By Todd Harmonson
Influencers make their marks in Orange County in myriad ways. Some we all know because of the public nature of their roles, whether it’s running a major university or, well, being Mike Trout.
Others accomplish so much outside of the spotlight, but they deserve recognition, too. And it’s our challenge to compile the list of Orange County’s 100 Most Influential People for 2019, a task that’s especially difficult because there are so many people we have to leave off to reach that nice, round number.
We understand the influential roles many people who are not on this year’s list play in the county, and most of them have been on the list multiple times. What we’re trying to capture is a representation of 2019 and the people who did things this year that stood out.
Here are our 100 top influencers for 2019:
Huszti, chief psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, oversaw the construction of, and now heads, the inpatient psychiatric center at CHOC. The center exclusively serves children ages 3 to 17 with mental illness who are at immediate risk of hurting themselves or others.
The pro surfer not only ended the year as the highest-ranked surfer from the USA on the World Surf League rankings, but also has earned a spot at the surfing’s Olympic debut next year as one of two from the USA. He’ll be joined by Huntington Beach surfer Kanoa Igarashi, who will surf for team Japan.
Placentia’s city administrator couldn’t get the Orange County Fire Authority to budge on rising service costs, so he took on a big challenge: starting a new city fire department. He bought equipment and is looking to hire firefighters and a chief so the department can begin operating in July 2020.
The Orange County Democratic Party leader died April 15 but his influence continues as the local party grows in dominance. During the attorney’s second stint as county party boss, 2001 to 2013, he saw Republicans’ long-dominant edge among voters shrink from 17 percentage points to 10 points. The trend continued: In August, county Democrat voters surpassed GOP voters.
In June, the Orange County supervisor alleged Assemblyman Bill Brough of sexual harassment when they were both serving on the Dana Point City Council in 2011, which he’s denied and attributed to political motivations. Her and others’ allegations pushed the Republican Party of Orange County to ask Brough not to run for reelection in 2020.
He is the vice president of decommissioning and chief nuclear officer at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Hauled in by Southern California Edison after a series of high-profile mishaps, Bauder’s mandate is to restore public trust – perhaps an impossible task among a very vocal group of opponents – as well as shepherd the tear-down of the iconic twin domes.
Beidleman, 12, a seventh-grader at Horace Ensign Intermediate, has been involved with multiple projects for Project Hope Alliance that have brought awareness to the needs of the homeless youth in the area. She was was involved with all aspects from development and advertising to collecting and distributing the Hygiene Kit Project and two district-wide Snack Bag Projects, and the Festival of Children honored her as their 2019 FRED Award recipient (For Really Exceptional Doers) for her advocacy and efforts on behalf of her peers experiencing homelessness.
Since being elected in November 2018, Blake has sparked praise and anger in the community. The blunt and outspoken councilman is pushing back against the status quo that has influenced decisions in Laguna Beach over the past half-century. He is fighting to clear people who are homeless from Main Beach, pushing for higher-end businesses in the downtown and broadening influence at City Hall.
He’s a Newport Beach-based baseball agent whose clients were among the highest paid in early 2019 (Bryce Harper) and again late this year (Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon).
The longtime labor leader is wrapping up her first year as chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County. With her at the helm, the county in August flipped from red to blue in terms of voter registration. And activists say she’s making the party more inclusive than ever by bringing in Spanish speakers and other once marginalized groups.
Browning, 29, is the first U.S. Marine to be recruited as a vocalist. In June, she began her career with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. Browning was the lead singer in her band called Harley Boone before she joined the Marine Corps.
This Newport Beach entrepreneur is growing his dog food company, landing $68 million in venture capital to build Just Food For Dog pantries in hundreds of Petco stores nationwide. Buckley wanted to make better food for his ailing dogs, and less than a decade later, he’s on the cusp of a fresh pet food empire.
Campbell became the youngest female mayor in California’s history when she was appointed mayor of Yorba Linda at age 25 in December 2018. For most of 2019, she was the youngest female mayor in the country at age 26. Campbell has served on Yorba Linda’s City Council since 2016.
