Irvine City Council Makes History

Although Irvine City Hall will see some familiar faces next year with the re-election of two current city council members, they will also welcome some new faces who will be making local history with their new positions.
The mayoral race ended in favor of Beth Krom who, with 44 percent of the vote, beat Mike Ward, who had 40.6 percent. The three newly-elected city council members are Larry Agran with 16.9 percent of the vote, Steven Choi with 16.5 percent and Sukhee Kang with 16.5 percent. Choi and Kang, who will be replacing Chris Mears and Mike Ward, are relative unknowns in the world of politics and the first ever Asian-Americans to hold seats in the city council.
Though Agran’s policies are widely known because of his four years as mayor, Krom, Choi and Kang are still unfamiliar to many Irvine residents.
How will the newly elected officials incorporate UC Irvine into their plans for the future?
‘I’ve worked as hard as any member of the city council to strengthen relationships with UC Irvine,’ Krom said. ‘The university is an extraordinary resource to the community. People from the university are often able to give an academic perspective on issues. They can take theoretical discussions and make them practical.’
Choi stressed UCI’s importance in attracting businesses to Irvine.
‘There is no question that UCI has played a very important role in the development of our city since [its establishment in 1968] and will continue to do so, not only in the physical sense of development, but also in building the characteristics and the quality of the city,’ Choi said. ‘To attract and retain quality corporations, large or small, [a] reliable … workforce is a must, and UCI has been feeding the brain[s] to corporations and has become the major contributor, in that sense.’
One issue that remains contentious for many students is the availability of affordable student housing. Krom supports looking for on-campus options for housing expansions. Kang said that affordable housing is an issue not just for students, but for all community members.
‘People drive to Irvine to work from remote areas,’ Kang said. ‘If they can live here, they will spend more time here and they will be contributing more to the community.’
Kang supports putting restrictions on the sale of houses in Irvine to ensure that affordable houses are available to residents and not investors.
‘There are some restrictions that should be put on affordable housing,’ Kang said. ‘The city should make restrictions so that people cannot sell their houses for five or 10 years. … Property values are increasing, but we want housing to be affordable to people who want to live in Irvine, not to be affordable to people who just want quick money.’
This election has been historic in Irvine politics. It marks the first time that an Asian-American has been elected to city council, an honor which is shared by Choi and Kang, who are both Korean-American. To some, it is surprising that Irvine has never had an Asian-American elected official, since 29.8 percent of Irvine’s population is Asian or Pacific Islander, and a majority of UCI students are Asian.
Kang, whose early political involvement was with Korean-American and Asian-American groups, described why he became involved in local politics.
‘I was motivated by the 1992 Los Angeles riots,’ Kang said. ‘I was just an ordinary businessman. I wasn’t involved in politics, but when I saw 750 stores burned to the ground, that was my wake-up call.’
Kang chose to become involved with the Korean-American Scholarship Foundation, of which he was president, because ‘investing in education is investing in the future.’ He also served on the California Workforce Investment Board.
According to Kang, his calling now is local politics.
‘Two years ago, I met Mayor Agran,’ Kang said. ‘I had great respect for his community service. I thought he was a true leader of Irvine. … He appointed me to the Irvine Finance Commission. From that, I realized that getting involved locally is more important than state or national involvement.’
Choi explains his involvement similarly.
‘Why not get involved in helping my community?’ Choi said. ‘I’ve been an educator for 36 years. … With the encouragement of parents in the community, I ran for a school board seat in 1998 to share my experience and expertise for the children. I got elected for one of the two seats available among 10 candidates.’
This month’s election was especially controversial for the city, with candidates accusing other candidates of releasing false information in political mailers. Now that the election results are final, Kang offered a conciliatory message, calling for unity among Irvine residents.
‘I want to thank from the bottom of my heart all of the voters and the residents, whether they voted for me or not,’ Kang said. ‘We can work together to build the safest community in the nation. … I want government to be welcoming and open to all residents. … We should come together to build a strong city [of the future]. It is my dream that Irvine should be a model city for the whole world.’