Former LA City Councilman and current LA City Planning Commissioner Michael Woo has been named dean of Cal Poly Pomona’s College of Environmental Design. His appointment begins on July 30. The College combines the school’s departments of architecture, art, landscape architecture, and urban and regional urban planning.
Woo comes to the post with more public service experience than virtually any similar dean in the country, and he says he hopes to use this background to his advantage.
“My experience gives me a very realistic sense of what’s going on in the real world,” Woo said, adding that he hopes to serve as a link between the public and private sectors and the academic realm. “I want to maximize my involvement with the community, not minimize it.”
Woo has been involved in a number of the most high-profile urban policy initiatives in Los Angeles, a big reason he was selected as dean, said Provost Marten denBoer. Another reason was his academic experience. Woo is currently an adjunct professor at the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development, and has taught the school’s undergraduate introduction to urban planning course for the last seven years.
While on the city planning commission, Woo helped launch a moratorium on new billboards and opened a review of the health effects of polluted air in residential developments near freeways. He also helped draft the city’s “Do Real Planning” principles, adopted in 2006, which call for more affordable housing and jobs near mass transit, improving the city’s aesthetics, reducing visual blight, and improving walkability.
He served on the LA City Council from 1985 to 1993, representing Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park, Los Feliz, Sherman Oaks, and Studio City. He left that post in 1993 to run for mayor (he came in second). While in office he was involved in the Hollywood Redevelopment Plan and helping plan the route of the MetroRail Red Line.
Woo also works as a consultant to ClimatePlan, a coalition of nonprofit advocacy groups, where he advises on land use changes in California to fight climate change. And he is chairman of Smart Growth America, a national coalition that supports historic preservation, the environment, open space preservation, and neighborhood revitalization.
Woo says it’s too early to tell what curriculum measures he will endorse, but he expressed keen interest in promoting interaction between the College’s several disciplines. The College is only one of three in the state that combines architecture, landscape architecture, and planning (the other two are UC Berkeley and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), maximizing the capabilities for interaction and experimentation.
“I like the traditional connection between these fields,” he said, expressing regret that schools like UCLA and USC had separated them some years ago, connecting planning with social science and architecture with fine arts.
Another passion, he said, is sustainability, and he hopes to promote the work of the school’s little-known John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies, which explores strategies like low-energy architecture, sustainable community redevelopment, biofuels, water treatment, and organic agriculture. He also said he wanted to promote student-led initiatives, and work to keep the community connected, despite its buildings scattered around the Cal Poly campus.
He enters the post at a difficult time. Faculty (including Woo) will be forced to take furloughs twice a month, and he said that it is anticipated that the CSU system is expected to cut its overall budget by about 20 percent.
"It won’t be easy introducing myself as the bearer of bad news,” he admitted.