Jun 8, 2024

Farrah Khan

Mayor Farrah Khan is the Mayor of City of Irvine. She ensures the city is a leader throughout Orange County and California in innovation and technology, maintaining a safe environment and fiscal stability, combating climate change, and protecting the health and wellness of it’s diverse communities. Previously, she founded First Drops – a children’s interfaith group.

One Line Life Lessons from Farrah Khan

Episode Highlights

  • 00:00 – Introduction of Mayor Farrah Khan, a former biotech regulatory affairs manager turned politician in Irvine, driven by the need for diverse leadership and challenging stereotypes in local politics.
  • 02:15 – Mayor Khan’s decision to run for office in 2014 due to local council members’ unresponsiveness to community needs, emphasizing the importance of representation and breaking barriers in public service.
  • 04:30 – Delving into Irvine’s dynamics as a city housing major corporations and tackling issues like housing, transportation, and social challenges.
  • 06:45 – Success in reducing crime rates in Irvine attributed to effective crime prevention strategies and collaborative efforts within the community.
  • 08:20 – Launch of an inner city shuttle service initiative in 2019, providing free Wi-Fi and accessibility across 77 stops to enhance residents’ quality of life, reduce traffic congestion, and improve connectivity.
  • 10:10 – Emphasizing community involvement and responsible governance, highlighting the importance of supporting public transportation initiatives to alleviate traffic congestion.
  • 12:00 – Personal reflections on the value of collaboration and compromise in city endeavors, advocating for effective leadership continuity beyond one’s term in office.
  • 14:00 – Establishment of a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee in Irvine, fostering cultural events to promote belonging and understanding among residents.
  • 16:30 – Mayor Khan’s emphasis on self-care, sharing her passion for kayaking and paddle boarding as means of relaxation and connection with nature.
  • 18:15 – Life lessons on staying true to oneself, viewing rejections as opportunities for personal growth, and the importance of perseverance in pursuing goals.
  • 20:00 – Conclusion celebrating Mayor Farrah Khan’s inspirational journey, community contributions, and dedication to promoting inclusivity and positive change in Irvine.

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

[00:00:00 – 00:00:10] Nitin Bajaj

Everyone. Welcome to the industry show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj. And joining me today is mayor Farrah Khan of the city of Irvine. Mayor, welcome on the show.

[00:00:10 – 00:00:11] Mayor Farrah Khan

Thank you so much.

[00:00:12 – 00:00:16] Nitin Bajaj

Great to have you here. Now let’s start with who is Farrah?

[00:00:17 – 00:00:42] Mayor Farrah Khan

Just a little background about myself. I actually grew up in the San Francisco Bay Farrah, and my profession was in biotech. So I was a regulatory affairs manager for a biotech company up north, and I have been in small business for about 20 years and also delved into nonprofit work, was the executive director of a local nonprofit for about 5 years before jumping into politics.

[00:00:43 – 00:01:24] Nitin Bajaj

Thank you for sharing that and thank you for your service. And we typically start with what people do and and talking about, the mission and the vision. But I’m curious to ask you coming from our South Asian background, we’re typically given, you know, 3, but really in my books, 4 choices, right, to be a doctor, engineer, lawyer. And the 4th choice that I came up with was disappointment, which is a path I took. But I’m curious to hear what got you into public service and leave biotech and the fancy world that pays handsomely? Why leave all of that and do this?

[00:01:24 – 00:02:36] Mayor Farrah Khan

Jumping into politics wasn’t something that came naturally. I guess maybe it did come naturally, but not something that was preplanned. Mhmm. It was just one circumstance after another, and it started with our move to Southern California going into business, the recession happening, me getting involved in nonprofit work, volunteering my time. And and then, of course, being the executive director of the non profit, I I was showing up to council meetings to share input from the community of what the needs were to council members that really weren’t paying attention, that never really called me back or emailed me back. And so, I thought it would be important for me to get involved and pay more attention to local politics. And and that’s when I started volunteering on some campaigns, learning more about the candidates. And it wasn’t until 2014 I was, at an event talking to a few folks, and one of them happened to be the candidate’s husband. And I was sharing the importance of having diversity in leadership. And his response was that people like me with names like mine were unelectable in Irvine.

[00:02:36 – 00:02:37] Nitin Bajaj

Oh, wow.

[00:02:37 – 00:03:11] Mayor Farrah Khan

That was 2014. So you can imagine being in a room where something like that is said, but no one said anything. Right? So no one was like, oh, no. That’s not good. That’s wrong. And it made me feel very uncomfortable, but it got me thinking that if I’m hearing this in 2014, what are our next generation, of kids going to hear? And we have to stop it somewhere. And so that really was the motivation for me to run for office and and really bring about change.

