Interview with Irvine Chief of Police

The ears of the leader must ring with the voices of the people. For over eighteen years, Irvine City Councilmember Larry Agran has been closely listening to the wants and needs of his Irvine citizens. As an Irvine resident for over 30 years, Agran helped shape the City of Irvine to become one of the safest, most advanced, multicultural and community oriented cities in the world.

Graduating from the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960’s, Agran attributes his interests in politics and public service to the inspiration he received from Kennedy’s presidential campaign and the civil rights and
anti-war movements of the time. While at Berkeley, Agran realized that government, when properly organized, was the instrument for civic improvement.

After graduating from Harvard Law School, Agran moved back to California and eventually to Irvine where he realized the enormous potential of the city. “When I came to Irvine, it became clear to me that I would be able to shape the future, programs and policies of the city,” Agran said. His desire to become more involved in city politics fueled his decision to run for city council in 1978 where he was elected. Agran served for a total of twelve years, six as Mayor, until 1990 when he was defeated.

After an eight year break from city politics, Agran returned with a dream in 1998. Agran did not want an international airport at the El Toro Marine base – his dream was to create a great metropolitan park in the heart of Orange County instead. Campaigning under the notion of a Great Park, Agran gained support from the people of Irvine and was elected to city council. In 2000 he was elected Mayor for four years and was recently reelected as a city councilmember.

“I feel that over the years, I have learned to become a practitioner of politics and public policy in a way that involves as many people as possible,” Agran said. His style of leadership is truly democratic in the sense that Agran’s political power relies heavily on the support and participation given to him by the people. Agran loves to see citizens and community activists get involved. He urges members of the community to participate and to shape the programs and policies that create the vital quality of life and community for the people. “The fact that we can work together to create these programs and policies is something I am very proud of,” Agran said.

Agran also takes pride in the integration of the large number of people with different backgrounds, religions, cultures, ethnicities, and languages that live in the city. In a highly multicultural community like Irvine, Agran and the rest of the city council has done a remarkable job in celebrating rather than masking the differences we have together. Cultural programs such as the Irvine Sister Cities Project and the Global Village Festival work to maintain these differences. No community can be everything to everybody, but the balance of diversity in Irvine is remarkable. “In Irvine, you can essentially experience the whole world without ever actually leaving the city,” Agran said.Agran feels fortunate to have such a critical mass of Persians living in Irvine. In addition to his experiences with Persian food, language and cultural traditions, Agran also understands the drive and democratic values behind those who fled Iran because of the revolution. He notes that the Persians in Irvine tend to be very committed to retaining their identity but are also not afraid of mainstreaming into American life. He links our rapid and successful transition into the American culture to the disproportionate number of educated professionals that exist in our community – the overwhelming amount of doctors, engineers, and lawyers in the Persian community is undeniable. Statistically, as one of the most highly educated immigrant groups in the United States, we are a great asset to have.

“In the Persian community there is a willingness to get involved in civic life,”
said Agran. This is ground breaking because many other cultural communities in Irvine are unable to engage in politics due to issues of language and the lack of democratic participation within their countries and culture before. For Agran, the election of Councilmember Sukhee Kang, the first non-Caucasian candidate, to the Irvine city council was revolutionary. “His election to the city council sends
a powerful signal that we have arrived; and ethnic boundaries have been broken,” Agran said.

The more unified a community becomes the more powerful it will become.
Agran believes highly in the importance of cultural publications, such as OCPC, that speak to a community. Grabbing people’s attention and getting them to read, to think and to learn is essential in establishing a good democratic nation. “Publications that cater to certain communities are a great asset to the community,” said Agran. “I love OCPC Magazine!”

The Africa Project

Recently with the help of grassroots and highly publicized media campaigns like ONE.org and our country’s shift of media coverage of individuals in neglected, third world countries, our country has begun opening its eyes to the massive social, political, and economic inequalities that are so prevalent within our world.

In America, the ONE campaign has become the biggest voice in years to call for a fight against global AIDS and extreme poverty. The ONE campaign pushes to allocate an additional one percent of the American budget towards providing basic needs such as health care, education, clean water and food for the world’s poorest countries. Though ONE calls for reforms in all of the world’s poorest countries, they have specifically focuses in on the African continent. No other continent, more than Africa has been hit harder by these crises. In Africa especially, ONE is calling for debt cancellation, trade reform and anti-corruption measures to help African nations beat AIDS and extreme poverty.

