In the News
Most Influential 2017: Meet the 100 top influencers in Orange County
Some affect life in Orange County on a grand scale. Others contribute in ways you might not notice but truly are important.
All of them made a difference in 2017.
It’s time to reveal the Orange County Register’s annual selections for the 100 most influential people in Orange County.
You will recognize some of the people, and we hope you’ll be glad to learn about some you did not know. And, yes, there are some names you might expect to see who are not on the list for 2017. It’s not that they lost any influence. But our goal is to highlight people who were particularly influential in the past year. So Angels star Mike Trout is not on the list, but “So You Think You Can Dance” winner Lex Ishimoto is.
Our main list of 100 influencers will be accompanied by in-depth profile of 10 people who made the list. It’s not necessarily a top 10 but more of an intriguing representation of all who were selected.
Travis Allen, 44, Huntington Beach
The third-term Republican assemblyman raised his profile this year by launching a campaign for governor and leading one of two efforts to repeal a new gas tax, setting himself a clear and prominent agenda for the upcoming year.
Mohammed Aly, 28, Tustin
He is a polarizing figure, a homeless advocate who has helped people even as he’s become a persistent thorn in the side of county officials.
Valerie Amezcua, 50, Santa Ana
The Santa Ana Unified School District board member and former probation officer advocated for increased counseling and mental health help for students in need.
Charles Antis, 55, Irvine
His company, Antis Roofing, was a 2017 honoree by National Philanthropy Day Orange County for work providing roofs and roof repair for many charities, including Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House.
George Argyros, 80, Newport Beach
The real estate investor and former ambassador to Spain and his wife, Julianne, donated $15 million to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ refurbished public plaza that opened in 2017 and bears their names.
Rick Arvielo, 55, Corona del Mar
The CEO of fast-growing lender New American Funding was named 2017-18 chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s political action committee in addition to serving on other MBA committees.
Tabay Atkins, 12, Ladera Ranch
He became a media celebrity as the youngest certified yoga instructor in the U.S., traveling internationally to appear at conferences and on TV talk shows while teaching classes at his mother’s San Clemente yoga studio to raise donations for children with cancer.
Faried Banimahd, 47, Laguna Hills, and Joe Desanto, 49, Costa Mesa
These two physicians – who haven’t met – are hitting the reset button on addiction recovery by specializing in medication-assisted treatment, which research finds is vastly more effective than traditional abstinence-based approaches to substance abuse.
Alexander Behura, 17, Yorba Linda
Inspired by his younger brother Max, who has autism, Behura helped create an autism awareness and support program called Member of Autism Care Services (the MAX Program) that the Sheraton Park Hotel at the Anaheim Resort adopted to better care for families with autistic children.
John Berney, 54, San Juan Capistrano
President of San Juan Capistrano Equestrian Coalition, Berney promotes the economic benefits horses bring to the community and leads the fight against recent lawsuits he says could destroy the area’s equestrian heritage.
Cindy Bobruk, 56, Ladera Ranch
The president and executive director of the Orange Catholic Foundation is leading an effort to raise $72 million to renovate the iconic Christ Cathedral (formerly Crystal Cathedral) glass sanctuary in Garden Grove.
Donald Bren, 85, Newport Beach
Always influential, the billionaire real estate mogul in 2017 put Irvine in the race for Amazon’s new second headquarters by pledging to build a $5 billion campus for the retail giant.
Austin Brotman, 17, Ladera Ranch
The JSerra High student was paralyzed after breaking his neck in a boating accident and, during recovery, scored perfect on the ACT.
Letitia Clark, 35, Tustin
Elected only a year ago, the Tustin native has injected fresh ideas into longtime City Council practices – as an example, instigating term limits for city commissioners and publicizing the posts to outside candidates.
Andrew Cogliano, 30, Newport Beach
This Anaheim Duck in 2017 extended a consecutive-games-played streak past 800 from the start of his career, the fourth-longest streak in NHL history and closing in on the record of 964.
Griffin Colapinto, 19, San Clemente
The surfer became the first Californian to win the Triple Crown of Surfing and at a young age will join the ranks of the world’s top 34 surfers in 2018.
Cameron Collins, 39, San Juan Capistrano
As the co-founder of San Clemente-based Brew Ha Ha Productions, Collins and his wife Tiffany have grown the company to include the annual Brew Ha Ha, Brew Ho Ho, Brew Hee Haw craft beer tasting events and have partnered with fellow O.C. company, Synergy Global Entertainment, to bring craft beer tastings to music festivals such as Punk N’ Brew in Huntington Beach and Driftwood in Dana Point.