This young woman has amassed a huge following of animal lovers, plucking strays and forgotten pets from area streets and backyards and rehoming them with help from her massive network. In her short term running Ally’s Animal Assistance Network, she’s kept hundreds of pets from ever landing in kennels or on shelter euthanasia lists. It’s a remarkable thing to see such social activism in action.
From humble roots, Carter built a 10,000-unit empire of affordable apartments designed to provide better homes for low-income residents. The Irvine CEO and former National Multifamily Housing Council chairman recently received an MLK award from Christ Our Redeemer AME Church.
The Orange Lutheran High graduate was one of the most dominating pitchers in baseball and helped lead the Houston Astros to a World Series appearance. Cole, who led the American League in ERA and strikeouts, signed a huge contract with the New York Yankees rather than return home to pitch for the Angels.
Collins co-founded Brew Ha Ha Production, which presaged the craft beer boom in OC. Its initial event, Brew Ha Ha, celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019 and has created events such as the holiday-themed Brew Ho Ho and recently announced Logger Festival.
The president for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 324 was a key contract negotiator this summer for thousands of supermarket workers demanding better pay and benefits. Conger, who was at the table for the contentious grocery walkout in 2003-04, has put his negotiating skills to rest, retiring in October after 35 years with the UFCW local.
As the executive director of the Apartment Association of Orange County, Cordero has engaged the organization in Orange County United Way’s Welcome Home OC initiative. He is helping persuade more apartment owners and property managers to consider renting to homeless people with housing vouchers.
The second-term congressman from California’s 46th district is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which introduced articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. He is one of three House members from Southern California on the committee but the only one from Orange County.
The head of water quality for the Orange County Water District is a leading regional expert on PFAS, an emerging contaminant found in some public wells. The potential carcinogen comes from chemicals used for waterproofing and extinguishing fires. Dadakis is helping lead the way toward addressing the issue.
For better or worse, Do, new to the council, has been a constant thorn in the side of the majority, which tends to vote in unison. He has accused the three of corruption and was influential in the recall effort underway.
At age 72, Doti, the former president of Chapman University, donated a kidney to save the life of 52-year-old grandfather Jose Tolento. Doti also maintains a prominent role as an economist and questions the severity of California’s housing shortage.
As the committee chair of BSA Troop 7272, she recruited dozens of scouts to create the first all-girl Boy Scout troop to register in Orange County. The troop has earned more than 140 merit badges in its first year.
Having experienced homelessness as a child, Friend is the CEO, founder and driving force of Project Hope Alliance, which in 2019 partnered with Newport Mesa Unified School District to serve students experiencing homelessness in all 32 of its schools. Project Hope Alliance also teamed up with Second Harvest Food Bank to open a fresh food pantry at Fullerton’s Pacific Drive Elementary.
Miguel González Reynoso
The CEO of Anaheim-based Northgate González Market is expanding the family chain from the coastal markets inland, pushing the Latino supermarket into the Inland Empire for the first time. He also received a “Legends of the Industry” award this year.
Haddad, the CEO and chairman of FivePoint, secured approval for USA Water Polo to move its headquarters to the Great Park, brought the StoryCorps project to record Orange County stories and donated $1 million to USC to support real estate education and research on sustainable communities.
Hagler was elected to the national Meals on Wheels board in September. She is the president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Orange County (formerly SeniorServ), which provides 10,000 meals a day to seniors and shut-ins in Orange County.
Heath is the young, progressive pastor at First United Methodist Church. She stepped up to have the congregation host the first public mural about homelessness as part of Orange County United Way’s United to End Homelessness campaign.
Hewitt, tapped by President Richard Nixon as the first director of the presidential library, returned this year to lead the Nixon Foundation. He’s been expanding its influence and work beyond the walls of the library, beyond OC, and has used his connections to bring prominent speakers and visitors to the library.
The native of Northern Ireland makes a difference in her adopted home as the director of the United to End Homelessness effort. She and other leaders in the group took on the challenge of funding 30 federal vouchers in 30 days this summer to prove to HUD officials that it was capable of handling more to help people get off the street.
