Executive Interview with Taylor Libolt Varner

Taylor Libolt Varner is a Planner/business development manager for MSA Consulting. She also serves as a board member for Desert Valleys Builders Association and on the La Quinta Planning Commission. We asked her to talk some more about her time with MSA consulting and her time with the planning commission. 

Tell me more about MSA Consulting. What has your time there been like?

MSA Consulting is the Coachella Valley’s leading full-service civil engineering, planning, landscape and land surveying consulting firm. Serving private developers and public agencies since 1976, MSA is a progressive, innovative firm passionate about producing exceptional work while collaborating successfully with clients and other project team members. Our mission is to collaboratively drive the success of our clients and communities while enhancing the natural and built environment.

My time at MSA has been characterized by tremendous professional and personal development. Aside from the project planning experience I gain every day, I am finding my place within the local government and business community. When I started at MSA, I had not worked a lot in the Coachella Valley and had very few connections in the region. With MSA’s support, I began attending local events and getting to know people, trends, and characteristics that shape the Valley and make it such a wonderfully unique place. MSA’s 43-year reputation in the Valley has accelerated my growth and helped open a lot of doors within the community.

How does being on the La Quinta Planning Commission affect your work at MSA? 

Understanding both local government and private developer perspectives equips me with unique tools to work towards creative partnerships where everyone wins. Serving on the City of La Quinta’s Planning Commission makes me a more effective, empathetic planner and business professional. By serving my City, I better understand the perspectives, motivations, and constraints driving local government decisions. On the other hand, my growing experience with private development helps me serve the City of La Quinta better by recognizing important opportunities and working with the business community to make our goals a reality.

How has your educational and professional background prepared you for this position?

My formal education and professional experience equipped me with the tools and perspectives I needed to take on my roles at MSA and at the City.

I graduated with a master’s degree in urban and regional planning from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs in June of 2015. In my studies at UCLA, I focused on planning for community economic development and housing, an interdisciplinary tract with extensive coursework in planning, economics, community organizing, political science, affordable housing development, GIS, and more. In addition to my master’s degree from UCLA, I also hold a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Spanish from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Interestingly, as different as both institutions were, they both placed a strong emphasis on being agents of change and renewal in the community. They taught me to think critically and independently, urged me to challenge the status quo, and instilled in me a drive to improve our communities and ensure they work for everyone.

After graduating from UCLA, I launched my professional career with work that continues to inform my roles at MSA and as a planning commissioner. Before joining MSA, I worked as a government affairs director, managing the government-facing side of a private financing company and working with cities, counties, and other agencies throughout California to bring our program into new jurisdictions and manage our program’s reputation. This role sparked an interest in building creative public-private partnerships, in finding ways government and business can work together to meet mutually held goals.

What are some challenges you’ve faced?

Being relatively new to the planning profession, my biggest challenge has been how nuanced and challenging the world of land and community development is; it’s not for the faint of heart! While the complexity of the field is precisely what makes firms like MSA such a valuable resource, I find myself wanting to know everything overnight (or yesterday!). I have learned to be patient with the process, asking questions, adding value wherever I can, and understanding the best way to learn is to work through challenges. Fortunately, the building is full of mentors at MSA, with rich and diverse experience in the field from which to learn.

Who are your mentors within the local government space?

Council Member Christy Holstege, who serves on the City Council of the City of Palm Springs, is undoubtedly a mentor within the local government and community advocacy space. She leads by example and governs with integrity and grit. I admire how she uses her position of power to elevate others, especially those most often overlooked. I am grateful for her ongoing guidance and friendship!

Before I came to the Coachella Valley, I had the privilege of working closely with and learning from Mr. Frank Tripepi, long-time Southern California city manager and an authority on local government. Not only did he introduce me to his vast network of local government professionals, but he taught me a lot about how cities operate, how local decisions are made, and how to build trust and foster partnerships between local government and private business.

As a planner and business development manager, what are your future goals with MSA?

My goal at MSA is to find innovative ways to apply the vast expertise, collaborative spirit, and good will of the company to continue solving today and tomorrow’s problems, serving our clients well, and improving our communities