Bill Cook, 71, Mission Viejo
Cook, a Vietnam War veteran who heads the Orange County Veterans Memorial Park Foundation, was instrumental in Irvine’s land swap deal with a developer in an effort to build Orange County’s first military veterans cemetery.
Lanny Cordola, 57, Cypress
Cordola teaches Muslim street kids, particularly girls, to sing rock music and play the guitar, and recorded a version of Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s “Love and Mercy” with the kids accompanied by the musician’s pre-recorded voice in a Kabul recording studio in the spring of 2017.
Craig Covey, 49, Costa Mesa
The Orange County Fire Authority battalion chief wrote a letter apologizing to Erin Williamson of Anaheim Hills after his unit was unable to save her house during the Canyon 2 fire.
JT Daniels, 17, Irvine
The Mater Dei High quarterback, who has committed to USC, already has set the Orange County record for career passing yardage, won a state title and was the Gatorade national player of the year as just a junior.
Sam Darnold, 20, San Clemente
The USC quarterback engineered a 15-point comeback in the highest-scoring Rose Bowl in January, becoming an overnight national star, then led the Trojans to a second straight 10-win season this fall.
Mikey Day, 37, Orange
The “Saturday Night Live” featured player capitalized on political change by playing Donald Trump Jr. and Steve Bannon – the Grim Reaper version of him – in sketches.
Mark Desmond, 63, Tustin
Over his 40 years with High Hopes Head Injury Program, the director has made it one of the premier rehabilitation centers in the country – providing clients affordable care for what otherwise would be prohibitively expensive treatments.
Cortney Dorney, 41, Westminster
She led Westminster Adoption Group and Services as they worked to care for and find homes for animals, including hundreds seized this year in hoarding cases and those kept in squalid conditions.
Matt and Ross Duffer, 33, Orange
Twins commonly known as the Duffer Brothers, the former Chapman University students from the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts continued their streaming success with the hit “Stranger Things 2” on Netflix.
Billy Eppler, 42, Anaheim
The Angels’ general manager made huge moves in the offseason, most notably by landing Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani, that should make them strong contenders.
Leeanne Ericson, 37 San Diego
In April, Ericson drew national media attention — and became the focal point of much good will –after surviving a serious shark bite off San Onofre.
Janet Evans, 46, Laguna Beach
The Olympic champion swimmer was a key part of L.A.’s bid group for the 2028 Summer Olympics and now is in charge of athlete relations for the organizing committee.
Melissa Fox, 49, Irvine
The lone Democrat on the Irvine City Council, she was the swing vote in a dispute over where to build a 125-acre military veterans cemetery.
Mildred García, 65, Fullerton
This was the last year of García’s six-year tenure as president of Cal State Fullerton, where – as the first Latina president in the California State University system – she saw the graduation rate soar, donations triple and the growth to graduate more Hispanic students than any other university in the state.
Gregory Gardiner, 49, Huntington Beach
A science teacher at Edison High and one of the founders of the school’s esteemed Innovation Lab and Academy of Sustainability and Engineering, he was named one of the state’s five 2018 teachers of the year by the California Department of Education in October after being chosen by the Orange County Department of Education as one of its six winners.
Emile Haddad, 59, Laguna Hills
FivePoint’s CEO oversaw his firm’s initial public offering as well as the veterans cemetery land swap and opening of the Great Park soccer stadium and amphitheater.
Rida Hamida, 39, of Anaheim; Benjamin Vazquez, 46, of Santa Ana
In 2017, their community outreach effort, #TacoTrucksAtEveryMosque, brought halal tacos — and cultural mingling — to mosques throughout Southern California.
Keith Hancock, 37, Las Flores
Hancock, a choral music teacher at Tesoro High, has found a unique way to blend teaching music and life lessons to his students, which led to him being named the Grammy Foundation’s Educator of the Year in 2017 and a finalist for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Award for 2018.
Parag Havaldar, 48, Fullerton
The software engineer won an Oscar for his development of expression-based facial performance capture technology.
Project Rebound, a program launched locally by Heiner to help former convicts get their college degrees, generated its first graduate in June. At least 13 more Project Rebound students are attending Cal State Fullerton.
Mark Henriquez, 25, Santa Ana
Henriquez, who goes by the moniker Gremlin, received over 6.1 million views via his Facebook page for a video he posted that included the rap, “All for You,” which he had written about his mother’s lifelong struggle with addiction.
