Adrin Nazarian: Connecting with People on a Human Level

With the goal of harnessing the untapped potential of Iranian-Americans, and to build the capacity of the Iranian diaspora in effecting positive change in the U.S. and around the world, the Iranian Americans’ Contributions Project (IACP) has launched a series of interviews that explore the personal and professional backgrounds of prominent Iranian-Americans who have made seminal contributions to their fields of endeavour. We examine lives and journeys that have led to significant achievements in the worlds of science, technology, finance, medicine, law, the arts and numerous other endeavors. Our latest interviewee is Adrin Nazarian.

Adrin Nazarian was elected in November 2012 to represent California’s 46th District in the State Assembly in Sacramento. The southern California district he represents includes Hollywood Hills, Lake Balboa, North Hills, North Hollywood, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Universal City, Van Nuys, and Valley Village.

Since his election, he has passionately advocated for increased mass transit in the San Fernando Valley, smarter management of vital water resources through infrastructure improvements, protecting and expanding the film industry, and much-needed earthquake preparedness. He sits on the Assembly Committees on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media; Health; Rules; and Transportation.

Adrin is an influential voice for his constituents in Sacramento, and is actively engaged in his district. To date, he has organized over 30 free women’s self-defense classes, reaching over 1,500 participants; and hosted or co-hosted over 200 events throughout the district — ranging from child car seat safety, ADA workshops, pet adoption events, and map your neighborhood events.

Adrin has always believed in civic engagement and the importance of giving back to his community. He has served on the boards of several community-based organizations including the East Valley YMCA and the YWCA. Adrin was one of the founding members of Generation Next Mentorship program, which worked with local public schools to give young people alternatives to a life of gangs and drugs.

Prior to being elected, he served as Chief of Staff to Paul Krekorian in both Mr. Krekorian’s capacity as Assistant Majority Leader in the California State Assembly and a Los Angeles Council member. Adrin also served as an aide to Congressman Brad Sherman, participated in the prestigious CORO Fellowship in Public Affairs program, and was appointed as Special Assistant to the California Trade and Commerce Agency by former Governor Gray Davis.

Adrin attended UCLA, where he received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. He and his wife, Diana, live in West Toluca Lake with their children Alex, David and Maggie.

Tell our readers where you grew up and walk us through your background. How did your family and surroundings influence you in your formative years?

My family immigrated to Iran — where I was born — from Armenia. I was very young when my parents made the difficult decision to leave Iran. I remember hiding in our building’s basement while exploding bombs were rocking the foundation of my childhood home during the Iran-Iraq war. The sadness I felt when my family was separated was profound. For four years my family and I were spread across three countries. I distinctly remember fleeing with my mother to Cyprus, then Germany, before finally arriving in our new home, the San Fernando Valley.

War is unforgiving and incomprehensible through the eyes of a child, but the compassion of strangers and small acts of kindness among communities along the journey to safety stood out to me.

What has been your personal key to success? What were the biggest inspirations for your career?

My aim as a legislator is to give voice to all of my constituents. I find it extremely important to listen and connect with people on a human level. Meeting with constituents is always one of my biggest privileges and priorities.

How did your journey unfold, and what motivated you to follow a career in public service?

As I grew up in the Valley, I saw that my community — a community that was largely distrusting of the government — was missing out on being represented, on having our voices heard. So I got involved, going door to door, registering voters, and engaging my community in issues that affected us. I worked with other community leaders to identify and empower people in our community to run for local office and spread awareness even further.

What leadership lessons have you learned during the more than two decades you’ve served in public service?

Listening goes a long way. You have something to learn from everyone, even if you’re in a leadership position. Allowing yourself to be led by your curiosity is also extremely valuable.

What are some key lessons that young government employees need to learn to become effective public servants?

It’s important to connect with people on a human level. We need to break down barriers and help constituents realize that politics is power, and to have a voice, you need to speak up! People need to realize that the issues that affect our communities — affordable housing and education, eradicating homelessness, clean water, and quality health care — can benefit us all if we address them. When we strive to achieve these things, we all stand to gain.

What do you think the biggest challenges facing your District?

Transportation is a challenge throughout Los Angeles, but it is especially difficult in the Valley. Given the lack of public transit options, our freeways are crowded and our air quality is in jeopardy. I led the fight to pass legislation that will transition our popular bus rapid transit line to light rail, taking cars off the road and reducing commute times.

Water is another major issue in the Valley. I am proud to have approved a water bond that was successfully passed to allow local communities to address their water needs. The bond enabled a comprehensive remediation and cleanup program to address the groundwater contamination in the San Fernando Basin and preserve our essential water resources through storage, recycling, and management efforts.

Can you outline your primary policy initiatives?

We’ve had ongoing challenges in water, transportation, and healthcare. I’ve dabbled in addressing various facets of these issues. Looking ahead, one of the things I want to do is ensure all of California’s kids have access to savings accounts. This would create opportunities for college, investing in real estate, or starting a business.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve faced along your career path? How did you overcome it?

Lack of interest in politics. There are a lot of people that aren’t engaged in the process. There are also people who take advantage of this disinterest by throwing their money around to drown out concepts and ideas they want to bury. This creates a smothering effect, instead of people to think critically and engage in dialogue on issues. I overcame this by “dialoguing” everyone to exhaustion. Being a staffer for many years before running for office enabled me to learn the issues and tackle things head on.

May I have your take on president Trump’s travel ban?

Not only do Trump’s executive orders have a negative impact on immigrants, they harm our economy and society in general. For the most part, all of our economic sectors depend on our immigrant workforce. The diverse makeup of our state demands that our work in the legislature represent the interests of a wide population of people. The California Legislature is committed to protecting its residents — no matter their country of birth, immigration status, socioeconomic standing, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Can you share your thoughts on your Iranian-American identity? What does being an Iranian-American mean to you?

Iranian-Americans have a lot to contribute. We are leaders in our spheres of influence and integral to the fabric of our thriving state for several generations. When you look at the culture and the history that the Iranian community brings with it — the beauty of its language, art, and literature; its contributions to science — it tells you how rich the community is. I am proud to be a part of this cultural heritage.