Michael Woo

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Michael K. Woo, also known as Mike Woo, (born 1951) is dean of the College of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He was a member of the Los Angeles City Council from 1985 to 1993.



Woo was born October 8, 1951, in Los Angeles County, California, the son of Wilbur and Beth Woo, native Chinese.[1] Wilbur left the family's ancestral village of Hoi Ping, China, in 1940 to study at UCLA and had to stay in the United States during World War II, while Beth remained in China under Japanese occupation with two young daughters, Pat (later Wong) and Janice (later Chin). The family was reunited after the war, in 1946, and settled in a five-bedroom Monterey Park hillside home. Younger daughter Janice had contracted polio and needed seven operations before she could walk without help. The Woos had three more children born in the United States—Michael, Elaine, a journalist on the Los Angeles Times,[2] and Pamela, who had Down's syndrome.[3]

Wilbur and his father, David Kitman Woo, began a produce business in a spot at the Ninth Street Market vacated by a Japanese man who was interned during the Second World War. After arriving in the United States, Beth Woo became the bookkeeper for the family business. In the 1960s, Wilbur Woo and friends chartered Cathay Bank. the first bank in Chinatown. He studied banking and later became a vice-president of the organization.[3][4]

Chinese name[edit]

Michael Woo's Chinese name is ,[5][6] which is rendered Hú Shàojī in the Pinyin orthography and Wu4 Siu6 Gei1 in the Jyutping romanization.


Woo went to Alhambra High School, and at the age of sixteen he attended summer classes at California State College at Los Angeles under a special program for gifted students.[7] When he was a senior, his invitation on behalf of a student group to the editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin to talk at Alhambra High was vetoed by a department chairman who feared the editor "might speak on a controversial subject" that could be misunderstood outside the campus.[8]

Young Woo chose to attend the University of California, Santa Cruz, he said, to get away from his family and into an unstructured environment. He graduated with honors in 1973 and earned his master's degree in city planning two years later from the University of California, Berkeley, with a thesis on the origins of regional government in the San Francisco Bay Area.[4][9]

Public service[edit]


As the only son in his family, Michael Woo said he was brought up "with the expectation that I would have a leadership role of my own"; he worked in summer 1970 as a volunteer in the office of Assemblyman David Roberti and later for Democratic Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin and in the presidential primary campaign of New York Mayor John V. Lindsay.[4]

Senate staff[edit]

Woo joined the staff of David Roberti after the latter was elected to the California State Senate in 1973. He took a leave in December 1980 to run for the City Council the next year, and he moved from Alhambra to Silver Lake to do so.[4]

City Council[edit]

Woo was the first Asian American on the Los Angeles City Council,[2] from 1985 to 1993, being elected in Los Angeles City Council District 13, which in that era (1981), had about 11% Asian voters and 15% Latino. Two of three residents were renters, one of five were over age 65 and about 10% to 20% were homosexual.[4] As the Los Angeles Times described the district, it

stretched like a giant hot dog from Highland Park on the east to Laurel Canyon on the west . . . from the seediness of Hollywood Boulevard to the rustic beauty of Mount Washington, from poverty in "Frogtown" in the Elysian Valley and East Hollywood to the wealth of Laurel Canyon, from the self-contained isolation in Atwater just 15 minutes from downtown to the pop sophistication of Sunset Boulevard.[4]


See also List of Los Angeles municipal election returns, 1981 and after.

