Although Ryan Alsop is a recent transplant to Bakersfield, he grew up here, attended Highland High School and earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from CSU Bakersfield.
He credits his college professors and early job experiences for sparking his interest in public service. Chris Frank was one instrumental person here locally.
“I was recommended by a professor to Chris to fill a public affairs position at the (Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce), so that exposure and some of the work I did on behalf of area businesses, (as well as) dealing with governmental affairs work (contributed to that),” he said.
He met his wife, Melissa, here too. Although she grew up in Orange County, she ended up moving to Bakersfield for high school and also attended Highland, though the two didn’t connect until 1997.
“We met at a bar called Jelly’s,” said Alsop. “She noticed me from across the bar and flagged me down and called me over to talk to her – she gave me her phone number on a check made out to me and I still have it.”
Married 20 years, they have four children – Brie, Hannah, Lily and their youngest, Eoin, whose name was inspired by their love of Ireland.
They honeymooned on the Dingle Peninsula and fell in love with the area. Over the years, they have built a community of friends there and try to visit at least every other year.
“We’ve been back more times than I can remember,” Alsop said. “It’s one of the most beautiful places on Earth.”
Shortly after they were married, they moved to Washington, D.C., where he spent the next couple of years working full time and attending graduate school at night, earning a master’s degree in public policy from the American University School of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C.
Eventually returning to California, he has held several high profile positions, including the director of external affairs for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
He was the director of government and public affairs for Long Beach Water when he got the call from Schwarzenegger, who had just been elected.
“It was crazy and exciting,” said Alsop, who commuted weekly for about a year. However, his children were young and he felt he was missing out on their lives, so he decided to return to his previous position closer to home.
Before returning to Bakersfield, he served as assistant chief executive officer for Los Angeles County from 2009 to 2016.
Although his resume is impressive, when the position in Bakersfield became available, he jumped at the chance to serve the people in his hometown. He was appointed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors to serve as the county administrative officer on Jan. 2, 2017.
“The idea of coming back to Bakersfield was something I was excited about,” said Alsop. “I have a real interest in moving this community forward and making sure the decisions that are being made and done here raise the bar, raise the quality of life. I was excited about that.”
He traded a three-hour commute for the opportunity to drive positive change.
“I really enjoy living here with all it has to offer. I’ve reconnected with old friends (and am) meeting lots of new friends, building a really fantastic friendship network here in town,” he said.
Alsop believes living in different places has given him perspective.
“Having been born and raised here and moving away for so long and living in different places, you realize how things could be with the right investment and attention,” said Alsop.
Younger cities like Laguna Nigel, where his family lived for 10 years, was founded in 1989, and had the benefit of learning from everything that happened before their founding. Alsop wanted to bring that vision to Bakersfield.
“Whether it’s the development of our parks, roadways, walkability or businesses – things that feed into the quality of life issues that everyone values – I’ve got a pretty healthy perspective given my background (that is) helpful in helping manage the county,” he said. “It would’ve been different if I had not gone away and had the experiences I’ve had. I see it through my kid’s eyes too. They’re used to reclaimed water, trees and sidewalks everywhere – the challenges we have are because we’re an older community.”
Two of his top priorities are diversifying Kern’s economic base and addressing the growing problem of homelessness.
“We are working hard here to diversify our economy and create new jobs,” Alsop said. “Over the last three years, we’ve led efforts to create thousands of new jobs. We are also focused directly on the homeless here in Kern County and are working very hard to ensure the time and resources we are spending are being applied in ways that are resulting in real change.”
With two of their children still at home, education was a big factor in determining where they would live when they returned to Bakersfield. Their 16-year-old, Lily, attends Garces High School and plays on their water polo team and their youngest attends Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Lily was already playing water polo in Orange County so it was a good fit for her. They were also attracted to the school’s academic offerings, small class sizes and its community of teachers.
“We are part of the Garces community and really enjoy living up there,” said Alsop.
When he’s not working to make our community a better place, he loves to run and has participated in about 20 marathons and another 20 half-marathons. He’s considering running in the Bakersfield Marathon this fall.
“Part of the course runs down my street, (so I could) show off for all my neighbors,” he joked.
Whether he’s running our county, or the streets of Bakersfield, his passion for both is apparent.