Aaron Herzberg, 48, Irvine
Herzberg is helping shape California’s legal cannabis industry while keeping the focus on medical patients as his two Orange County dispensaries bus in seniors for free, host workshops for veterans and offer low-cost consultations for cancer patients.
Ryan Hickman, 8, San Juan Capistrano
The Pacific Marine Mammal Center’s Philanthropist of the Year has collected 280,000 bottles and cans to raise money for recovering sea lions.
Bryan “Dexter” Holland, 51, Huntington Beach
The frontman for Orange County-based rock band the Offspring expanded his Gringo Bandito hot sauce empire to include beef jerky and, in his spare time, managed to finish his 175-page thesis to graduate from USC with a doctorate in molecular biology in May.
Kanoa Igarashi, 20, Huntington Beach
He is making waves on the World Tour as one of the top competitive surfers and also became the first Orange County surfer to win the U.S. Open of Surfing since 2010.
Lex Ishimoto, 19, Irvine
The young professional dancer, who performed in a Broadway touring production at age 12, cruised to victory on the Fox competition series “So You Think You Can Dance.”
Dottie Jefferies, 77, Laguna Woods
She spearheaded a program that makes cloth dolls, called Healing Buddies, that go to organizations that encounter children with trauma, including victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
April Josephson, 57, Rancho Santa Margarita
Josephson partnered with Orange County Animal Care to open a nonprofit adoption-only facility, giving residents in South Orange County the chance to adopt dogs and cats from the county shelter in an effort to lower the county shelter’s euthanasia rate.
A.G. Kawamura, 61, Newport Beach
He spearheaded the effort to partner with Westminster High in growing fresh produce for the Orange County Food Bank on the school’s 8-acre farm.
Mariah Klenke, 24, based at Camp Pendleton
Mariah Klenke made history on Oct. 3, when she became the first female Marine to graduate from the Marine Corps Assault Amphibian Officer Course and earn the military occupational specialty of assault amphibian officer.
Sarah Koo, 37, Irvine
The professional cellist and music teacher drove a half-dozen of her UC Irvine students to Las Vegas to soothe souls after 604 people were killed or wounded in a storm of bullets.
Carson Kropfl, 12, San Clemente
Invented the Locker Board, a skateboard that fits inside a school locker, while inspiring other young entrepreneurs and drawing accolades from President Donald Trump and from Sir Richard Branson, who awarded him a $65,000 investment on “Shark Tank.”
Scott Larson, 55, San Juan Capistrano
Larson shepherded the opening of the year-round HomeAid Family CareCenter emergency shelter in Orange for homeless families with underage children.
Brian Levin, 54, Orange County
The director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at Cal State San Bernardino was featured on many national and international television networks for his deep insights on hate crime statistics and trends in violent extremism.
Sharleen Loh, 17, Placentia
In 2017, Loh was named one of 10 National Young Woman of Distinction by the Girl Scouts of America, for her work helping to teach science to younger kids.
Carissa Long, 18, Laguna Hills
She helped raise more than $275,000 by organizing a golf tournament to benefit the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit working to break the cycle of homelessness.
Stuart McClure, 48, Irvine
As chief executive of cybersecurity firm Cylance, McClure has created one of the fastest growing companies in North America that saw triple-digit revenue growth in 2017.
John Meffert, 47, Rancho Santa Margarita
Meffert, a firefighter with the Avalon Fire Department, rushed to the aid of Francis and Janan Pisano after their plane crashed on the I-405 Freeway.
Jay Mendoza, 33, Anaheim
Mendoza, a cyclist, shot and narrated a video of homeless tent encampments on the Santa Ana River Trail with a GoPro camera attached to his bike helmet, generating more than 1.5 million views.
Virdiana Chabolla Mendoza, 26, Irvine
The UC Irvine law student, who was brought to the U.S. from Mexico by her parents when she was 2, is one of six immigrants suing the administration over the end DACA.
Jim Miller, 68, Dana Point
He was instrumental in making the unknown of the decades-long-awaited $200 million Dana Point Harbor revitalization less scary for Dana Point Harbor merchants through information, regular updates and rallying when needed.
Julie Miller-Phipps, 60, Huntington Beach
As president of Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, Miller-Phipps is in charge of the health of 4.4 million members of the giant HMO, overseeing a staff of 71,000 in 15 hospitals, including those in Irvine and Anaheim.
Mike Milligan, 70, Mission Viejo
The chief of the Holy Jim Fire Department is fighting a dual battle against Mother Nature and government bureaucracy to ensure the survival of a century-old community in the Cleveland National Forest.
