Planner of the Month: Sonja Brown

  • Current Position: City of Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Land Use Planner (Zoning)
  • Years in position: 3
  • Total years in planning: 14
  • Hobbies: Paper-crafting, sewing, crocheting, wood-crafting, baking.
  • Weirdest non-planning related job: Auto parts delivery. The auto parts store would often have me go to another store to buy an ordered item and then deliver it to the customer at a huge markup.
  • What is a typical work day like for you? It depends on the day but, in general: development review, land use coaching at the Applicant Services Center, attend pre-submittal conferences, answer online Q&A’s, respond to applicant and citizen emails, etc.
  • Why did you choose the planning profession? Or did it choose you? I have to say it chose me. I originally started out studying architecture. After contact with practicing architects, I came to realize that a career in this field would not allow the freedom of creative expression that I would want. Creating designs to the specifications of others would not be satisfying. I discovered planning through other construction related jobs. 
  • What part of your job do you find most rewarding? Working in an environment that is relatively non-stressful and having many cordial colleagues. The feeling of accomplishment when projects are completed also is very satisfying.
  • What is the oddest thing a citizen has ever asked or said to you? I received a phone inquiry about a planned platting action. I was asked “Is this a development where a bunch of ‘those people’ will be moving in?” I was too shocked to even offer a response. I did not even want to know who “those people” are. I immediately ended the conversation. I’m almost sure that any response offered would have been NSFW.
  • What was your first planning related job? Office assistant in construction office. I did not realize at the time that proofing documents for required code content was similar to planner duties. I did not review for accuracy, just to make sure that there was information submitted for required subject matter. 
  • What advice would you give a new planner? Learn as much as possible. There are many different types of planners. If possible, work for a short time for a large company, a small company and public entities. Explore various specialties. Find the best fit with the maximum return of fulfillment. Discover your zeal early and go after it for a long and gratifying career.
  • What are you looking for when you hire a planner? I’m not in a position to hire but I believe the most important aspect of a new hire is being a good fit in the organization. Job skills can be taught to the right person whereas a person with exemplary technical skills can completely disrupt a workplace with the wrong character.
  • What do you wish you had known when you started your career? It would have been beneficial to have a broader idea of what career options were available. I would have been able to map a career path much sooner instead of just stumbling on a great fit for me. I would have liked to be warned about the fact that doing a good job is not enough alone, interpersonal relationships are equally vital.
  • If you were not a planner what profession would like likely be in? I don’t know what specific job I’d likely have but it would definitely still be in the public sector. Public service is my passion and I enjoy being able to help people and groups and seeing the results as they relate to their specific individual needs.

Return to the January/February issue of The Washington Planner