The start of the new year marks the end of the road at County Connection for longtime general manager Rick Ramacier, who's worked at the agency for more than three decades, and in the role for nearly 25 years.
“Rick has this ability to see change before others do, and to move things and people forward,” said San Ramon Mayor Dave Hudson, who also serves as vice chair of the County Connection Board of Directors.
“As a result, we are in a great position to get ahead in terms of technology and the future of public transit," Hudson continued. "Rick’s real legacy is that for us, come January, it will be business as usual, because Rick has laid the foundation with a base that we can take from here and continue to build and improve County Connection services.”
The agency's incoming general manager, Bill Churchill, is set to take the reins from his predecessor starting Jan. 1, following the initial announcement of Ramacier's retirement back in August.
Ramacier said that the more he reflected on his time with the agency, the more his career choice made sense in the course of the overall trajectory of his life. Some reasons include a fascination with maps at a young age, and the influence of his politically active mother and grandmother, the latter of whom had served on her local county board of supervisors in Wisconsin.
After earning a Masters in Public Policy degree from Syracuse University, Ramacier said that he was hoping to find a job related to education, but that in particular, he was looking for a job that would enable him to live on one of the coasts. This brought him to County Connection in 1989, shortly after graduating.
"This agency seemed to appreciate what I was doing for them, so I was regularly appointed up the ladder, as you will," Ramacier said.
His lengthy tenure both at the agency, and in the general manager role, were not things Ramacier initially foresaw when first coming on board more than 30 years ago.
"I did not think I would be here as long as I have been," Ramacier said. "When I initially became GM, I thought five to 10 years max. These positions tend to be kind of intense."
Ramacier pointed to the consistency of the agency's board as one factor that enabled him to stay in the position for so long, as well as the rewarding nature of working in public transit, which enabled him to put existing skills to use while cultivating new ones.
"I got all the schooling, I got this MPP, so when I first came here I was comfortable with analysis," Ramacier said. "I was coming in from that more academic environment, and I had to really work at breaking down my shyness, if you will, and interacting with all the different folks who work here."
"That has paid dividends outside of work," Ramacier continued. "I have the employees who are working for me with me, and in order to do that I had to hear them and connect with them on some human level. That ironically, in turn, became the most satisfying part of the job, when you start to connect with people and employees."
This perspective was important not just for a harmonious work environment, Ramacier noted, but also for understanding the ever-evolving nuances of the Tri-Valley's population and their transit needs, as well as the bigger picture of what public transit means as a social, political and economic force.
"I still think we deal with this misnomer that the suburbs are a certain way," Ramacier said. "There's a lot of diversity that is hidden, that is not obvious."
One example of this, he noted, was an increase in multigenerational families living together in Danville and throughout the San Ramon Valley, often meaning households with the two primary groups that County Connection seeks to serve in the area: students and seniors.
Another unanticipated change over the past several decades has been a growing interest in public transit from all members of the public, as climate change concerns have grown to be tangible and ubiquitous.
"Now you get people who want to use transit because they think it's the right thing to do, it's going to help climate change and all our other goals," Ramacier said. "That's something we didn't see 20 to 25 years ago in the San Ramon Valley."
Nonetheless, he noted that the agency's central focus has consistently been on functioning as a public service, intended to support those who need it most, which had become all the more clear during the pandemic.
"Every city has those pockets now of people who are struggling economically, and transit is one of those things that keeps them connected to what they need," Ramacier said.
Among the many close relationships Ramacier has sought to foster with his staff over the years, he highlighted his work with incoming general manager Bill Churchill, including several years specifically aimed at preparing Churchill to take the reins upon Ramacier's retirement, after first hiring him 25 years ago, just before starting as general manager himself.
"I hired Bill in as a planner, and we realized very quickly we had a lot more than we had gone out for," Ramacier said.
Ramacier pointed to Churchill's background in information technology, and work planning the transit system for UCLA, as key assets during his time at County Connection, and pending future as general manager, but also his dedication to the field.
"He has a passion for public transit and public service that you can't teach anybody," Ramacier said.