ONE is not asking people for their money – rather they want people to speak up and fight against AIDS and world poverty so that decision makers will do more to save millions of lives in the poorest of countries. More than half a million Americans have joined ONE since April 2005; 800,000 have signed the ONE declaration pledging to make a difference. More than one million Americans are also wearing white bands as a show of support for ending extreme poverty and global AIDS. ONE aims to bring the voices of every American together with one message and one purpose: to make poverty history.

With the allocation of an additional one percent of the US budget we can help prevent 10 million children from becoming AIDS orphans; We can help get
104 million children into grade school; We can help provide water to almost
900 million people around the globe; We can save almost 6.5 million children under 5 from dying of diseases that could be prevented with low-cost measures like vaccinations or a well for clean water, and We can build a better, safer world for all.ONE believes that Americans working at the local level can
beat extreme poverty and AIDS globally. Here in Irvine I helped create a grassroots/community based effort aimed to support the children and especially AIDS orphans in Africa. This organization is called The Africa Project and our goal is to link our community with one village in Africa.

Earlier this year, several of us in Irvine got together to organize a community based organization to help Africa. Our mission at The Africa Project is to ensure that the basic needs of children in Africa are met. Those needs include having a safe place to live, adequate food and nutrition, access to education, and proper medical care. From July to early August, I am traveling to Nkandla, South Africa with a handful of others from The Africa Project where there are over 1,000 AIDS orphans.

In South Africa the social worker we are working with, Sister Hedwig, is
already working to provided needed support for orphans – but this is no easy task. There are not nearly enough resources available for her to support the orphans she takes care of. In Nkandla the most pressing needs are food, school fees, basic medical care, and school uniforms. When we arrive, we will be presenting our first donation to the village. We fundraised by asking the friends and family in our community to donate at least eleven dollars which will pay for school fees for the year. Thanks to the sponsors of our first campaign – the Ukuqala (meaning the beginning, the start, or the first one in Zulu) Campaign – we collected a significant amount of money for the Orphans of Nkandla. Every person involved in The Africa Project is a volunteer, which means that every dollar we raise will go directly to serving the needs of the children we aim to serve. Our organization is committed to absolute transparency and will report
all of our activities to our donors through the website.

I invite everyone, old and young, to get involved and support those who are less fortunate than us. As a note to my generation: get involved in any way that you can. Our time is now – we are the most influential group of youth since the 60s. We have the power to make a change and that is our responsibility.

Nastaran Dibai

Nastaran Dibai has written for big hit TV sitcoms including “The Nanny,” “According to Jim,” and her latest project, “Hope and Faith” starring Kelly Ripa. But being a writer and moving up to being an executive producer has not been an easy feat! As a woman in
Hollywood, getting her foot in the door was crucial in getting her
career started. With her husband Jeffery Hodes as her writing partner, together they have indeed moved up the ladder. From getting their scripts rejected by agent after agent to being asked to take over the show “Hope and Faith” starting this August, the road has been a long one but well worth all the hard work!

Q. Tell us a little about your background as a writer

A: I have a BA in communication studies from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, where I specialized in Film and Television. After that I did
a fellowship at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, where I specialized
in Cinematography.

Q. How did you get into writing/ producing for sitcoms?

A: This is sort of a long story. After finishing my studies at Concordia University, I was living in Montreal and mostly working in documentaries for The National Film Board of Canada (NFB). I worked on many documentaries ranging in topic from Uranium mining in Canada to disabled women to the year of the shelter for the United Nations. My documentary experience at the NFB took me around the world to places like the Philippines, Japan, Kenya, and the Canadian Arctic. Although, the experience was valuable and rewarding, I always felt I wanted to be involved in more commercial things.

That’s when I decided to apply for a fellowship at the American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles. At the time, I was interested in camera work and my experience in Montreal had been mostly in the field of cinematography. Therefore, I applied to the cinematography program at the AFI. It was a very competitive process where I had to submit a portfolio and go through a lengthy interview in order to be accepted. (The AFI program is very hard to get into and only a small percentage of people applying end up getting accepted. It has gotten even more competitive since I was there in 1985.) That was the experience that changed the course of my life, because that’s when I was exposed to the American way of doing things.

