Thursday, July 16, 2009

Pomona woos Woo.

Life indeed does go on, so I thought a little Cal Poly Pomona news would be interesting.

Michael Woo, former councilman and mayoral candidate, named dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design

Michael Woo, currently a member of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission and adjunct professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning and Development, has an accepted an offer to lead Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design. His appointment begins July 30.

Since joining the planning commission in 2005, Woo has been a leader on land use and transportation issues, initiated a moratorium on new billboards and opened a review of health effects of breathing polluted air in residential developments near freeways. He also helped draft the city’s “Do Real Planning” principles adopted in 2006, which advocate more affordable housing and jobs near mass transit, improving the city’s aesthetics, reducing “visual blight” and improving walkability.

“It is an honor to join this elite academic program at Cal Poly Pomona,” Woo says. “The College of Environmental Design has long enjoyed an exceptional reputation in the design community, and I look forward to building on that legacy.”

The College of Environmental Design is one of only three design schools in California that combine departments of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban and regional planning. The college also includes the Department of Art.

Woo received his master’s degree in city planning from the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his undergraduate studies in politics and urban studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Woo serves on the board of directors for several organizations in Southern California, including Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (chairman), KCRW Foundation, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (chairman), California Food Policy Advocates, Mural Conservancy, and the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter.


John Clifford said...


I have a lot of experience with Mr. Woo and not all of it was very pleasant.

I was very involved with Hollywood Heritage and preservation in the Hollywood community before, during, and just after Mr. Woo represented the Hollywood area on the city council. Prior to Mr. Woo, we had a dynasty of Stevensons (husband, who passed and then his wife Peggy took over) who represented the area. We were not happy with them. I had a business on Hollywood Boulevard at the time and worked on Mr. Woo's first campaign for city council, donating services to his electoral effort.

He didn't turn out to be a friend of preservation that he originally suggested. His "vision" for Hollywood Boulevard (a national historic district) was to turn it into the "Times Square of the West" with gaudy electronic billboards and high-rise buildings replacing the historic fabric of Hollywood.

So when he came up for reelection, we in the preservation community opposed him. He lost and we got Jackie Goldberg who was even worse, all the negatives without ANY of Michael's positives.

I just hope that he doesn't try to make Pomona his "experiment" in urban planning.

Anduhrew said...

John, don't worry about that. I highly doubt Mr. Woo will do anything in Pomona. Very few professors staff or faculty ever touch the City. (which is a bit of a shame) but at the same time if you don't like the guy it's a blessing.

calwatch said...

Could it just be that he disagrees with your viewpoint? Are all your interactions with folks that disagree with you "not... very pleasant"? Were the billboards proposed for Hollywood at least better than the ugly supergraphics plastered ten stories high on buildings, and didn't we need to accommodate the 6 million people projected by SCAG in the 1994 Regional Transportation Plan without throwing them all in the Inland Empire and Antelope Valley, clogging traffic?

Woo has been one of the better politicians in the City of LA and had more gravitas than many of the other candidates (and occupants) for Mayor in Los Angeles. As it is one of Cal Poly Pomona's goals to engage with the surrounding community (per President Michael Ortiz), I look forward to Woo's ideas for Pomona.

Ed said...

I'm going to agree with Calwatch and Andrehew. I would love to hear additional viewpoints on urban planning and beg for the day when Cal Poly Pomona and Pomona embrace each other.

And the take home message from preservationists choosing politicians is........

John Clifford said...

OK, my problem with former councilman Woo is more in the area of what he promised to the preservation community and what he actually ended up working toward.

One of my "unpleasantries" was his signing off on the original plan for the El Capitan Theater (something that I was intimately involved with). Originally Disney proposed "modernizing" the theater by carving it up into three theaters, covering up all of the interior with "soundproofing" carpeted wallcoverings, and renaming it the Boulevard. The exterior was to be covered over and "simplified."

So while he initially backed the idea of a national historic district, the first time a well-heeled developer wanted to destroy that history, he signed off on their really terrible plan.

Again, his ideas for Hollywood, to turn it into a "Times Square West" would have completely destroyed the historic nature of the city. People don't come to Hollywood to see Times Square, they come to see Hollywood.

So it's not just that I disagree with him that if found my experiences to be "not very pleasant" but the fact that I felt I was deceived, and that "our" views were not taken into account. He did the same thing with the MetroRail red line which resulted in the sinking of the historic walk of fame, requiring the removal of blocks of the historic stars when there were warnings that this could occur.

Cal, it's not just disagreement which is "not very pleasant," I disagree with you but don't find you to be unpleasant, it's the feeling of betrayal that was unpleasant.

Also Cal, when do we stop the growth, when we end up with Bladerunner? Because Scag's requirements seem to be moving in that direction.

Anduhrew said...

I understand the unpleasantness that can happen when one makes a promise and does not keep it. So i'm with you on that.