[00:03:11 – 00:04:03] Nitin Bajaj

This is such a fascinating story and thank you to whoever this ignorant person was for lighting that fire. We really appreciate it to get this gift for for our community to have you step up and take things in under your wings. So thank you and kudos to you for fighting the fight and showing to the city of Irvine, but also this country Khan nobody’s unelectable. That’s awesome. Here we are 10 years in. You’re the mayor of the city of Irvine. Give us a sense for what the city is, what is the mission and Khan the vision of the city under your leadership, but also the size and scale of the operations. It’s one of the biggest cities in the country, but would love to hear some details and specifics from you.

[00:04:03 – 00:04:57] Mayor Farrah Khan

Yeah. Absolutely. Currently, Irvine, we’ve got about 320,000 people. Right? We’re 66 square miles, and we’re a home to some of the biggest fortune 5 101 100 companies that are headquartered here. It’s a huge undertaking because with that many people, you’ve got so many different personalities, so many different perspectives. And the job of developing and maintaining the city is important because we do have a master plan that we hold by. But at the same time, as things are changing, the need for more housing, the need for more public transportation, and all of that, we have to continuously learn new ways of adapting, to the social issues that are coming up to the needs, of the community. So it’s a daunting task, but one that is really exciting because you learn so much in such a short amount of time.

[00:04:58 – 00:05:30] Nitin Bajaj

So true. Now on one end, we are on the cutting edge of technology. We have the best and brightest minds in the city that are defining the edge in many ways. And then on the other end, as you said, there are ongoing and newer social issues that, one has to deal with. Give us a sense for, you know, the the size of the team and maybe some of the resources which are typically never enough in such an environment. Give us some sort of a sense for what you have and and what you’re dealing with.

[00:05:30 – 00:07:55] Mayor Farrah Khan

You look at city staff, just about everyone will be close to about 2,000 people. Right? We’re looking at about 250 of our police officers here Mhmm. Khan the Orange County Fire Authority. So it really is on a grand scale. It’s a lot of different departments that are doing the work to keep the city running and maintaining it at the level that people expect it to be. And we have definitely had Farrah our founders to past leaders that have done their job in in maintaining the city. And people have this expectation that, one, it’s going right now, we’re, what, the safest city in the nation according to the FBI data for the 18th consecutive year. And that’s not an easy task. And even though I always hear from folks that crime is rising, crime is not rising. What it is happening is that we are more informed because of social media, because of our access to information now that we hear more. And so when we start hearing more, we think that it’s increasing, but it’s actually not. Crime has been, on the whole, reducing. But at the same time, does that mean that we’re immune to it or not? Right? We get our fair share, but one thing that we are very proud of is that when crime does hit our city, we’ve got an amazing team that tackles the issue head Khan, and we’ve been able to curb a lot of the ongoing crime that we see in different cities that continues. Ours doesn’t continue. Like, basically, catch people. That’s kudos to our police department and the work that they do, but that’s that’s just a a bit of what happens Farrah planning to working with our developers, our our all these other agencies that are involved, in making sure that we’re taking care of homelessness, that we’re taking care of housing, that we’re maintaining our streets and and our transportation. One of the projects that I launched in 2019 was to have an inner city shuttle, a bus service for our community. And from 2019 to now 2024, we just launched that shuttle’s first route in Irvine connecting north and south of Irvine, and it’s a free shuttle for everyone. It’s got free Wi Fi. It’s accessible. It’s got 77 stops, and and that’s really what progress is all about. It’s everyone working together to make our quality of life even better than it was before.

[00:07:56 – 00:09:02] Nitin Bajaj

Khan you for, again, doing all of these. Really, to some, it may sound like small things, but these are critical for having that peace of mind, Farrah knowing that there is someone out there that’s taking care of us so we can be and feel safe. And I can tell you having lived in this country for almost 17 years now, that some neighboring cities and we won’t name them, that do not put in the same amount of effort and because of which crime continues. Because when you show that you can get away with something, it makes the other side stronger and more abrasive. So thank you for doing and leading this team to put us in, that Khan safe spot. And I’m excited to try out this, new shuttle service, and that’s exciting news. Now I would love for you to call out amongst the many challenges, as you said, personalities being one of them. What is the one big challenge you’re facing?