He has acquired at least six properties, including Hotel Laguna, with a plan to redevelop them. This is the first time in Laguna Beach history that one developer could have this level of impact on the city’s future. Two projects he’s already finished are showing success.
He’s the CEO of Whittier-based STC Management, which took over ownership of the struggling GardenWalk near Disneyland and breathed new life into the mall. Most of the vacant storefronts have been leased, there’s a smorgasbord of international dining options and regular events aim to draw locals as well as tourists.
Ivers, who formerly led Arizona Theatre Company, launched his first season as artistic director and co-CEO of South Coast Repertory, Orange County’s preeminent theater company and a major incubator of new playwrights and their works.
As CEO of the Orange County Transporation Authority, Johnson is overseeing a $1.9 billion expansion of the 405, including replacement or renovation of 18 bridges. He also helped resolve a multi-agency stalemate over plans for the 91 and 241, and launched construction of the OC Streetcar.
Jones is the granddaughter of the woman who started Southwest Community Center in 1970, out of her garage in Santa Ana. She kept the center operating through lean times and was finally able to retire this year after working with Community Action Partnership to acquire the center.
The Orange County Registrar of Voters has had a busy year planning a complete overhaul to how OC votes. He bought a new $15.3 million voting system, he’s hiring poll workers and is finding locations for nearly 200 new “vote centers,” and he’s preparing a big publicity campaign to spread the word.
The sixth-grade teacher at Trabuco Mesa Elementary is one of the five 2020 California Teachers of the Year. She and her class have led a movement to have students do a random act of kindness; nearly 200 classes around the world have accepted the challenge.
Young Kim and Michelle Steel
They are vying to be the first Korean American congresswomen in U.S. history. Kim is running again for the 39th Congressional district to represent communities such as Fullerton and Yorba Linda. Steel, a county supervisor, is running for the 48th Congressional district to represent the coastal communities.
Klemek, the Blackmarket bakeries owner, won Food Network’s “Chopped,” the “Sweets Showdown: Cake” program. This year marks the 15th anniversary of her bakeries which have expanded into San Diego; she’s opening a second location in the East Village that will devote a considerable amount of space to teaching classes.
Tierney Center for Veterans Services director Knapp, who served in the U.S. Army for 30 years, is an important voice in suicide prevention, overseeing the Tustin center’s role in a national study on military suicides. It’s been his passion since 2006, when his son died from suicide while at college.
The St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church pastor is at the forefront of the faith community’s movement urging Fullerton to do more to address its homelessness. His congregation’s advocacy pushed the city to create the county’s first safe parking program and to work to create a 150-bed shelter.
Lafosse became the first teen to win a Segerstrom Center for the Arts Leadership Award. She created A.R.T. – Art for Relaxation Therapy, a nonprofit that helps hospitalized children cope with emotions and stress through art.
Santa Ana’s MainPlace Mall will be getting a major overhaul, thanks in part to Levin. The CEO of mall owner Centennial Real Estate Co. won city approval for his vision of “a European marketplace,” with specialty stores, food carts and spots to sit and relax, plus new entertainment offerings and hundreds of apartments.
Levitt is a demographer who has turned his skills into a cottage industry as cities and school districts throughout Orange County and beyond are forced to go to by-district voting. He is everywhere, divvying up cities into sections based on racial makeup.
Lowry is the longtime director of the Orange County Food Bank, an arm of Community Action Partnership. Lowry worked to get legislative support and state funding for OC’s first diaper bank, expected to open sometime soon.
She has sponsored 36 bills for animal rights, and nearly half have been approved and turned into legislation. This year a bill she helped write went into effect on Jan. 1 that forbids the sale of puppy mill pets in California stores. She has also been on the forefront of fighting to stop the death of horses at Santa Anita.
McDowell, along with his wife, Susan Flanigan and Kathleen Isabel Bourque, their son’s fiancee, has been fighting to create awareness to the increasing training deaths in the military nationwide. Their efforts were prompted by the death of Conor McDowell, who died at Camp Pendleton in a rollover accident. The Government Accountability Office notified the Pentagon in October that it will officially begin to study fatal training accidents.
