• A woman wearing glasses and a coat with greenary around her

      Altadena Councilwoman Dorothy Wong (Photo – Christopher Nyerges)

      Altadena Councilwoman Dorothy Wong is a community leader and avid bicyclist with an interesting history.

      By Christopher Nyerges

      She grew up in Aiea high above the sea in the Ko’olau Mountains, above Oahu.  “In Hawaii,” she says, “the mountains are respected. They’re regarded as gods.”  As a young girl in the islands, Wong would backpack and hike the mountains as a Girl Scout and learned to respect the power of the ocean, pointing out that everything was part of a greater story.

      She explains:

      In Hawaii, through traditional education, lore, and daily life, we were reminded of the power of the mountains as sacred, and the ocean as respected places. Of course, many people who don’t respect it, can die!  This is all part of the Hawaiian lore — Madam Pele’, the volcano goddess, for example. And the land is respected as resources for the people.  The irony of it all, as modern times-tourism and big city life and overtaking of the Hawaiian ‘Kingdom’ led the way to the Hawaiian Constitutional Convention in 1978 and today’s renaissance with activism to protect Mauna Kea.

      Media, music and bicycling

      Wong came to the mainland for school, and wanted to be involved in media and music as a career, so she majored in TV production at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.  During college, she worked multiple jobs getting around by transit and bicycle until she could afford a car.  She also worked on a documentary film project about orcas in captivity, and then moved on full time into TV work as production supervisor-associate director for 20 years. She often bicycled from Burbank to her job in Hollywood leaving her car at home. “Bicycling was a great therapy to get outside,” she says, as her job required her to sit for long hours confined in the studio. A cameraman told her that she’d probably like mountain bikes, and showed her a flier about Big Bear Bicycling. Wong purchased her first ever mountain bike in 1995 and never looked back.

      A pro-mountain biker

      She spent the next 15 years organizing bicycle events and racing her bicycle, winning multiple national medals.  “My love of athleticism played right into this,” explained Wong, who adds “It changed my life when I became a pro-mountain biker.”

      By 2005, says Wong, “I thought, what’s next?” and she learned about the League of American Bicyclists (formerly the Wheelmen).  She got certified as an instructor in Washington D.C.  “I was working in TV, and the sport of cyclocross required me to do multi-tasking. I was a professional multi-tasker,” she laughs.  She’s also become a certified League Cycling Instructor (LCI).  “I became an advocate or bicycling safety,” said Wong, who notes that she’s seen many friends injured or, sadly, killed in collisions that could have been prevented with safer complete streets.

      Because of her certification, she worked for Metro LA as a bicycle safety advocate. She currently spends about 60 days out of the year teaching bicycle safety to adults in the San Gabriel Valley.

      A woman with ahelmet and a bicyle holding a flyer

      Dorothy Wong (Photo – Christopher Nyerges)

      Advocacy

      Wong points out that she learned about advocacy when she became a board member for CalBike, and she was more involved in legislation advocacy.  She was also involved with Nature for All Leadership Academy, which is a coalition of organizations protecting public lands, creating community and connecting underserved populations to nature.

      “I learned how to lobby for the causes I believe in, thanks to these organizations, and then I met Tim Brick of the Arroyo Seco Foundation,” she recalls. Wong states that she realized that it’s the politicians who have the power to change things. “I’ve always wanted to know why things are the way they are,” stated Wong, and with her advocacy work she’s gained a practical insight into the workings of politics.

      These interests dovetailed with her becoming a councilwoman for Altadena’s 4603.01 Census tract district, the seat she currently holds.

      Wong says:

      It was a natural progression for me to put on bicycle events. Remember, you can’t get anything done without getting the community behind you. What’s wrong with politics today is that they don’t get the community behind them first.  For me, it’s necessary for my work to be a good community organizer. As a bicyclist who gets marginalized, I have to stand up for bicyclists who get hit or killed.

      Wong started a traffic safety and mobility committee of the Town Council to prioritize safe routes to schools and to get people thinking about human powered ways to get around town, and to encourage biking and other sources of transportation.

      “For me, the bicycle really tied into so many things that there is a need to advocate for, like being healthier, going to work, not having to use a car, and being a part of the environmental solution,” she says.

      Wong points out that through the bicycle she discovered Altadena, and the Arroyo Seco, and the San Gabriel Mountains, and Hahamongna.  It’s also how she met her husband, Jeff.

      Dorothy Wong at an outreach in Hahamongna to collect signatures (Photo – Christopher Nyerges)

      Hahamongna Watershed Park

      She’s been actively involved with Tim Brick’s Arroyo Seco Foundation in the efforts to reduce the scale of the L.A. County’s “Big Dig” of the Hahamongna Watershed Park north of Woodbury Road, and to reduce the number of trees that are still slated to be cut down.

      “Trees benefit the health of our bodies and our environment in many ways, and it doesn’t matter if the tree is native or non-native. It’s best to be mindful of what we are doing with all these projects locally, and look at how they benefit us today and in our life. Some of the projects might seem to be mindful, but they destroy so much now for the presumed long-term benefit, and too many of these agencies are doing their own thing.”

      She points out that with so many trees gone in Hahamongna north of Woodbury, “the magic is gone, and I don’t go there as much anymore.  I went there to feel the magic, which is something innate in all of us, that desire to feel close to nature. We need to restore balance, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be all native, because the bees go to the mustard too, and the birds make nests in the eucalyptus and ash trees.  Plus, have you heard the sounds of a rich forest! That’s not there anymore since they took all the trees out.”

      “It’s really important in all these things that we work together, and be mindful of each other, take time to breathe, and not rush too quickly. If we really look at things a little deeper, then I know we can come up with sustainable solutions. Much of that information comes directly from the observation and study of nature, and from the Indigenous peoples’ understanding of nature. That’s the balance that I want to bring back,” she states.


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      Contributor

      Comments

      1. anthonydmorrow says:

        Dorothy is great!

        Edit Needed: Photo caption #3 needs to be corrected from “Dorothy Woo” to “Dorothy Wong.”

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