Above from left to right: John Eardensohn, Senior Principal Engineer and Randi Coopersmith, Senior Principal Planner. Photo by Kristy Walker.
Hello, and welcome to a special, 25th Anniversary edition of the Latitude 33 newsletter. This quarter, we are taking an opportunity to highlight a few special stories related to our 25th Anniversary and our core values as a company. We hope you enjoy learning more about our humble beginnings, and how we got to where we are today.
Latitude 33 Leadership Team
THE HISTORY OF LATITUDE 33 PLANNING & ENGINEERING:
AN UNLIKELY SUCCESS STORY
Above from left to right: Randi Coopersmith, Senior Principal Planner and John Eardensohn, Senior Principal Engineer. Photo by Kristy Walker.
By all accounts, Latitude 33 Planning & Engineering shouldn’t be here today. It should have dissipated before it ever gained momentum. The partners did everything in opposition to conventional business wisdom. They started their firm in the middle of a recession. The firm had few local clients. Moreover, the partners couldn’t pursue some of their best prospects. It wasn’t a promising start.
The Early Years
The story of Latitude 33 begins at another large planning, engineering, and surveying firm in San Diego. Randi Coopersmith and John Eardensohn were associates working at the firm together. They watched the company grow from 35 to 125 staff members, and the process was not a smooth one. Convinced they could develop a better business model, they and two others set out on their own, and founded Latitude 33 Planning & Engineering. As junior partners and shareholders, they left with a non-compete clause—they couldn’t pursue any of their former firm’s clients for at least one year. It was 1993, in the middle of a deep recession.
The partners began to build their integrated planning and engineering company, and disregarded the standard, single-leader, top-down management model. They genuinely enjoyed doing the work, which lead to a more horizontal structure with hands-on principal involvement. They also wanted an equal partnership with a shared decision-making approach.
Each partner owned exactly equal shares of company, and the presidency rotated between the partners. While they each possessed unique skillsets and strengths, they were completely aligned in their goals for growth and the type of culture they wanted to create.
For the first three years of the firm’s existence, Latitude 33 didn’t have any local clients. They reached out and found clients in Colorado, Arizona, and Mexico—but not a single client in the State of California.
Change came, however, in 1996 when Pardee Homes and Latitude 33 began working together on Pacific Highlands Ranch. The massive, 2,652-acre development led to multiple projects for Latitude 33. Beginning a snowball effect, the firm then landed numerous local clients, including Gen-Probe, The La Jolla Institute For Allergy and Immunology, and the Eastgate Tech Park.
For twenty-five years, the company has gained momentum and forged ahead with great success. The partners each lead a team focused on services including public sector planning, land use planning, public outreach, entitlement services, and civil engineering for public works, private subdivision, healthcare, higher education, and military projects.
Whether riding out a major recession or setting itself up for future success, the principals have learned new lessons and Latitude 33 has emerged a different company. Key among the firm’s values are:
Diversity – Once known for its niche expertise for coastal projects, Latitude 33 is more diverse than ever. The firm’s clients now include hospitals, municipalities, military, and educational institutions. The firm is reinventing suburbs and urban neighborhoods with projects such as Merge 56.
Longevity – Latitude 33 focuses on turning each client into a legacy client. The firm seeks to move past having just “jobs”; instead, it seeks long-term relationships. This requires that the staff be more proactive, anticipate their clients’ needs, and do more than just their jobs.
Democracy – Against all business wisdom, a more democratic, horizontal structure has worked for Latitude 33. To this day, every client and every project has hands-on principal involvement.
Much of Latitude 33’s success is due to the long-term thinking of Coopersmith and Eardensohn. “We began thinking about a succession plan when Latitude 33 was just five years old,” Eardensohn says. “We are always looking for strong leaders and seeking to promote from within.”
The firm is continuing to build on its strengths, and puts its lessons learned into practice. Using strategic planning, Latitude 33 has been able to grow and thrive. Setting itself up for the long-term, the firm continues to focus on diversification and creating legacy clients in numerous industries.
“The challenges of today are less technical and more political,” says Coopersmith. He cites a recent example of The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch. Going above and beyond, Latitude 33 met with all the stakeholders and garnered their support before the plans went to the City for approval. In the past 25 years, the firm has played a role in having three city-wide voter initiatives approved. “In our 25-year history, we have an unparalleled 100 percent success rate for seeking entitlements,” Coopersmith adds.