Mendez continues to advocate and inspire more than seven decades after she was rejected from a local “white” school in Westminster. This year, the very school district that once turned her and her siblings away honored her with a monument and plans to build a historic, interactive trail that will teach future generations about the Mendez case, which led to the repeal of segregation laws in California and paved the way for the landmark Brown v. Board of Education.
As manager of Orange Coast College’s $23 million planetarium that opened in March, Mitchell is helping teach astronomy and the wonders of the universe to college students, school children and the public with shows in the traditional domed theater and other exhibits and programs.
The Angels have had four straight losing seasons, and Moreno has been instrumental in making the decisions to try turn that around such as hiring Manager Joe Maddon and signing free agent third baseman Anthony Rendon. He also reached an agreement to buy Angel Stadium and the land it’s on from the city of Anaheim.
Moreno is the minority voice on the Anaheim City Council, but he doesn’t stop pushing his colleagues to get the concerns of the community heard regarding negotiations with the Angels, the need for rent control or assistance, workers’ rights and more.
The longtime deputy district attorney retired from the Orange County prosecutors’ office this year, going out with a conviction in the kidnapping and torture case of Hossein Nayeri, the mastermind of the 2016 Orange County jailbreak. Murphy, who plays a prominent role in the “Crime Beat” podcast, left to work for a firm that represents victims of sexual assault and to become a legal analyst for ABC News.
Social Distortion, the band Ness founded while a junior at Troy High School in Fullerton, celebrated its 40th anniversary with a nationwide tour that culminated with a festival-style show at FivePoint Amphitheatre in Irvine.
Newman, a survivor of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, now works with a national nonprofit that trains non-medics in how to stop blood flow among victims in mass-casualty emergencies. Newman was named the West Coast ambassador for CitizenAID.
Nguyen is a wife, mother and nurse. But this past year, she’s taken on another role, as an advocate for her husband Michael, imprisoned in Vietnam. Working with Democratic and Republican lawmakers, she flew to D.C. twice – once to testify before a Congressional subcommittee. A quiet, religious woman, she juggles two jobs while caring for her four daughters in Orange and continuing to bring attention to the plight of her husband.
Lawmakers like (Republican) Pat Bates have been trying to tighten up rules around addiction treatment in California for years – and have been repeatedly thwarted. Enter (Democratic) newcomer Cottie Petrie-Norris, bringing Bates and others together across the aisle, spearheading a collaboration that presents the best chance for meaningful reform of the industry in California history.
Chapman’s vice president of research shepherded the university through the opening of its $130 million Keck Center for Science and Engineering, as well as the Fowler School of Engineering. He has been at the forefront of Chapman’s efforts to become a more research-driven university.
One week after Pike, a Laguna Beach High School sophomore, completed a pilot lifesaving program, he used his new skills to rescue a mother and 20-year-old son from a rip current at Thalia Street Beach. Pike was waiting at the beach for his mom to give him a ride when he jumped into action.
Two years ago, a cannabis research center at UC Irvine was on Piomelli’s wishlist. This year, under his leadership, it’s a thriving entity, regularly hosting forums that draw top researchers from around the world and landing large grants to fund groundbreaking marijuana studies.
The secretary of state, a graduate of Fountain Valley’s Los Amigos High, made headlines regularly in 2019. Controversies included his defense of pulling troops from Syria, his statement that Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank don’t violate international law and his role in the Trump administration’s communications with Ukraine.
In her first year in Congress, she regularly draws national headlines and makes viral videos for her tough lines of questioning in committee hearings. It’s led her to be dubbed the “next Elizabeth Warren.” She’s also the only single parent in the House, and she isn’t afraid to show up to the Capitol wearing a Batgirl costume on Halloween.
The California assemblywoman has championed legislation on homelessness and affordable housing. She has been personally touched by the issue with the loss of her brother, a homeless man who struggled with alcoholism and died last year, and by the 2011 police beating and death of Kelly Thomas when she was mayor of Fullerton.
She led a group of residents in the Rancho La Paz mobile home park to fight significant rent hikes proposed by the park’s new owner. The owner is still increasing the park’s rents, albeit now over time, and the residents also encouraged Fullerton and Anaheim to offer a rent assistance program for seniors.
