Alumni Spotlight: Lisa Wise

Drafted and Edited by Amy Uthenpong (she/they)

Cal Poly alumni, Lisa Wise AICP, finds great fulfillment in working with the new generation of planners. After graduating from the MCRP program in 2001, she established Lisa Wise Consulting, Inc. (LWC) in 2006. Since then, the firm has grown to nineteen employees with offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and headquarters in San Luis Obispo. LWC’s core services focus on development codes and zoning ordinances, long-range planning, and land use economics. The range of projects vary from code audits, housing element updates, market analysis, and testing the financial feasibility in housing and mixed-use prototypes. LWC’s client base is primarily public sector (cities, counties, ports and harbor districts) with some private developer work.

Lisa attributes much of her firm’s success to the close relationship with Cal Poly. The first LWC employees were hired from the BSCRP and MCRP programs. Currently, there are seven Mustangs employed, including the Business Manager. Several of LWC’s top performers began as interns and later advanced to senior management and project management positions. Lisa reveals that Cal Poly students are eager to learn how to address real-world planning tasks while working closely with the team. She elaborates that Cal Poly students “effectively communicate and illustrate ideas”, which are skills fostered in the studios and valued in her team. Lisa has also maintained a close relationship with the Cal Poly community as a part-time lecturer in Construction Management and City and Regional Planning courses for the past twenty years.

The firm is intentional with the projects they pursue, focusing on what the clients want and if it would be a good fit. Lisa’s favorite part of her job is to “work with clients who are committed to making their city a better place and have the capacity for real change.” The LWC team is made up of “smart, problem solving people, who thrive on collaboration to develop the best approaches and solutions.” The staff have a variety of backgrounds from thirty-year professionals to interns making the first career moves. LWC also leverages the team’s public sector experience, business management skills, and technical expertise in economics, geography, and architecture.

Lisa Wise Consulting operates best when collaborating with clients to build more resilient, equitable communities. Nationally, LWC is working throughout California to improve housing production and modernize development codes. LWC is also leading code audit and update projects in Las Vegas NV, Fargo ND and Columbus OH, where the key question is “how can we better incorporate equity practices into every step of the planning process?” Internationally, LWC is working on its third code project in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia aimed at more walkable, less car-centric neighborhoods.Her firm is unraveling complex equity and resiliency questions like “how do we leverage the code to incentivize a more walkable city, and how do we make the streets safer for pedestrians and more vibrant for businesses?”

Lisa did not always know she wanted to work in the planning field. In fact, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing, followed by a master’s in accountancy and worked as an auditor in the securities and commodities industry. After ten years, Lisa realized she wanted to make a more positive impact. After some time off to travel, she decided to attend Cal Poly’s Master’s Program in City and Regional Planning. To this day, Lisa reflects that the change was the right choice personally and professionally. Upon reflection, Lisa extends advice to the next generation of planners to “be open to opportunities that favor your strengths, there are many possible paths to success, especially within the planning world.”

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