The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

The student news site of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California.

Scot Scoop News

San Mateo County appoints its first youth commissioners

Alyse DiNapoli
San Mateo Park and Recreation youth commissioners Serene Li and Thomas Jelniker are sworn in during a City Council meeting. The two high schoolers are eager to ensure that the voices of younger generations are heard. “I believe that there is room for improvement regarding inclusivity in San Mateo County,” Li said. “It’s crucial that the youth also be on the front lines of decision-making.”

The San Mateo Park and Recreation Commission welcomed San Mateo County’s first youth commissioners, Serene Li and Thomas Jelniker, during a city council meeting as part of an ongoing effort to include younger voices on the city’s commissions and boards on Nov. 6.

After conducting interviews with the two Hillsdale High School students, Amourence Lee, the mayor of San Mateo, and Rob Newsom, a council member, selected Li and Jelniker to become part of San Mateo’s Parks and Recreation Commission. 

Although Li and Jelniker are the first youth commissioners for a San Mateo County commission, youth representation is not unheard of in San Mateo County. For instance, San Carlos, a city in San Mateo County, has a youth advisory council that has contributed to the community in various ways. 

However, the existence of youth representation in other places does not disregard the significance of San Mateo County’s recent decision, for the fact remains that adding youth commissioners enables the community to have representation of a broader range of people.

“It was really important to bring young voices into the work of policymaking and policy setting and policy advising because those tables are the tables of power,” Lee said. “That distinction for me is critical because a successful organization should always have or work towards having legitimate and meaningful representation.”

In a meeting with her interns, Mayor Lee asked them, most of whom are also part of the younger generation, to share their thoughts on the impact of the city’s decision.

“It’s incredibly significant to have youth commission seats now because I always felt like a lot of social and political work was handled by adults,” said Nathan Yin, one of Mayor Lee’s interns. “It’s about time for the younger generation to voice their opinions on shaping our future, and offering commission roles to youth is also a way to foster the next generation of leaders.”

Beginning in August, the city council began their search for potential young leaders, reaching out to numerous youth-based organizations and schools and searching for candidates between the ages of 13-17 who live, work, or study in San Mateo. 

It was also essential that those interested in the position desired to involve themselves in local government, particularly in matters within the scope of the San Mateo Parks and Recreation Department.

Some of these matters include the maintenance of public parks, public recreation facilities, and programs for the San Mateo community.

While the youth commissioners’ tasks are not limited to the Park and Recreation Commission, the activities and themes their roles should address are relevant for school-aged youth, making it an optimal choice as the first commission to accept younger participants.

After hearing about the opportunity through her school, Li immediately knew she wanted to apply for the position, recognizing that her interests aligned with the role description. 

Having grown up in San Mateo County for the past 11 years, Li is familiar with the notable efforts San Mateo County has made to improve its policies and services. On the contrary, she is also familiar with the problems that exist in the community, particularly ones related to youth. 

The issue that she frequently heard younger generations express frustration for was the need for more youth representation in the community: they wanted to have their worries heard and their needs met.

“It was truly discouraging to hear my classmates’ concerns in our community without being able to help,” Li said. “That’s what really urged me to apply for this position. I knew that working closely with other commissioners would allow me to directly take part in inputting comments that represent the youth.”

After officially joining the commission, the high school senior has immediately gotten to work, expressing the issues she is interested in solving to the commission.

Currently, she plans to focus on issues surrounding sustainable and accessible transportation, such as e-bikes and scooters, as well as work towards cultivating community spaces. 

“For instance, protecting places such as the Japanese Garden would encourage residents to convene in public spaces that promote enjoyment of other cultures,” Li said. “Additionally, I want to promote the establishment of more permanent public spaces like libraries and skate parks, where people from all backgrounds have the space to enjoy the diversity and spirit of San Mateo.”

On a broader scale, Li’s primary goal is to create a tight-knit community in San Mateo County that meets the needs of all kinds of people through numerous events and activities. 

Pullquote Photo

“Having the experience and clear goals to improve the community, I will work and learn with others to collaborate on ideas to make San Mateo more accessible, enjoyable, and safe.”

— Thomas Jelniker

“By addressing the specific needs of the youth. I want to start with building a closer community,” Li said. “This could involve organizing diverse public events like small business markets, public concerts, or cultural celebrations.”

The city’s decision to have youth representation mirrors the Belmont Parks and Recreation Commission, which welcomed youth to their commission. 

Because the eligibility requirements of a voting member include being over 18 years old, both Li and Jelniker currently have an advisory-only capacity as commissioners. However, the new roles are still a crucial opportunity to demonstrate the favorable impact of including youth voices in the decision-making process of San Mateo County. 

“One of the most important parts about being a youth commissioner is definitely listening to feedback and comments from other San Mateo youth,” Jelniker said. “Although I’m young myself, I don’t intend to just speak on what I believe in, but on the collective opinions and thoughts of San Mateo’s younger generations. By hearing more people’s concerns, we can work towards shaping San Mateo County into a community that is considerate of everyone.”

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About the Contributor
Naomi Hsu
Naomi Hsu, Staff Writer
Naomi Hsu (Class of 2026) is excited to begin her first year as a news writer for the Scot Scoop. In her free time, she enjoys dancing with her Carlmont Dance Team members and participating in mock trial.

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