Woo's two electoral battles against incumbent Peggy Stevenson in District 13 were marked by calumny on both sides. Endorsed by Police Chief Daryl Gates,[10] Stevenson won her first fight against Woo in 1981 by a vote of 20,162 to 13,018, but Woo was victorious in 1985 by 16.417 to 12,052.[11]

1981. In the 1981 race, Stevenson jettisoned the volunteers that had guided her primary campaign and hired Butcher-Forde Consulting of Orange County for the final vote, which was criticized for having "racial overtones." Even her primary campaign had been criticized for sending out fliers asking Republican voters if they wanted the candidate supported by the Mexican American Political Association and the Asian Democratic Caucus "or Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson." She denied they were meant to raise racial questions but simply to point up Woo's "ultraliberal" support.[12]

At one point, a debate between Stevenson and Woo "exploded into a verbal brawl" when the former, 56, attempted to turn Republican Wilbur Woo, the father of 29-year-old Democrat Michael Woo, into the major issue of the campaign. She called Wilbur "a wealthy banker who doesn't even live in Los Angeles, let alone our district," and who "has put together a $300,000 bankroll from his associates and from borrowers of his bank to finance a totally immoral and untruthful campaign against me."[13][14][15] The Los Angeles Times reported:

The candidates tried to outdo each other as champions of gay rights and rent control. Woo ridiculed economic development in the district and Stevenson said she had brought in one billion dollars worth of construction in four years. Woo said he'd like to see proof.[13]

1985. The 1985 race was an expensive one—expected to be a million dollars for both candidates together. Stevenson was supported by "some of the city's most prominent political fund-raisers" and the "real estate industry," while Woo could again count on his banker-businessman father, who provided about half of the $437,000 raised for the campaign.[3][16] It was said that Woo won the election because of his "family wealth, ethnic pride, younger voters and festering discontent with an incumbent officeholder," as well as a growing recognition "that the Asian constituency is becoming an important force in California politics."[17]

Stevenson blamed a "Westside political organization" headed by U.S. Representatives Henry Waxman and Howard Berman for her loss. In an "unusual rebuke," the Times reported, her fellow Council Members Zev Yaroslavsky and Marvin Braude had endorsed Woo over her, "partly because they said she was too supportive of projects in their districts backed by big developers who contributed to her campaign."[18][19] When seated, Woo became at age 33 the youngest member of the council.[20]

Redistricting. After several attempts at redrawing councilmanic districts in accordance with a U.S. court order to provide for increased Latino representation, the City Council in 1986 adopted a plan that stripped Chinatown, Echo Park and adjoining areas from Woo's 13th District but maintained his power base in Hollywood and Silver Lake and also cut north into Studio City.[21]

2001. After running unsuccessfully for mayor in 1993, Woo attempted a comeback to his old City Council seat in 2001, but was defeated by Eric Garcetti.[22]


  • Film, 1985. Woo publicly censured the MGM-UA film Year of the Dragon, a graphic movie about a crime war and violent youth gangs in New York's Chinatown. He was reported to be negotiating a public disclaimer that would be issued by the studio concerning the picture.[23]
  • Sanctuary, 1986. In his first major triumph, he succeeded in maneuvering the City Council into declaring that Los Angeles would be considered a "city of sanctuary" for political refugees, but the resulting public outcry forced the council to reverse itself and repeal the entire resolution.[24]
  • Light rail, 1988. Woo and Mayor Tom Bradley wrote the June referendum ballot arguments in favor of establishing a light-rail line into the San Fernando Valley. Councilman Ernani Bernardi of the Valley was opposed.[25]
  • Rodney King, 1991. He was the City Council leader in a fight to oust Police Chief Daryl Gates in the wake of the beating of Rodney G. King by police officers.[26]



Woo left his council seat in 1993 to run for mayor that year against Richard Riordan, who won in a victory marked by "deep racial divisions."[27] In the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Woo and Bill Clinton, who was running for President, endorsed one another's candidacies. Riordan garnered 54 percent of votes to Woo's 46 percent.[citation needed]

Woo ran for California Secretary of State in 1994. He lost to Tony Miller.[28]


Woo chaired the City Planning Commission, until 1993. He is a member of the Los Angeles City Planning Commission, which he chaired, until 1963. His main focus has been incentivizing for transit use. He also teaches a course in Urban Planning and Development at the University of Southern California. His primary interest is transportation issues, particularly in China, where he started a Smart Growth China program.

President Clinton appointed him Western States Director of the Corporation for National and Community Service.