Frank and Joann Randall
The couple gave $50 million in November to the Banning Ranch Conservancy to help buy the 401-acre Banning Ranch, contingent on a purchase deal being worked out. It’s the largest undeveloped privately owned coastal open space in Southern California. Frank Randall, who made his fortune redeveloping shopping malls, is a lifelong hiker and the couple are longtime environmental philanthropists.
Reiser (formerly of Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa and Observatory in Santa Ana), along with his partners Viet Tran and Angel Zaragoza, officially launched Garden Amp in downtown Garden Grove in 2019. The newly renovated concert venue has already seen a slew of successful concerts and festivals and will continue to be instrumental in the revitalization of the surrounding area.
As Lake Forest’s city manager, she led the construction of the city’s Civic Center, dubbed Lake Forest’s “100-year home,” which opened Dec. 16. The city has also paid off its bond debt, becoming one of just a few cities in California to be debt-free with no unfunded pension liability.
Lois Rubin and Esther Wright
These Laguna Woods residents formed a grassroots group, “Non-Toxic Laguna Woods,” to convince the Laguna Woods Village boards of directors to adopt the use of organic, nontoxic herbicides instead of Roundup. Their efforts led to a ban on the use of Roundup throughout the community of 18,000 residents.
Co-chair with Charles Antis of the capital campaign to double the size of the Ronald McDonald House Orange County. After quietly raising funds, she and Antis went public with the effort that will lead to the house having room for 44 families who have children being treated at CHOC.
Since taking the city manager’s post in Irvine, Russo has really pushed to get projects going at the Great Park, including the USA Water Polo facility and talks with the American Museum of Natural History about opening a western branch.
Russo, a senior at Laguna Beach High, is the county’s youngest Trauma Intervention Program volunteer. The 17-year-old is there to comfort people during their deepest grief. She works at least two shifts a month and responds to trauma incidents in communities in South Orange County. She is a recipient of Heroes with a Heart award.
Salgado’s Taco Maria in Costa Mesa was chosen as one of only two Orange County restaurants to receive a Michelin star and he was also selected as semifinalist for the Best Chef West: 2019 honor from the James Beard Foundation.
Salisbury, owner of The Cannery in Newport Beach, opened swanky Louie’s By the Bay and it will celebrate its first anniversary in January. Salisbury is CEO of Restaurant Business Inc., parent company of the El Cholo group which turned 96 this year.
Within a month of being sworn in as Anaheim’s mayor, Sidhu had resurrected negotiations with the Angels that led to the team’s agreement to purchase the stadium and land for $325 million. In the past year, he has shown he’s got the council majority firmly behind his priorities.
Simpson gained fame as a two-time champ of the US Open of Surfing. But this year the Huntington Beach surfer made his coaching debut and helped earn gold for Team USA at the ISA World Junior Championships held last October in his hometown.
Todd D. Smith
He is the director and CEO of the OC Museum of Art who was brought in to jumpstart the long-stalled the museum’s move from Newport Beach to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The new museum at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa broke ground in September.
Swayne has been a longtime supporter of Orange County Community Foundation, founded 30 years ago by his late wife, Judy, with community leaders. From working-class beginnings in Santa Ana, Swayne found success in the food industry and his years of giving back earned him the honor of 2019 Outstanding Philanthropist for National Philanthropy Day Orange County.
Thompson, the 12-year-old founder of Khloe Kares, was a recipient this year of the George H.W. Bush Points of Light Award. Khloe Kares, which she started when she was 8, has given out thousands of care packages to homeless people on L.A.’s Skid Row.
Torres is a former homeless woman turned advocate who won the Mental Health Association’s Hope and Courage Award this year. Her advocacy helped land her a job as night coordinator at The Link shelter in Santa Ana.
He won his third American League MVP award even though the Angels struggled as a team. And when Trout signed a contract for 12 years and $426.5 million, he committed to the Angels until he is 39.
The portfolio creative executive at Walt Disney Imagineering led the team that designed and created Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the new 14-acre themed land that opened at Disneyland on May 31.