Kris Murray, 49, Anaheim
From her seat on the Anaheim City Council, she led colleagues to declare a state of emergency regarding the growing number of homeless along the Santa Ana River, and she drafted a plan to address it.
Peter Navarro, 68, Laguna Beach
The director of the White House National Trade Council, a former UC Irvine professor, has seen much of his protectionist agenda thwarted by pro-trade rivals, but he retains a seat at the table in debates over the fate of the North America Free Trade Agreement and how to address U.S. trade deficits with China and other nations.
Chad Nelsen, 46, Laguna Beach
The CEO of the Surfrider Foundation since 2014 has led the 50,000 member non-profit, based in San Clemente, to fight for cleaner waters and beaches and issues that affect all beachgoers.
Shawn Nelson, 51, Fullerton
The Orange County supervisor uncovered – and brought public attention to – delays in the Orange County Fire Authority’s response to the Canyon Fire 2 on Oct. 9 that burned thousands of acres and dozens of buildings.
Josh Newman, 53, Fullerton
The freshman assemblyman’s 2016 upset victory gave Democrats the supermajority needed to pass a gas-tax and road-improvement plan this year, which has made him the target of a GOP recall effort while winning him ardent support from Gov. Jerry Brown and other top Democrats.
Lam Nguyen, 72, Fountain Valley
He is the general manager of the Vietnamese Library Online, a Westminster nonprofit founded that has spent decades trying to preserve and publish to the web millions of Vietnamese writings the communists tried to destroy in the years following the 1975 Fall of Saigon; he is also an architect building the new Heroes Monument, dedicated to South Vietnamese soldiers who committed suicide when Saigon fell, at Westminster’s Sid Goldstein Freedom Park.
Victor Novak, 50, Tustin
He returned to Orange County as the brewmaster at the new Golden Road Brewing in Anaheim, near Angel Stadium, where he experiments constantly on a new 15-barrel brewing system and will keep taps flowing at the 40,000-square-foot facility.
Sean Oliu, 15, Anaheim
The Servite High sophomore landed a role on “Club Mickey Mouse,” a reboot of the iconic Disney show that launched the careers of the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake.
Jake Olson, 20, Huntington Beach
The Orange Lutheran High graduate, who lost his eyesight at 12 because of retinal cancer, appeared in a regular-season college football game for the first time when he snapped an extra point for USC in its opening win over Western Michigan on Labor Day weekend.
Anoosheh Oskouian, 53, Newport Coast
Founder of Ship & Shore Environmental, she is the rare female CEO in the environmental engineering field and has a passion for philanthropy that includes the Pacific Symphony, where she spearheaded the Iranian New Year celebration.
Sue Parks, 60, Dana Point
The new president and CEO of Orange County United Way leads an effort to raise more than $18 million a year to help low-income residents with education, health and housing.
Izzy Paskowitz, 54, San Juan Capistrano
The former pro surfer 20 years ago started Surfers Healing, a nonprofit group that each year takes thousands of children with autism out in the water to catch waves.
Bac Pham, 62, Huntington Beach
A former refugee who came to the United States in 1975 and is now a hotel developer, he submitted plans to Westminster in January to build Little Saigon’s first luxury hotel – along with high-end apartments and retail – called Bolsa Row and designed it as a callback to colonial-era Vietnam.
Deidre Pujols, 41, Irvine
The wife of the Angels’ Albert Pujols launched the “Strike Out Slavery,” aimed at raising awareness of human trafficking by hosting a night at Angel Stadium.
Miguel Pulido, 61, Santa Ana
As Santa Ana’s mayor, he led efforts that ousted the city manager and, according to a lawsuit, forced the city’s police chief to resign.
Sharon Quirk-Silva, 55, Fullerton
The state assemblymember is prodding California officials to rethink how they regulate addiction treatment facilities after reports of paying-for-patients and neighborhood disruption.
Jocelyn Read, 38, Fullerton and Joshua Smith, 37, Fullerton
Pioneers of gravitational wave research, the two physicists helped uncover two neutron stars colliding 130 million light-years away.
Joshua Recalde-Martinez, 19, Costa Mesa
The Orange Coast College student became the youngest officer in the California Republican party when he was elected to serve as the GOP’s associate delegate representative at only 18 years old.
Salwa Rizkalla, 70, Fountain Valley
The artistic director of Festival Ballet Theatre and Southland Ballet Academy has students who regularly win international ballet competitions and holds shows that attract prestigious guest artists such as Misty Copeland.
Ariana Rowlands, 21, Ladera Ranch
The UC Irvine student is the new president of the California College Republicans, which she vows to lead as a more activist group in promoting conservative causes on college campuses across the state.