After I graduated from the AFI program I headed back to Montreal to see if I could find work in a more commercial venue, but that proved to be difficult. It’s always hard getting work in the entertainment industry, but when you’re a woman and you’ve trained in a technical side (cinematography), it’s even harder. I had work, but it was very sporadic. So, having already been bit by the Hollywood bug, I headed back to L.A.

While I was trying to get settled and looking for work, a friend of mine asked if I wanted to work as his assistant in order to make some money. This was a friend I went to school with in Canada and he had moved to L.A. in order to pursue a career in writing. He had a difficult time starting out, but eventually he got on a show and started to work consistently. I planned on continuing my search for work in cinematography, but in the meantime I figured I could work as my friend’s assistant in order to make some living cash. However, as I watched him work, I started to think maybe I could take a stab at writing for sitcoms. I always enjoyed writing and everyone always said I was funny. I figured, why not. And I realized writers make very good money – much better than cinematographers. Besides, I had my friend, who was already an established sitcom writer who could give me guidance. He told me in order to get an agent and get in the door I need to write a “spec” script. “Spec” is short for speculation, which meant I would have to write a sample script from an already existing show. At the time, I was working at a studio where there were many writers, like my friend, and each of those writers had assistants, like me. I soon saw that most of the assistants were also aspiring writers. We would all go out to lunch and talk about how we were all working on our “spec” scripts and trying to get agents to represent us. One of those assistants was a really smart, funny, man who I really enjoyed talking to about writing and life in general. So, we decided that we would become a writing team and write our spec script together. Long story short, sixteen years later, that man (Jeffrey Hodes) is now my husband and my writing partner. In the beginning, everytime we got together to work on our spec script it was a date.

We got married soon after we met (about 8 months later), and struggled for a few years writing spec script after spec script and getting turned down by agent after agent. But we had confidence in our work and we just kept plugging along. If I’d ever realized how hard the road ahead would be when I started, I don’t think I would’ve pursued a career in writing, but when we were in the middle of doing it, we just kept our eye on the prize. After many rejections and lots of maybe-we’re-not-good-enough-to-do-this discussions, we were finally able to land our first agent. Through him we got several free-lance assignments, but our ultimate goal was to be on the writing staff of an existing show. Eventually, we got our first job on staff and the person who gave us the job was, guess who,
my friend who hired me as his assistant. Since then we’ve worked our way up the ladder.

Q. Has comedy always come naturally to you?

A: I wouldn’t say I’m the funniest person in the world, and I’m certainly not stand-up funny, but I’ve always been able to make people laugh. I’ve always had an affinity for American sitcoms. Even when I was growing up in Iran (I moved when I was 9), I remember watching episodes of “I Love Lucy” endlessly. I couldn’t get enough of them and I’ve probably seen every episode over 20 times. When my family and I moved to the U.S. and then to Canada, I grew up watching classic American sitcoms like “All In The Family”, “Maude”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “The Bob Newhart Show”, and “The Carol Burnett Show.” Later in my teens I enjoyed, “Happy Days”, “The Love Boat”, “Taxi”, and the sitcom that made me want to do this for a living, “Cheers”. My parents worried that I watched too much TV, but I learned the English language and American culture watching those shows, and now that I’m making a living doing it, I guess they feel it wasn’t all wasted time sitting in front of the TV.

Q. What challenges have you faced in the course of your career?

A: The biggest challenge we faced was actually getting our foot in the door when we first started. Finding and agent, getting that first job, and doing well enough to get hired again. However, there are always challenges along the way. One thing I’ll never get used to is rejection. It’s always hard and heart-breaking and it happens to everyone when they’ve been doing it long enough.

Q. What is the latest project you are working on?

A: In May of this year, we were asked by ABC and Touchstone Television to take over the show “Hope and Faith” with Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford as executive producers. However, in order to do this we had to move to New York City, where the show is shot. Almost all sitcoms are shot in L.A., but “Hope and Faith” is an exception. It has to be shot in New York because of Kelly Ripa’s schedule who also does Live With Regis and Kelly every morning and lives in NYC. After being on “According to Jim” for four years, we thought taking over “Hope and Faith” would be a good challenge for us. The network wanted to make some tonal changes to the show and we were pleased to know that they were willing to put their trust in us. We have not started production yet (it starts at the beginning of August), but so far we’ve done 5 weeks of pre-production and things seem to be on track.

Q. Any favorite moments?

A: My favorite moments on a show have always been when you write something and finally see it performed as you had imagined in your head, and it works. That rarely happens, but when it does,
it’s a great feeling.

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