Tovar Planning









Since 2012, Tovar Planning has provided planning services to cities, counties, universities, state agencies, and private clients.   Among my public clients have been the cities of Bainbridge Island, Edmonds, Everett, Fife, Lacey, La Conner, Maple Valley, Sammamish, SeaTac and Spokane, and the counties of Clark, Island, Kitsap, and Snohomish.  To see samples of projects I did for some of these clients, click on the Projects tab above.

My career began in 1976 with the City of Kirkland where I served as the planning director from 1982 to 1992.  While there, I created and managed a high performing staff, built effective relationships with council members and planning commissioners, wrote award-winning plans, codes, and inter-governmental strategies, and helped lay the foundation for the treasured place that Kirkland is today – a thriving lakeside community with a diversity of commercial and residential neighborhoods and a walkable, vibrant downtown.

In 1989, I helped draft the Growth Management Act of 1990, then in 1992 began a twelve year term on the State Growth Management Hearings Board.   For the eight years after that, I served as a city planning director for the cities of Covington, Shoreline, and Bainbridge Island.  In all three cities, I led updates of comprehensive plans and codes, served as SEPA responsible official, and cultivated best practices by city staff, planning commissioners, and council members.

I have also had the opportunity to share my insights pro bono with a number of audiences – professional planners, graduate planning students, land use lawyers, real estate professionals, legislators, local elected officials, and citizen planning commissioners.   To see a list of my recent speaking engagements at conferences, legal seminars, and workshops, click the Speaking tab above.

From 2017 to mid-2019, I served as co-lead for The Road Map to Washington’s Future, a project funded by the Washington State legislature.   I was retained by the William D. Ruckelshaus Center to help design and conduct an extensive collaborative effort to answer two key questions – “What do the people of the state desire for the future of Washington?” and “What changes are needed to planning practice and our framework of planning laws to reach that future?”  Click on the Projects tab above to learn more about the findings, changes, and reforms in the Final Report.











the essence of joe


My growth and success as a planning practitioner has followed the path described by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers.  His book popularized the “10,000 hour rule” which suggests that mastery in a field or discipline is achieved by repeated practice over a long time span.  

Gladwell attributed this factor to the success of the Beatles, Wayne Gretzky, and Bill Gates.  My over 80,000 hours in the planning field have no doubt helped me hone analytical and communication skills, but I am not convinced that repetition alone results in success.

As important as learning and growing skills are, I believe that achieving mastery in the planning field also requires making the most of one’s intangible, inherent qualities. Among these are an ability to connect and empathize with people, an ethical passion to serve the public interest, and a belief that democratic public policy making is the best way to shape and serve a shared environment.  

This mix of experience, skills, and core beliefs fundamentally defines who I am as a planning professional — and what I credit for whatever success I have enjoyed in this field.