[00:09:03 – 00:10:05] Mayor Farrah Khan

I think for me, as I’m ending up my term, this year will be my final term, is making sure that as the November elections come, that we have people that care about the city, that are going to do the work that is needed to do to be done and and not bring in the the nonsense politics. Because right now, we have, I would say both sides. We have people that are on the extreme edges that we just don’t need because the majority of people, they’re working, they’re living their lives, they’re putting their kids through schools and trying to get them educated, that really just wanna enjoy where they are. And and we can’t have, these extremes on either side trying to run, local government. Mindset of serving the community, being that servant, public office holder rather than the politician that just likes to talk about stuff.

[00:10:06 – 00:10:20] Nitin Bajaj

Again, very well said. And that’s so important that people care about the service, not about the politics. Now looking forward, what’s that one most exciting opportunity that you would like to share with us?

[00:10:21 – 00:10:28] Mayor Farrah Khan

Oh, gosh. I think the this shuttle, I’ll tell you, it’s what was it? What is that? 2019? It’s almost 5 years in the making.

[00:10:29 – 00:10:29] Nitin Bajaj


[00:10:31 – 00:11:42] Mayor Farrah Khan

 I think from the inception to it being launched was the most exciting thing because no one thought it could be done. And no one thought that we would get the funding to make it happen. And and no one thought that we would get the funding to make it happen. And now that it’s out and running and people are trying it out, it’s really exciting. And I think the next step will be to really build upon it and expand those routes. Because right now, we just have one pilot route that we’re running this year, and the goal is to expand and have multiple routes in the city to build that connectivity for people to move around. Because I’m sure you hear it as well. The biggest issue I hear about is traffic. Right? Everyone’s complaining about traffic. One of the best ways to reduce traffic is to have public transportation so that you don’t need to get in your Khan, and you’re able to move about and get to your local shopping center, to the Spectrum, to the train station, to your hospitals, to your schools, and leave that car behind. And with this shuttle service, we’re covering 2 schools. We’re covering Hoag Hospital and Kaiser Hospital, the Irvine train station, and a lot of our shopping centers along the way. And if people utilize it, then we can expand it, and then you’ll see the actual reduction in traffic throughout the city.

[00:11:43 – 00:12:12] Nitin Bajaj

That is huge. I’m super excited. I’m I come from a city where we depended on public transportation. I’m from Bombay, and that was just the way of life. So I’m super excited for Irvine under your leadership setting this precedent for some of the other cities to take this on. But first and foremost, yes, this is a challenge for all of us and and the residents of the city of Irvine to take this on to show that this is something we Khan. So we can really grow this.

[00:12:12 – 00:12:31] Mayor Farrah Khan

And we’ve gotta utilize it. Right? Because what happens most of the time is people don’t utilize the service, and then it it turns into more of a cost issue that is not getting its worth out. And so routes get shut down and Khan and services get depleted, and that’s what we don’t wanna see happen.

[00:12:32 – 00:13:00] Nitin Bajaj

So true. Now as we look towards this bright future, I wanna pause and take a moment to reflect in the rear view mirror in your personal and professional life and ask you to share 2 moments. 1, where things did not work out as you had planned. There was failure. There were lessons. And another one where things blew your own expectations and, became a success beyond your imagination.

[00:13:01 – 00:13:12] Mayor Farrah Khan

Oh, wow. These are good questions. Let’s see. I hate to think that any time when things didn’t go my way were a failure. I think there were more of a a learning lesson.

