Adrin Nazarian has represented Toluca Lake and its surrounding communities in the State Assembly for nearly eight years, but his history here goes back even further. “I’ve lived or worked in the area since about 2000,” he says. “It’s a wonderful place.”
That local experience includes not only his political career, but also his personal life as a resident. “Before I was married I lived in an apartment on Camarillo, and that’s what piqued my interest in the community,” he remembers. “Then my wife and I moved into an apartment on Riverside, right in the Village.” They knew they wanted to put down roots nearby, so six years ago they bought a home in West Toluca Lake, where they now live with their three young children.
Asked what he loves about the neighborhood, Nazarian enthuses about a long list of local favorites, including fond memories of date nights at Prosecco Trattoria, business meetings and quiet hours spent reading at Priscilla’s Coffee, evenings out at Idle Hour, sushi at Kabosu and Yuzu, and spicy Reuben sandwiches at Hy Mart. However, this self-described “math guy” can’t help but work in some statistics when describing Toluca Lake’s appeal: “The Valley has grown tremendously in a very short period of time. If you look at census numbers, we were at about 20,000 to 30,000 in the 1920s, and we’ve grown to about 1.7 million. With that growth come a lot of challenges, because if it’s not thought through well, the scale becomes difficult to manage at some point,” he continues. “But despite those challenges, Toluca Lake has been able to maintain its identity, its small-town feel, its long-term businesses. There’s a love for preservation and continuity, even while changes have been taking place. It commands a lot of attention because of its history, what it’s contributed to the entertainment industry and how the area was shaped by it.”
This analytical approach illustrates Nazarian’s philosophy that “the more you learn about systems and processes, the more you appreciate how you got to where you’re at right now.” It’s a mindset he brings to thinking about the political issues he contends with each day, and it’s also an apt way to understand his own path to public service.
Nazarian was born in Iran to parents who had immigrated from Armenia. Forced to flee the Iran–Iraq War when he was a young child, his family eventually settled in the San Fernando Valley. Those experiences shaped his education and career choices. “Being an immigrant, seeing what my family went through and the challenges that we had to overcome, plus having this very deep-seated sense of wanting to be very integrated and become an American, I was always interested in learning about law,” Nazarian says.
Although he knew he wanted to go to law school, he was less clear on what he planned to do with his degree. So, to find his focus after earning a B.A. in economics, he attended the prestigious Coro Fellows Program — a year-long boot camp in all aspects of public affairs. What struck him most was the portion on electoral politics: “I realized how important and essential campaigns are and how they shape political decisions for the next generation.” Through the program, he met candidate Brad Sherman, who ended up being elected to Congress and hired Nazarian as an aide.
“That started my path into the public arena,” Nazarian says. He worked in several different government offices before becoming chief of staff for then-Assistant Assembly Majority Leader Paul Krekorian. When Krekorian was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 2009, some thought Nazarian might run for the vacant Assembly seat in Glendale, but he was enjoying his behind-the-scenes work and opted to continue as Krekorian’s chief of staff at City Hall. However, when redistricting created a new seat representing the area that included North Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Toluca Lake, Universal City and Van Nuys, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to serve the community he knew so well. He jumped into the race and was elected as assemblymember for the 46th District in 2012.
On making the transition from supporting role to center stage, Nazarian admits he’s not a natural spotlight seeker. Instead, “I’ve always paid attention to the substance of the work. That’s what gets us where we need to be — the details that go into thinking through what steps need to be taken toward the overall goal we’re trying to accomplish. You see a lot of issues that we’re challenged with now because over the course of the last 40 or 50 years we haven’t been paying the appropriate attention.”
Chief among these is homelessness, which “didn’t just become an issue overnight. It’s grown because we didn’t invest in mental health, substance abuse treatment, basic public safety net programs. What we’re seeing now is a culmination of government inaction and societal ambivalence.” Nazarian sees a similar pattern in the sprawl and congestion plaguing local neighborhoods, another top concern among his constituents. He remembers the ease of riding his bike near his childhood home in Winnetka and how school was less than 10 minutes away. “Now it takes 10 minutes to go a mile from your house,” he says. “These things keep piling on and affecting quality of life. Fixing them would have required major investments in the past that didn’t happen” — like creating reliable public transportation infrastructure that would make residents less dependent on their vehicles. Nazarian also advocates for strengthening infrastructure to withstand natural disasters, including sustainable water sources to prepare for future droughts and seismic retrofitting in advance of the next major earthquake.
Investing in education to increase equality and opportunity is another major priority. “I was the beneficiary of all higher education programs in California — I started out at Cal State Northridge, took classes at Pierce and then graduated from UCLA,” he says. “It served me phenomenally well, and I came out with an extremely small loan that I paid off within the first two years of working. No one can do that now.” That’s why he’s spent the past four years working to establish a universal ScholarShare program that would provide an initial investment in a savings account from the state and allow parents, charities and local jurisdictions to contribute additional funds. “Every child in California needs to know that they have the opportunity to go to college, or some form of career-enhancing program,” he says.
How can residents help with these and other initiatives? “Toluca Lake is fairly unique in that it has a number of organizations like the Neighborhood Council, Chamber of Commerce, Homeowners Association and Beautification Partners that are very active, very engaged and collaborate well with one another,” Nazarian notes. He encourages everyone to educate themselves on what’s going on with the topics that impact them, work to educate others, and get involved in one of the neighborhood groups or other local organizations such as the NoHo Home Alliance (for homelessness issues) and Move LA (for transportation issues).
When he’s not serving his constituents in the State Capitol or hosting local events like women’s self-defense workshops through his district office, Nazarian spends as much time as possible with his family, including flying down from Sacramento on many Tuesday nights and returning the next morning just to avoid being away from them all week. With children aged 9, 7 and 2, he’s hyperaware that the parenting decisions made now are creating family traditions that will have an impact for years to come. “We want this to be an enjoyable experience for our kids,” he says. “We want them to know they had an upbringing rich in family engagement and activity.” Whenever possible, he includes his children in his work, especially if it involves attending fun community events such as the Holiday Open House (where you might have spotted his sons helping Fritz Coleman with the tree-lighting countdown last year). And, of course, there’s brunch. “Our biggest argument is whether we go to Bob’s Big Boy or Patys or stay at home, because my wife’s pancakes have become very popular with the boys,” Nazarian says. But at least two weekends out of four, you’ll find them at Patys, where he and his wife used to walk from their apartment when they were first married, stopping by the farmers market along the way, and where his kids now clamor for pancakes and waffles. “Patys is just synonymous with my family at this point,” he concludes. What could be more quintessentially Toluca Lake than that?