Ed Royce, 66, Fullerton
As chairman of the prominent House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Royce delivers frequent analyses on TV news shows; his recent calls to relist North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and to continue the ban on big-game trophies from Africa preceded President Donald Trump’s embrace of those positions.
Carlos Salgado, 38, Costa Mesa
The Taco Maria chef and owner, a pioneer of the Alta California food movement, brought his elevated Latin flavors to the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, was featured in a recent episode of “The Migrant Kitchen” on KCET and was named one of the 10 best Mexican chefs in the U.S. by Food & Wine magazine in October.
Susan Samueli, 67, Corona del Mar
Long-time philanthropist Susan Samueli, who owns the Ducks with her husband, Henry, is the force behind a $200 million donation the couple made to UC Irvine this year to create a health sciences college, which will incorporate holistic medicine in its teaching and practices.
Scott Sanders, 50, Long Beach
The assistant public defender kept the worst mass killer in Orange County history – responsible for eight deaths in a Seal Beach shooting – off death row by questioning the use of jailhouse informants by county prosecutors.
Fran Sdao, 65, Mission Viejo
Elected to be chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Orange County in January, Sdao has been working to maximize gains of a party that is quickly closing ground on the county’s GOP in voter registration with a particular surge in Democrat activism since the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Susan Skinner, 54, Newport Beach
Skinner led dozens of opponents against the proposed Museum House condominium development through a large petition effort that resulted in the City Council rescinding its approval of the controversial project.
Lynsi Snyder, 35, Irvine
The seven-year president of Irvine-based In-N-Out increased her estimated worth by millions when she turned 35 in May and received the remaining shares of her trust. She has been in full control of the company since 2010.
Dean Spanos, 67, Costa Mesa
The president and CEO of the Los Angeles Chargers moved his team’s headquarters to Costa Mesa as part of its relocation north from San Diego.
Kevin Staniec, Orange
He founded 1888 Center, the nonprofit dedicated to promoting literary arts and a sense of cultural heritage in Orange County
Doris Starling, 69, Santa Ana
Starling, who lives in Menifee, ran The Courtyard homeless shelter in the Santa Ana Civic Center under Orange County’s contract with The Midnight Mission, lodging up to 425 people per night during its first year.
Daniele Struppa, 62, Newport Beach
He spent his first full year as Chapman University’s president laying the groundwork for massive STEM growth for the school while making several moves to build good faith in the community and ensure half of undergraduates are housed in Chapman housing.
Nicole Suydam, 44, Aliso Viejo
She oversaw the launch of two new food pantries connected to a school and a family resource center that expand Second Harvest Food Bank’s efforts to address hunger in poor neighborhoods.
Tom Tait, 59, Anaheim
As mayor of Orange County’s most populous city, Tait used 2017 to spur changes in city management, implement programs to employ the homeless and help addicts quit drugs, and raise opposition to tax deals that subsidize luxury hotels.
Justin Turner, 33, Fullerton
The former Cal State Fullerton star led the Dodgers to their first World Series appearance since 1988 and was MVP of the National League Championship Series.
Emigdio “Higgy” Vasquez Jr., 49, Santa Ana
The artist, who has long contributed to the local art scene, is working to restore murals in Anaheim created by his dad, Emigdio Vasquez, known as the “godfather of Chicano art.”
The Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees, Newport Beach
The pastor of St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, which was evicted and exiled from its parish building by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and its Bishop J. Jon Bruno, fought alongside her congregants and after lengthy church proceedings is expected to lead her flock back to their home church on Via Lido in early 2018.
Alicia Whitney, 38, Huntington Beach
She has grown her successful Huntington Beach wine bar, SeaLegs, into a mini-empire that includes an adjacent steakhouse, Sea Salt Woodfire Grill, and all the food franchises on Bolsa Chica State Beach; recently she became involved with Diner en Blanc, hosting the first O.C. event for more than 900 people at her outdoor beachfront bar, SeaLegs at the Beach.
Eric Woolery, 52, Orange
Orange County’s auditor-controller helped unite his counterparts throughout California to fight for independent legal protection to support their fiscal watchdog duties.
Michelle Wulfestieg, 36, Newport Beach
The two-time stroke survivor is executive director of Southern California Hospice Foundation which grants final wishes for terminally-ill hospice patients.
Charlie Zhang, 62, Laguna Niguel
The founder of Pick Up Stix started OC Music and Dance, a nonprofit performing arts school in Irvine that offers music and dance training for children, regardless of their skill levels.
View Original Publication: OC Register