Irvine Democrats are asking themselves some hard questions following a controversial vote last week after the city’s longest serving Democrat voted against a resolution on anti-Asian hate. 

Traditionally, resolutions like this one are quickly approved by city councils as a sign of support and solidarity with affected communities.

But Councilman Larry Agran had a few suggested edits, changes which have prompted a lot of questions for Agran, the city’s Democratic activists and fellow council members. 

Agran asked that a line of the resolution calling for teamwork between “Black, Indigenous, LatinX, Muslim, Arab, and Pacific Islander communities,” be changed to “collaboration between and among all communities of goodwill,” to address hate.    

City Councilwoman Tammy Kim – who brought the resolution forward – refused to make any edits, saying the resolution was drafted in concert with over 30 community organizations and she would not edit it. 

Ultimately, it was approved by the rest of the council, with Agran as the sole no vote. 

“I fully expected to be voting for this resolution,” Agran said in a statement from his office. “However, I believe a key section put undue onus on a select group of persecuted people without also calling on the broader community — persecuted and otherwise — to take up the important work of addressing hate crimes.” 

The only solid actions in the resolution were for the Irvine Police Department to publish monthly summaries of hate crime incidents and for the department to update its rules on handling hate incidents and crimes. None of the action items were discussed or changed. 

The no-vote kicked off nearly a week’s debate among liberal groups and blogs across the county, with calls for censorship, resignation and apologies flying in all directions until Agran apologized on Sunday. 

The Greater Irvine Democrats, one of the city’s largest political clubs took up the issue when Joshua Block, the group’s co-chair of communications, privately called on club leadership to uninvite Agran from a meeting to discuss Asian hate. 

Kev Abazajian, chair of the Greater Irvine Democrats and Agran’s appointee to the city’s green ribbon environmental committee, removed Block from his position after he asked. 

After Block announced he’d been removed, the Orange County Young Democrats and College Democrats at UC Irvine released a joint statement calling for Agran to apologize and Abazajian to resign. 

“Kev’s unilateral decision to remove a longtime leader and young Democrat displays an abuse of power and shows that his priorities are not in the advancement of Democratic values,” they said in the statement. “Young people should never be dismissed or silenced. We do not tolerate these aggressions.” 

The next day, the club’s board of directors put out a statement clarifying Block had not been fired and it was not within Abazajian’s power to do that. He was given a full apology by the board. Abazajian personally apologized multiple times for attempting to remove him, but said he would not be stepping down. 

“If you know Larry, he’s very particular about proper wording, but he shouldn’t have let the perfect get in the way of the good,” Abazajian said in a phone call with Voice of OC.  

Abazajian said while Block is free to return to the club, Block had not officially stated whether he would be returning or not. 

Dan Chmielewski, publisher and editor for the web blog, Liberal OC, defended Agran’s move, saying a resolution that doesn’t call on all communities to pitch in and help out falls too short. He also took issue with the fact that the resolution did not mention human trafficking. 

“Any resolution to stop Asian hate is empty without provisions to halt human trafficking…But per Vice Mayor Kim, this is sexualizing, fetishizing, or stereotyping Asian women.  Just go to Google and type in ‘Irvine CA+Asian massage+happy endings’ and see what pops up,” Chmielewski wrote. “I’d like to hear her actual plan to combat this type of Asian hate but there is none offered by Kim.” 

Kim’s first comment on the issue was posted to her personal Facebook page over the weekend, where she called Agran’s suggested edits the “All Lives Matter approach,” and said Chmielewski’s comments perpetuated hateful stereotypes. She also left comments under other posts accusing Agran of “whitesplaining,” the issue of race to her. 

“This is a perfect example of how sometimes ‘Liberal,’ ‘I’m not racist’ white people can be even more dangerous to people of color than those wearing robes,” Kim wrote.

Her official councilmember Facebook page remained mute on the issue, but her personal page is open to public view. 

Vern Nelson, editor-in-chief of the Orange Juice Blog, also took aim at Chmielewski’s and Agran, saying their approach valued preferred language over concrete action to fix the problem.  

Five days after the vote, Agran apologized at the Great Democrats’ Sunday meeting. 

“In hindsight, I should have voted for the resolution as it was,” Agran said. “I know my vote has become a source of distraction, disappointment, and even hurt for many. And for that, I am sorry.” 

But after his apology, Agran repeated his same arguments from the city council meeting, stating the resolution failed to encourage collaboration between “all communities of goodwill.” 

When asked about the issue Tuesday night, Agran declined to comment, referring reporters to his comments at the club’s meeting. 

Kim said she appreciated Agran’s apology, and that they both came at the issue from different world views. 

“It could just be a generational issue, and I really am working with the community to develop wording, this was meant to be a resolution to go to other groups like the board of supervisors as a template in Asian American advocacy work,” Kim said. “He apologized, I accept his apology and we just need to move forward at this point.”

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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