Woo previously taught at Harvard University and University of California, Los Angeles.[29] He is now dean of the College of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.


  1. ^ Nelson, Valerie J. (2012-11-15). "Wilbur K. Woo dies at 96; a leader of L.A.'s Chinese community". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-12-01. 
  2. ^ a b Elaine Woo "Asian identity crisis fades to worries of everyday life", Los Angeles Times, 28 April 2012
  3. ^ a b c Gary Libman, "Woo Family's Road to Success Long and Not Always Smooth," Los Angeles Times, August 5, 1985, page E-1
  4. ^ a b c d e f Judith Michaelson, "Stevenson Ignores Foe but He's Hardly 'in a Corner,' " Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1981, page C-1
  5. ^ 胡紹基出任加州工藝大學院長, Wang Shanyan, "Michael Woo Served as President of the California University of Technology," World Journal, July 17, 2009 (in Chinese, with photo)]
  6. ^ Los Angeles Chinatown Business Council Board of Directors
  7. ^ "High School Youths Attending College," Los Angeles Times, July 21, 1968, page SG-B-12
  8. ^ Peyton Canary, "Faculty Vetoes Talk by Editor of UCLA paper," Los Angeles Times, January 17, 1969, page SG-8 With a photo of Woo.
  9. ^ Frank Clifford, "Woo Forces Stevenson Into a Runoff," Los Angeles Times, April 10, 1985, page 1
  10. ^ Kenneth Reich, "Gates' Support of Stevenson Draws Fire," Los Angeles Times, June 4, 1981, page D-4
  11. ^ "Los Angeles Races and Measures," Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1985, page 1
  12. ^ Susan Schmidt, "Stevenson-Woo City Council Campaign a Study in Styles," Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, May 22, 1981, page A-1
  13. ^ a b Judith Michaelson, "Stevenson Assails the Father of Her Opponent," Los Angeles Times, May 29, 1981, page C-2
  14. ^ Susan Schmidt, "3 Races, 3 Surprises as Stevenson, Finn and Flores Win," Los Angeles Herald-Examiner, June 3, 1981, page A-8
  15. ^ "Woo's Father Appointed to State Development Post," Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1986, page A-31
  16. ^ "Contest Shapes Up as a Million-Dollar Battle," Los Angeles Times, May 20, 1985
  17. ^ Frank Clifford, "Woo's Victory: Asians Come of Political Age," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 1985, page OC-1
  18. ^ Bill Boyarsky, "Woo Upsets Stevenson," Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1985, page 1
  19. ^ "The Region," Los Angeles Times, May 24. 1985
  20. ^ "Michael Woo for the 13th District," Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2001
  21. ^ Larry Gordon, "Voters Scramble to Make Sense of New Districts," Los Angeles Times, September 18, 1986, page GD-1 With map.
  22. ^ Patrick McGreevey and Sue Fox, "Garcetti Defeats Woo," Los Angeles Times, June 6, 2001
  23. ^ John Horn, "MGM/UA May Insert 'Dragon' Disclaimer," Los Angeles Times, August 28, 1985, page SD-D-1
  24. ^ Victor Merina, "The Sanctuary Resolution," Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1986, page B-1 With photo of Woo.
  25. ^ Richard Simon, "Bradley, Woo to Write 'Pro' Light-Rail Ballot Argument," Los Angeles Times, March 9, 1988, page AV-8
  26. ^ Frank Clifford, Decision '93: A Look at the Elections in Los Angeles County," Los Angeles Times, April 11, 1993
  27. ^ Richard Simon, "Anglo Vote Carried Riordan to Victory," Los Angeles Times, June 10, 1993
  28. ^ Paul Jacobs and Jean Merl, "New Names, New Outlooks Emerge in Statewide Races," Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1994, page 3
  29. ^ "Merging Identity," New York Times, May 30, 1996, screen 6

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Peggy Stevenson
Los Angeles City Council
13th District

Succeeded by
Jackie Goldberg