Latitude 33 Planning & Engineering continues to offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary approach to design. Serving public agencies, developers and property owners, the firm specializes in residential, education, healthcare, military, commercial/retail, civic, and hospitality projects. And unlike its predicted path at inception, the firm will continue and expand its work, by all forecasts, for many years to come.
PACIFIC HIGHLANDS RANCH: THE PROJECT THAT LAUNCHED LATITUDE 33 IN SAN DIEGO
The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch, courtesy Owen McGoldrick.
For its first three years in business, Latitude 33 didn’t work on a single project in the State of California. Until Pacific Highlands Ranch. It was the first of many San Diego projects—the one that launched Latitude 33 locally and helped it earn the stellar reputation it has today.
Latitude 33 and Pardee Homes, which has developed most of Pacific Highlands Ranch, began working together on the 2,652-acre development in 1996 on an extremely extensive and broad community engagement process. It included input from the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, community planning groups across the entire city, City of San Diego staff, elected officials, environmental organizations and stakeholders. The developer and design team worked with the surrounding community to create the Pacific Highlands Ranch Subarea Plan, the community plan for this area. The plan was on the forefront of visionary planning in San Diego by preserving and enhancing the existing habitat and canyons system, creating new wildlife corridors, and creating an urban village in a northern San Diego suburb. The Sierra Club, the Endangered Habitat League, the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, and many other organizations fully supported the plan. The Pacific Highlands Ranch Subarea Plan was adopted by City Council July 28, 1998.
Twenty years later, the area has transformed into a vibrant, world-class community with thousands of residents, energy-efficient market-rate and affordable homes, outstanding schools, a multi-trail system, shopping centers, and 1,300 acres of preserved open spaces. And, it’s not done yet.
Under construction is the heart of the entire community: The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch. The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch will bring commercial retail, high-density residential, civic, and park uses together as the pedestrian-friendly town center for the master-planned community. The multi-use, urban village will include 252 market rate residential condominiums and 79 affordable residential units (331 total units), 195,000 square feet of commercial space, a library, and a civic use area including a dog park, 13-acre public park, access to biking/walking trails, and central plaza with outdoor seating, fireplaces, and a fountain. The Village will provide a place to live, play, socialize, learn, work, shop, and dine, all within a walkable space.
Latitude 33 is proud to be part of a major collaborative effort to bring The Village to fruition. This portion of Pacific Highlands Ranch attracted numerous companies to gather around a common goal and purpose to get the master plan designed, approved, constructed and open for use. The team of Latitude 33 Planning & Engineering, SPGA Architecture and Planning, Wiseman & Rohy, McParlane & Associates, Michael Wall Engineering, Inc., MW Peltz + Associates, Inc., and Coast Income Properties, Inc. made this dream project a reality. Additionally, Wermers Construction is the builder of the market rate apartments, and Affirmed Housing developed the affordable component. SGPA was the architect for the commercial components, and Architects Orange designed all residential pieces.
More than 20 years after beginning to work on the community, it is very satisfying for the entire Latitude 33 team to continue its work at Pacific Highlands Ranch, and see the vibrant community thriving, in part, because of Latitude 33’s efforts.
COMMUNITY AND CULTURE
LATITUDE 33 BUILDS A CULTURE OF TRUST
Latitude 33 in action. Top Row: San Diego Mud Run in 2012 (left). The annual Scripps Ranch Old Pros 4th of July Run (right) and Ride (center). Latitude 33 is an annual sponsor for this race. Bottom Row: 2017 Holiday party (left). Rock climbing in 2017 (center). The superhero-themed Engineers Without Borders Kick Ball Tournament (right).
As noted in this edition’s feature story, Latitude 33 values longevity and focuses on building long-term relationships. Relationship-building is not only part of our focus for clients, it is also part of our internal culture, as well.
Modeled after Ken Blanchard’s theories about productivity and leadership in the workplace, Latitude 33 strives to create trusting relationships among all team members. Blanchard notes that 45% of employees say that lack of trust in leadership is the biggest issue impacting their work performance. By contrast, high trust organizations experience 32 times greater risk-taking, 11 times more innovation, and six times higher performance. Trusting relationships in the workplace leads to increased collaboration, higher levels of creativity, and more effective execution of business strategy.
In honor of Latitude 33’s 25th Anniversary, we look back on some of our favorite moments over the years as we have built a culture of trust and teamwork in the workplace. Enjoy the pictures above!