Planner Spotlight: Kristen Holdsworth

Current Position: Senior Planner at Snohomish County Planning and Development Services (PDS)
Total years in planning: 7
Hobbies: Hiking, reading, and cheering on UCLA football. I also coach a rec-fun softball team made up of people from Snohomish County departments and other planning departments.
Hometown: Lakewood, CA (30 miles south of Los Angeles)
Favorite Places: Mammoth Lakes, CA. It’s a little mountain town in the eastern Sierras with kayaking, hiking, skiing, and the most delicious bakery!

Why did you choose a career in planning?  Growing up, I had no idea what planning was. In college, I started as a political science major because I thought I had to become a lawyer to do any sort of policy work. (It was naïve, I know). During undergrad, I worked with a non-profit that helped refugees in war-torn areas. Climate change was a major contribution to the wars (due to the scarcity of resources). Through this experience, I met a planning professor and the rest is history! I switched universities, changed majors, and started focusing on energy and water resilience. I love planning because of the decisions we make here (at the local level) matter not only to the immediate community but also around the world.

Why did you decide to be a planner in Washington? My husband and I moved to Washington for the weather. I have a health condition that makes me very sensitive to heat. A few years ago I was working with climate scientists on climate projections and resiliency strategies for the Los Angeles region. Not surprisingly, we found that heat will become much more severe in the future. This realization, in combination with a desire to move to Washington, gave us the nudge we needed to leave Los Angeles. I previously worked as a planner for Los Angeles County on climate resiliency and social equity initiatives. Los Angeles County is the antithesis of planning under the Growth Management Act, but many of the local planning challenges are surprisingly similar.

What projects/initiatives are you currently working on? I recently transitioned from Snohomish County’s long-range planning division, where I updated the County’s wireless facilities code and was also working with cities throughout Snohomish County on PSRC’s Vision 2050 project. I am now in the permitting division, where I get to implement the wireless code that I wrote! Aside from typical permit reviews, I am also the agriculture permitting coordinator. I get to work directly with the people that feed us! A lot of our farms are located in critical areas and flood hazard areas, which have regulations that are completely different than a farmer’s expertise. I work with an amazing group of planners that help our farmers navigate the permitting processes so that they can comply with regulations and get back to focusing on their farms. Another interesting project is the department’s efforts to “go paperless” on September 1. I am assisting with this transition to entirely electronic permit submittals and reviews. We’re not just changing our systems to go electronic, we have also been critically looking at how we can streamline our processes to save time and create a better customer experience.

What was your first planning-related job? My first planning-related job was as an environmental intern for Parsons Brinckerhoff. I had a (very) small contribution to the environmental documents for the California High-Speed Rail. So far they have held up in the courts!

What advice would you give a new planner? You should never be bored in a planning job. If you don’t feel like you have enough work, ask to shadow someone or to assist on a project. Planning is very diverse, so something will interest you eventually - and there’s always more than enough work to do!

What do you wish you had known when you started your career? It’s ok to be uncertain about your skills, but don’t shy away from opportunities. If you have the planning basics down and know what questions to ask, you’re 80% of the way there.

If you were not a planner what profession would like likely be in? I would be a lawyer trying to do land use and climate equity work. I would have a bigger paycheck and less work-life balance, wishing I had found out about planning earlier :) 

Do you have any favorite websites/tools/blogs that relate to planning or your job that you’d like to share? Despite firmly believing in technology, I still read the APA magazines from cover to cover the old fashioned way. (Sorry, APA!)

Return to the July/August issue of The Washington Planner