[00:13:12 – 00:13:12] Nitin Bajaj


[00:13:12 – 00:17:04] Mayor Farrah Khan

And I think the biggest one I learned was my very first try at at initiating an ordinance in the city. And I was brand new on the city council, and I thought I wanted to be very conscious of my platform of being environmental and sustainable and having clean Farrah. Wanted to present an ordinance that banned smoking in public spaces. And I thought, you know what? I’m gonna write this up. Our city attorney is gonna review it. We’re gonna bring it forward, and it’s gonna be great. It wasn’t. There was a lot of pushback. And but what I did learn from there is that even though I was hoping to get it out in the first few months of me being elected, and it didn’t come out till maybe 9 months after, but what I did learn was it is so important to have conversations with people that you disagree with, to bring them to the table, and to work things out. Because when you work something out through people that are disagreeing with you, from people that are agreeing, or some people that are in the middle, what you end up having is an ordinance or a project or a idea through would not have been as successful, as me bringing people together, making the little changes here and there, working on compromising and then bringing people together, where when finally after 9 months Khan I presented the ordinance, it passed without any opposition. And I think that’s a lesson that I learned early on and I’m so thankful Farrah because after that, every time I had an idea, I would get a round table of people together. And I made some really amazing friends, people that I disagree with. We ended up being friends because we realized that even though we might disagree on one issue, there was so much more that we had in common. And, I think that needs to happen more often than it does right now. And then as far as, success, I think one of my biggest successes, was creating the diversity, equity, and inclusion committee. Mhmm. Because for far too long, and even through my own story of being told that I was unelectable, it was very racist. And we, as a city, are so diverse, and we continue to get diverse. But at the same time, there was this underlying tone of we don’t really talk about it. And for me, it was all about we’ve gotta talk about, our our diversity. We’ve gotta talk about inequities wherever they are because how do you fix an issue if you’re not talking about it? And for the first time in our city’s history, under my 1st year in in as mayor, we celebrated Juneteenth. We celebrated Hispanic Farrah. We celebrated Mid Autumn Festival. We celebrated pride, and we continue to celebrate. We have Diwali coming up. There’s just so much going on in the city that we have now become a part of where before it was just organizations doing their own thing. And it wasn’t until we started as a city taking part in them where people came up and they were like, for all this time, I never felt like I was actually a part of the city. And because of these celebrations, it makes me proud to bring my kids and show them that, look. We don’t have to hide who we are. We can be who we are, and people appreciate that. And so it’s building that community, building a stronger community that understands one another, that is interested in learning more, and really that tapestry of our cultures and our religions and so much more is the strength that we carry. And I think that’s something that has been just the greatest joy during my tenure.

[00:17:05 – 00:17:26] Nitin Bajaj

That is amazing and cool in so many ways. Again, thank you for doing what you do. And we are really thankful that you took that challenge on and and here you are making lives better. Now amongst all of these many things, what I would love to understand is how do you de stress? What do you do for fun?

[00:17:27 – 00:18:40] Mayor Farrah Khan

Oh, gosh. Not much time for fun. Right? And I try the little things. I do carve out time for my family, which is very important, and that’s there. And recently, through a a group of environmental activists that that I’ve known for so many years saw me one day at an event, and they were like, what are you doing to, like, reset yourself? And I’m like, I’m not doing anything. You’re like, that is so wrong. So I’ve started kayaking, which has been so much fun. And so we set aside time, and then we go out in the Newport Back Bay and kayak for a good hour or 2. And I’d never realized how important just being out in nature and doing something for yourself without talking about politics and work is is so important. So I’m so thankful for that opportunity and hope I can continue it onwards. But, yes, I think for many years, I neglected the self care that was needed because I always felt like there’s something to do. There’s so much at hand, and you can only give so much of yourself when you’re not taking care of yourself. So now I do appreciate that, and then I do make that time. And who knew? I never thought kayaking would be my thing, but it is.

[00:18:40 – 00:19:04] Nitin Bajaj

We are so blessed to be in and around where we are. We have access pretty much all around the year, buying a few reins, which I’m hoping we don’t get too much of that going forward. But, yeah, standard paddle boarding is my passion. And, yeah, Bajaj bay, one of my favorite spots to go hang out. So maybe the next one we do when we bring you back on could be on the water. Who knows?

[00:19:04 – 00:19:05] Mayor Farrah Khan

That would be awesome.

[00:19:05 – 00:19:13] Nitin Bajaj

It’s now Khan my favorite part of the show where we would love for you to share your one line life lessons with us.

[00:19:14 – 00:20:22] Mayor Farrah Khan

Oh, life lesson. Yes. There’s so many. I think for me, the most important would be just be true to who you are. And, one of the things I’ve seen in politics is there are people who present themselves one way but are very different, in other ways. And for me, it’s you get who I am. And you can like it or you could dislike it or you could be neutral about it, but that’s what you get. You don’t get part of the politician or part of the the mom or anything. It’s one person, and it is who I am. And then I think that’s something that people appreciate. They appreciate a true person that that is comfortable in their own skin and able to speak their own mind, and and it makes life just so much easier. I think another one would be just if anyone says no to you, that’s your challenge to step up and do more. I I and I know so many of us hear that in our daily lives whether it’s through work or play or whatever it may be, but just know that anyone else’s no is a challenge to you to go out and prove them wrong.

[00:20:23 – 00:20:47] Nitin Bajaj

So true. May I thank you so much for taking the time to be with us to share your really inspiring journey and story and for the life lessons. We really appreciate it. Thank you again for your service, for everything you continue to do, not just for the city of Irvine, but for our community to uplift us, to make our lives better. We really appreciate it.

[00:20:47 – 00:20:49] Mayor Farrah Khan

No. Thank you so much. It was wonderful being here.


apple podcast
Spotify Logo
Youtube logo