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The Powers to Be

When there's a vacuum of established leadership, real or perceived, it leaves a critical shortage of role models for the next generation.


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Reality Changers San DiegoChristopher Yanov
He’s godfather to 18 children, with number 19 on the way. The kids are the offspring of former gang members Yanov befriended when he started Reality Changers with $300 and four eighth-graders in 2001. Since then, his nonprofit has given away $1 million in scholarships. With 100 students now, the program boasts 50 graduates from schools that include Dartmouth, Harvard, Duke and the University of California, Berkeley. “What drives me is the idea that inner-city kids know more people who’ve been shot than have been to college,” the 30-year-old Yanov says. “It’s not right. And now we’re changing that reality.” His next goal: Helping provide scholarships to siblings of kids murdered by gangs. “He’s done a phenomenal job,” says UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox. “He embodies the values of the best of higher education and inspires these students to do things they wouldn’t have thought possible otherwise.”

Honorable mention:
Ricky Page

He’s the understudy of Miles McPherson, the former NFL player who’s now pastor of The Rock Church in Point Loma. When McPherson travels, Page, 37, fills in at the pulpit, preaching to about 10,000 people during five Sunday services. But Page is a leader in his own right. He’d hoped to be a professional wrestler, but that dream died when his neck was broken during a high school match. The ordeal brought him close to God, prompting his decision to become a pastor, focusing on youth.


Laurel McFarlaneLaurel McFarlane
Her McFarlane Promotions is involved in nearly every major event in downtown San Diego, so if you’ve ever found yourself dancing in the streets of the Gaslamp Quarter, Laurel probably had something to do with it. The 39-year-old mother of four (ages 1 to 5) has been instrumental in ShamROCK!, Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp, Monster Bash, Fallback Festival, Taste of Downtown, Legends Behind the Badge, the Alonzo Awards and the Gaslamp’s Lamplighter Awards. More recently she was invited to throw Tony Gwynn’s Hall of Fame party, and she joined the team that hosts Street Scene. One of the “kookiest” party stunts she’s planned came off during the Red Bull Air Races, when four base jumpers leapt off The Mark condominiums at Seventh Avenue and Market Streets to make an entrance at the party below.

Honorable mention:
Merritte Powell

He used a fake ID to land his first job in the nightclub business during high school—as a doorman checking other folks’ IDs. At 36, Powell has made a name for himself with a pair of unique nightspots. The Gaslamp Quarter ’s Confidential—co-owned with Andrew Firestone of The Bachelor fame—was named one of the 10 most notable bars in the country by InStyle. (The magazine described the club as “shagadelic.”) And Powell was among the first to combine an intimate lounge, bar and nightclub with a tapas restaurant. He recently opened La Puerta, a rock ’n’ roll tequila bar and restaurant, also in the Gaslamp.


Scott Lewis, Andrew DonohueAndrew Donohue and Scott Lewis
The Christian Science Monitor called voiceofsandiego.org “a ray of hope for a troubled industry.” Under the leadership of these two editors, the nonprofit online news site is growing while traditional newspapers are shrinking. For the Web site, which is funded by donations, growth means a jump from two staffers to 11. But Voice of San Diego is making an impact with an emphasis on politics and government—and lots of scoops. In the past year, they’ve doubled their monthly page views to 1.2 million; they’ve increased funding with a number of large grants from prominent people; and they’ve partnered with NBC 7/39. “As a nonprofit, we aren’t looking to make money; we’re looking to educate, enlighten and sometimes entertain the city every day,” says Donohue, 30; Lewis is 32. “We’re really proud of where we are,” says Donohue. “And where we’re going.”

Honorable mention
Dan Blattler and Ileana Ovalle

These two executives at Cox Communications are being groomed for big things. Blattler, 35, started his career answering customer calls and was promoted this year to sales director. He’s responsible for retaining and growing the customer base, just as AT&T made a big competitive grab for customers. He’s the youngest member of the company’s senior leadership team. Ovalle is the company’s public face. The 36-year-old is responsible for building the Cox image in the South Bay and East County.


Joseph N. Casas
It took a Camp Pendleton jury six hours to acquit First Lieutenant Andrew Grayson, the first Marine tried in the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha. Casas, 34, was the defense lawyer. In another high-profile case, he negotiated a plea deal for Private First Class John J. Jodka III, who faced 15 years in prison for his part in the kidnapping and killing of an Iraqi man. Jodka got 18 months. Casas, a former Navy prosecutor and Marine, has found a niche representing service members. “It’s another way to serve my country, even though I’m not wearing a uniform,” he says. Before opening Casas Law Group in 2006, he’d been a corporate attorney for Fortune 500 companies. He serves on the boards of the San Diego Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Alzheimer’s Association.

Honorable mention:
Kevin Keenan

The Yale Law School grad became executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union here three years ago and has been making an impact by drawing statewide attention to local issues. Case in point: Keenan’s office defeated efforts by the Escondido City Council to force landlords to check the immigration status of tenants, and then successfully pushed legislation barring any municipality in California from adopting such a law. “That combo is something that is increasingly distinguishing us,” says the 35-year-old.

Marco Gonzalez
Not surprisingly, one of this environmental attorney’s biggest fans is San Diego City Council member Donna Frye: He handled her legal issues during her write-in campaign for mayor against Dick Murphy. And he’s the brother of Lorena Gonzalez, who lost her bid for a council seat to Kevin Faulconer. But most importantly, Gonzalez, 38, is cofounder of Coast Law Group in Encinitas, and his clients are big-name environmental groups like the Surfrider Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans.

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