The University of San Diego campus, Kaiser Permanente’s medical center, the Grossmont Trolley Center and the Pacific Highlands Ranch community are diverse in size, scope, sector and setting, but all have one thing in common: Latitude 33.
The planning and engineering firm, which celebrated 20 years of shaping Southern California’s landscape in 2013, has had its hand in many of the area’s most notable buildings and developments of the past two decades, with plans to continue diversifying its portfolio and geographic scope in the next two and beyond.
“My co-founder John (Eardensohn) and I, we started the company 20 years ago, and took our entire firm out to cocktails to celebrate,” said Randi Coopersmith, CEO and co-founder of Latitude 33. “We looked at each other and said, ‘This is exactly the kind of company we dreamed about: Everyone’s smart, wants to work with us, and we’ve been a part of some of the largest projects in the region.’
“I think our continued diversification in terms of both work areas and geographic areas are going to be our main goals going forward.”
Coopersmith said that the firm worked mostly in the private sector until five years ago, when a combination of the recession and a changing business strategy led the company into the public sector. Now Latitude 33 is hoping to expand into the military sphere and increase its presence in the higher education world, both of which would lead to a widening geographic orb of influence.
“That’s been the key to our success, is diversification: We work in higher education, health care, military, residential, mixed-use, and we do projects downtown,” Coopersmith said. “Diversification has kept us going.”
Another key to success has been the firm’s unique positioning as both a planning and engineering company.
“It’s very different than most of our competitors, which do only one of the two -- civil engineering or planning,” he said. “We’ve always believed you have to do those together, from a design and government entitlement standpoint. Most properties left now are difficult politically and from a design standpoint, so you need both.”
Acknowledging the difficulty of attaining space in a region where vacant land is at a premium means the firm is expecting to focus more on recycling and reinventing existing space in the coming years.
“We see more of an emphasis on suburban infill or the repurposing of land, which takes many forms,” Eardensohn said. “There’s a lot of underutilized industrial land in Kearny Mesa, and we’ve done a number of fairly dense residential apartments and projects in that area, but then it’s also things like golf course redevelopment. So it’s tweaking, balancing and repositioning properties to take advantage of the infrastructure already in place and reposition the needs of the marketplace.”
Eardensohn also cited sustainable development as an ongoing and continuing company effort, complemented by their use of technology.
“In terms of environmental impact and potential, every project will have elements of energy conservation, water conservation, water quality -- the things we’ve been doing with UCSD, which includes implementing their (Geographic Information Systems),” Eardensohn said. “They already have this smart-grid program, so we’re trying to tie the civil engineering to that, so you can know the energy and water use of the building but also know how to use GIS to make intelligent predications about future growth.”
Coopersmith said Latitude 33 is particularly proficient in Civil 3D, used to visualize projects while still in the design plan, in addition to GIS, and said the use of technologies such as these enables the firm’s 34 employees to do work that would have called for 60 people five years ago.
Tom Cleary, director of community and government relations at the University of San Diego, said Latitude 33 has been under contract for various campus projects for 16 years, and “it’s always been a pleasure working” with the firm. Aside from his experiences at USD with the company, Cleary said he particularly appreciated Latitude 33’s pro bono work in helping the Linda Vista Town Council get a frequently defaced sign moved to a less enticing location.
“The Town Council went to the city saying we wanted to move this sign, and the city treated it like we were some big corporation,” Cleary said. “We had to get permit plans, pay fees and go through the same checklist of things required as if we were going to build a skyscraper. We couldn’t believe they were going to ask this of a community organization with little to no budget. Then when we were talking with representatives from Latitude 33, they said ‘Let’s see if we can help.’ They wound up doing the plans, walked through the development services process, and really helped the community by using their expertise to help move that sign.”
Turns out, retaining clients for such long stretches of time and ensuring that they return is no accident. In fact, it’s a mainstay of Latitude 33’s business model, as they don’t do much marketing of themselves or their services.
“I think one of the reasons why we’ve been successful and profitable 19 out of our 20 years is we started off with a few strong, focused principles of knowing who we were,” Coopersmith said. “One is hands-on principal involvement -- every project has partner involvement -- and that’s been a very important concept.
“I think another one is we market clients, we don’t market jobs. Every job we have, we look to turn that client into a long-term relationship instead of a one-time job. It’s a different philosophy and it’s served us well -- we have very loyal, long-term clients.”
With 20 years under their belts, Eardensohn said he and Coopersmith plan to play a large role in the company for years to come, though at some point that might be in a different, less active capacity.
“Our intent is to continue to have a very active role in the company over the long term,” Eardensohn said. “I don’t know that we’re going to just at one point retire and turn it over to other folks, but what we’d love is to establish a very capable group of associates, managers and business partners who can continue to run the company and let us be of counsel and work less, maybe part time. I don’t know if that’ll be five years from now or 10 or more, but it’s something we hope will evolve in the coming years.”
5355 Mira Sorrento Pl. Ste., 650
San Diego, CA 92121