March 13, 2024
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    Redwood City – The message delivered on social media by Noelia Corzo before the November 2022 election was concise: “Did you know we’re in danger of having a Board of Supervisors made up of all men? UNACCEPTABLE.”

    Voters in District 2 responded, sending Corzo to represent San Mateo, Foster City and about half of Belmont on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

    While supervisors were once elected countywide, and therefore needed a campaign operation that could get out the vote from Daly City to Pescadero, by-district races are more local affairs. The flip side is that elected representatives may not be as widely known outside their district. 

    With that in mind, the communications team in the County Executive’s Office met with Corzo to learn her priorities for the upcoming year and to reflect on her first year in office.

    Noelia Corzo.

    Since taking office in January 2023, Corzo has embraced being the sole woman on the five-member Board that oversees a $4.4 billion annual budget. At age 33, she is the first Latina supervisor and the only current member under the age of 45.

    Like many newly elected officials, Corzo arrived in office little more than a year ago with bold plans for immediate action on any number of fronts. What she found were four other elected officials each with their own bold plans for immediate action on any number of fronts.

    Asked what she might have done differently, knowing then what she knows now, Corzo said, “I think I should have invested a little more in getting to know each one of the supervisors better in the first month or two more than I did. Other than the time we’re at (a meeting together),  we’re all in our own world.”

    In the orbit of local government, Corzo does not appear to be a natural politician, the shake-your- hand and pose-for-a-picture kind. It’s during the safety-net work of local government that her life’s resume – daughter of Guatemalan immigrants, social worker by profession (and outlook), single mom, renter – commands attention.

    “This ordinance,” she said during a recent hearing on a proposal dealing with homelessness, “is actually deeply personal to me. I have a half brother that has been homeless in our county."

    She spoke slowly, finding the right words. “I have taken my father who was in his mid-70s around our county looking for him…. We have talked to homeless people in parks.  We have looked in alleys, and it’s not an easy” – she paused – “it’s not an easy experience for anyone involved.” 

    Noelia and brother
    Corzo with her brother, Robinson Stanley Corzo. He "lost his battle with depression when I was 16," Corzo said. She believes sharing her experience with a loved one's suicide will help raise awareness "that we are not alone, that help is available."

    It’s the kind of story that a politician might once have suppressed, a tale of family trauma best kept private. Corzo sees sharing such personal details as a way to connect with people whose family dynamics, like her own, may be somewhat painful.

    “I think that when you have a diversity of experience and perspectives, you have stronger policymaking ability. You have more insight into issues that some people just don't even think about because it's not their lived experience,” she said.

    After moving from Guatemala, Corzo’s parents settled in San Mateo. Her mother worked as a nanny for a Hillsborough family. Her father worked on a crab processing boat in Alaska, among other labor-intensive jobs.

    Along with her brother, the family moved in and out of various rentals in San Mateo’s demographically and economically diverse North Central neighborhood, including an aunt’s garage. That has given her a life-long awareness about the insecurity that comes with raising a family in high-rent San Mateo County.

    “I think that housing is clearly the number one issue in our county. So that will be a big focus for me this coming year and the rest of my term, probably the rest of my time on the Board of Supervisors,” Corzo said. “We have a really unique opportunity this year with the regional housing bond that will likely get put on the ballot …. I believe that if it were to pass it would bring about $1 billion to the county to invest in housing.”

    As an elected official representing all of San Mateo County, Corzo is a voting member of the San Mateo County Transportation AuthorityAssociation of Bay Area Governments and Bay Area Air Quality Management District. She sees coordinating the actions of these agencies as key to not just the local economy but public health.

    Cover of Time Magazine
    Corzo, top row, second from right, was among 48 women on the cover of Time in January 2018 in an article on an "unprecedented surge of first-time female candidates" for elected office. 

    “I grew up right by the freeway, literally within half a block. Areas like that specifically now qualify for a program that distributes air filtration systems” to vulnerable people, she said. Trouble is, many of those eligible in “impacted communities” (in the words of the air district), have never heard of the program, she said.

    “We haven't fully executed on that one. And we’re going to make sure to do a big push to the community to let them know,” she said. “Hopefully that will happen this year.”

    It’s an issue Corzo has seen again and again: programs exist to assist low-income residents pay for transportationsave for college or lower energy costs but often the effort to get the word out to those most in need lacks coordination or urgency.

    "I think having a lived experience,” Corzo said, “does many times give me the ability to turn a conversation in a little bit of a different direction and create more motivation to solve problems.”

    Take her plans to create what she calls a “family justice center” that would provide services to adults, seniors, children and teens who have or are experiencing domestic violence, family violence, elder abuse, sexual assault or sex trafficking.

    Much of the structure already exists. Her goal is to take programs operated by community-based organizations, the District Attorney’s Office and the Keller Center for Family Violence Intervention, for instance, and place them “under one umbrella.”

    The proposal is again born from experience.

    In 1995, her uncle killed his ex-wife, a cousin and himself in a burst of gunfire in Belmont. Those deaths came about during a rash of violence that left, according to news reports, at least seven people dead in two months in San Mateo County. (Once again, San Mateo County has been plagued by recent deaths of women at the hands of abusers.)

    “It’s an issue that has significantly, significantly, impacted my family,” she said. “I’ve seen what it can do to generations of families.”

    Supervisor selfie
    A light moment with the Board of Supervisors. From left: Supervisor Ray Mueller, Corzo, President Warren Slocum, Vice President David J. Canepa and Supervisor Dave Pine.

    Now a single mom, Corzo has relied on programs that aim to lift up families living on the edge, the type of programs she now oversees. At a recent Board meeting, staff from the Woman, Infants and Children breast-feeding program were receiving an award. “I personally was one of the women that was supported by WIC back in the day,” Corzo said. “So thank you for all your work.”

    Such experiences give her a unique insight.

    “As someone who grew up as low income in this county, all of my life I have been learning lessons about how to navigate these systems. And so that experience is really, really valuable. It doesn't mean I have all of the answers all of the time, but it means that I have something unique to contribute,” Corzo said.

    As a child, she waited with family members at the pharmacy at the County’s San Mateo Medical Center, which predominately serves low-income residents. She now routinely asks local health officials about wait times at the pharmacy “because I remember being there waiting all day for my aunt's medication.”

    After graduating from San Mateo High School, Corzo attended Cañada College, the College of San Mateo and San Francisco State University, where she graduated with a degree in sociology. In her mid-20s and as a single mom, she ran for and won a seat on the San Mateo-Foster City School District board of trustees. She focused on issues such as engaging parents in education and teacher-district relations, among others.

    Corzo Swearing In
    Noelia Corzo being sworn in to office by her son, Mike Alvarado-Corzo, as her mother, Aura Ester Solorzano, looks on. Corzo became the first Latina elected to the Board of Supervisors with her victory in the November 2022 election for District 2.

    With District 2 San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom retiring due to term limits, she saw an opportunity to make a greater impact. Corzo loves “popping people’s preconceived notions of the impact that I can make or someone like me can make and what we can contribute.”

    She sees herself as someone who can mobilize a constituency that’s never been mobilized before, whose experience can shape services.

    “I think that it means that I have a healthy level of criticism at times,” she said. “Like I really want to improve the user experience and I think everybody does …. What I try to do is advocate for the most vulnerable. I'm actually advocating for everyone in the long run, right?”

    Corzo lives in San Mateo with her son, Mikey, and her dog, Quetzi.