are afraid of offending those that are stealing them blind.  Being lazy and stupid basically works for them.  After a while their brains go to mush and their bodies get fat from eating crappy fast food that the TV sells them.  


    Fabiani got the honor because he is even a better huckster than the Jack-in the-Box man and Jerome (two of San Diego's best hucksters of all time).  You see the media likes this the same way they love Donald Trump or any other jerk that comes along and tells stupid people what they want to hear regardless of the truth or of social concern.  There will always be P. T. Barnum's because it seems there will always be stupid and gullible people who love to hear them talk their foolishness.  You see fools love to be fooled.  And Fabiani gets very rich off of doing exactly that.