But as far as it goes for hollywood. I've lived in socal all my life and when I think of Hollywood, I don't have a clue as far as an image of the city in my head. Since i'm from southern cali, I don't have the same image that people outside do, which seems to be mostly movie stars all over the streets. but I really don't know what historic hollywood even is. I did live in LA for about a year and spent quite a bit of time in hollywood. mostly going to shows. So i can think of three things. Mann's theater, The Hollywoodland sign, and the stars on the sidewalk. oh, and a fourth and that was cruising sunset, but that's illegal now. I do think it's high time that it is retrofitted for some modernization which includes better mass transit, and more walkability. that may to some extent ruin the historic fabric of hollywood. but that's the argument against historic preservation. If historic preservation depletes resources and is ultimately bad for the environment and the economy, is it worth it? (you should all know i have an agenda against cars and parking lots, and it's personal)

but again, if he made promises he didn't keep, then that's terrible. I for one am kind of excited to be working with him next year as the student senator for the college. But of course I'm always cautious of "politicians", which he sounds like he may be, so i definitely have my reservations.

Michael Woo said...

I just came across the comments on this blog about my appointment to the Dean position at Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design.

I'm sorry that Mr. Clifford was disappointed by my record on historic preservation issues. But allow me to set the record straight. When I was a Councilman, I didn't take an absolute or extreme position on preservation issues. I tried to distinguish between buildings which were truly significant from an historic or architectural point of view -- versus those which were "old," but not necessarily significant historically or architecturally. I tried to put strong provisions on historic preservation into the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan. I supported massive downzoning in the Hollywood Community Plan area motivated in part by the goal of reducing development pressure to demolish the remaining historic courtyard apartment complexes. And I worked to persuade Paramount and other studios in Hollywood to preserve at least the facades of historic studio buildings, allowing modernization of function while maintaining the historic exteriors which would be visible to the public.

Mr. Clifford is distorting my position on billboards. As a current member of the L.A. City Planning Commission, I have been probably the most vocal critic of the billboard industry among the Commissioners and the Commission's leading advocate of restrictions on supergraphics, digital billboards, and the other proliferation of off-site signage. I'm on record stating publicly at a City Planning Commission meeting this year that the current Hollywood sign district is "a fiasco." For more on my views on billboards, here's a link to an op-ed article which the L.A. Times published earlier this year:,0,1600677.story

Furthermore, I should point out that after I left the City Council, I was invited to join the board of directors of the Los Angeles Conservancy, the leading historic preservation advocacy organization in Southern California.

But let's not dwell on the past.

As the incoming Dean at Cal Poly's College of Environmental Design (ENV), I am fully aware that one of ENV's top assets is the VDL Research House, designed by Richard Neutra, on Silver Lake Boulevard in Los Angeles. After Neutra passed away, the Neutra family donated the house to Cal Poly Pomona which uses the house for education-related programming and opens the house to the public for tours.

The VDL Research House is one of the gems of modern architecture -- and it just happens to be located in Southern California -- and it just happens to belong to Cal Poly Pomona. As Dean of ENV, I'll make it a priority to build public support for and recognition of the Neutra house. Consider that a promise.

Furthermore, I consider historic preservation to be an important subject for architecture and planning students to understand. Because ENV is one of the major training resources for Southern California's future architects, planners, and environmental professionals, I plan to support historic preservation as a key part of the curriculum.

Lastly, I want to try to lower calwatch's expectations about any role I might have in the City of Pomona itself. My main role is to be Dean of Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design. I don't live in Pomona, I'm not familiar with planning issues in Pomona, and it probably would be presumptuous of me to think that my opinions would be welcome. Besides, with so much going on with the ramifications of the new state budget, I'm sure that my agenda as Dean will be more than full.

Michael Woo
Dean, College of Environmental Design (starting August 6)
Cal Poly Pomona

meg said...

Thanks for stopping by to weigh in, MW (the blog owner pipes up). You clearly took a lot of time crafting a careful reply. Shooting from the hip, the way that most of us do, is a luxury that proper politicos can't always afford, so I doubly appreciate the time spent.

I wish more Pomona officials felt free to respond in the comments section of this and other blogs. The input is always welcome, whether or not we agree.

In the meantime, I lift my gin & tonic to wish you the best as incoming dean.

John Clifford said...

Mr. Woo,

I'm sorry if you feel that my post unfairly characterized your views on historic preservation. During the period when you were on the council, Hollywood was supposed to get an urban design plan that recognized the national register Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment district. A lot of us around at the time were very disappointed (as I think I stated) that to this day such a plan still isn't in place. I think we had hoped that you would push harder.

However, I hope that we can both overcome the past. As a board member of Pomona Heritage, we have been quite interested in the Neutra house that you mention in your comment. I really hope that we can help with ensuring that this important architectural treasure is preserved.

calwatch said...

Thank you, Mr. Woo, for providing your comments. Obviously the dean has a lot more on their plate that the urban planning or landscape architecture professors who occasionally wander into Pomona's issues. But, as time permits, you might want to explore some ways you could help Pomona - revitalizing the Downtown Center, encouraging departments to do service projects in the city, etc. - that would be appropriate for your position.