Just about every nonprofit in Fountain Valley and Huntington Beach knows Truong, 44, owner of Mimi’s Jewelry. In 2019 alone, Truong donated thousands of dollars in his hand-crafted trinkets to fundraisers for Orange Coast Memorial, the Rotary, Kiwanis, PTAs, the Vietnamese American Cancer Foundation and more.
She didn’t win an Orange City Council seat in 2018, but the council’s decision to not appoint her to fill a vacant slot brought a lawsuit that ultimately prompted Orange to elect its council members by districts. As a result, the city’s internal politics, which had long been dominated by Republicans, could see a drastic shift.
Bishop Kevin Vann
Bishop Vann oversaw the $72.3 million remodel of Christ Cathedral. In July, he led the spectacular dedication ceremony in front of 3,000 attendees.
While the former Anaheim veterinarian is now based at UC Davis, his primary research work focuses on the mountain lions of the Santa Ana Mountains. In 2019, a Cal Poly study he helped launch a study of possible wildlife crossings at the I15 Freeway that could be key to the cats’ long-term survival.
He officially became Cal State Fullerton’s president in March. Virjee had been serving as interim president since early 2018, succeeding Mildred Garcia, to oversee Orange County’s largest university. This year, Virjee introduced plans to transform the commuter campus into a residential campus, with more housing and amenities on site.
Walker is heading up the development, announced this year, of a $1 billion comprehensive cancer campus next to Orange County Great Park. It will be the only hospital in OC exclusively focused on cancer research and treatment.
Wallace is an environmentalist who co-founded Laguna Bluebelt, a nonproft to protect the ocean and beach environment. She was selected by Cox as the state’s environmentalist of the year and given $10,000 to donate to the nonprofit of her choice.
Warren, who founded the Saddleback Church ministry with her husband, Pastor Rick Warren, is rallying faith groups and health care providers to address mental illness. The church launched a mental health ministry this year and created The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, which featured speakers including the surgeon general and Orange County Bishop Kevin Vann.
Weinmeister, a junior at JSerra High, has studied dance since she was 2. This summer she started her own nonprofit and launched a free dance program for underprivileged kids at the Boys & Girls Club in San Juan Capistrano.
Soon after winning a seat on the OC Board of Supervisors, Wagner started asking what would it take to get Irvine Lake reopened and helped negotiate a way out of the stalemate that had kept it shuttered. Now people are regularly casting their fishing lines.
Whaling is a retired fire battalion chief who runs a firefighting equipment business and invented the Heli-Hydrant, a remote-controlled reservoir for water-dropping helicopter pilots to draw from during a wildfire. The 2,700-gallon water tank was installed in October in the hills above Yorba Linda.
The day after a photo showing students from Newport-Mesa Unified playing beer pong with cups in a swastika design went viral, White, a Holocaust instructor at Tarbut V’Torah school in Irvine, brought the teens in to educate them on the Holocaust. She’s continued those efforts.
Wulfestieg, who herself nearly died from a stroke, now helps others find peace in their final days. As director of the Costa Mesa-based Southern California Hospice Foundation, she assists low-income patients with meals, transportation, bills and last wishes – such as, in July, a Westminster man’s desire to wed his girlfriend.
Yeager, a decorated Black Hawk helicopter pilot who flew aeromedical evacuations in Iraq, is the first female in history to lead a U.S. Army Infantry Division. The Fountain Valley native took command of the storied 102-year-old 40th Infantry Division in the California National Guard, in a ceremony June 29 at Joint Forces Training Base in Los Alamitos. A U.S. Army poster prompted her to begin a 33-year Army career.
The quarterback led Mater Dei back to the CIF-Southern Section Division 1 championship game with one of the more impressive seasons in Orange County history, was selected the Register’s offensive player of the year and was named the Gatorade state player of the year. He had been committed to USC but switched to Alabama and signed this month with the Crimson Tide.
Zahra, the country’s first openly LGBTQ Muslim city councilman, had his first full year on the Fullerton City Council in 2019. He pushed Fullerton to consider a rent subsidy program, to display the Pride flag at City Hall and kickstarted efforts to restore murals near Lemon Park.