“Water is magical. It supports you and takes away your pain.” So says Marie Siddons, longtime lifeguard for the city of San Mateo and the Peninsula Family YMCA. No coincidence that Siddons was born on an island surrounded by water. It was Catalina. Her father was a World War II merchant marine. But she is a Capuchino grad and grew up in South San Francisco and Millbrae. On Oct. 25, she will celebrate 40 years as a city employee, most of that spent in aquatics at Joinville Pool.
She started out as a volunteer swim instructor, then taught swimming at Bayside Middle School for the elementary district. At 28, she became a master swimmer and assistant coach to the Marlins. There head coach Ray Taft was, she said, “so amazing, I wanted to be just like him.”
The best swim of her life was her first Golden Gate Bridge attempt from Lime Rock to Aquatic Park. It was about a mile. She didn’t wear a wetsuit and the water was about 50 degrees. It was a perfect day. The sun was shining and the water was flat. Just swimming by the bridge was like a religious experience. A friend asked aren’t you afraid of how deep the water is? The 5-foot Siddons laughed and said, “at my height everything is deep.”
As a child, she had a dream about swimming the 13 miles across Lake Tahoe. Later on, she made it about 10 miles until she couldn’t move her legs and arms and agreed to let a boat take her to shore.
Siddons doesn’t swim competitively anymore. She swims two to three times a week and water walks five days. Her work schedule remains challenging. She gets up at 4:30 a.m. to head for the Y where she has been a lifeguard for 20 years. Her five-day-a-week shift is from 5:15 a.m. to 9 a.m. In the summer, she then goes to the city’s Joinville pool (her favorite because it’s outdoors and in a beautiful site) and year round she teaches a course on “fear of water” at Burlingame High. Siddons has two grown children who are both swimmers and two grandchildren who swim but she complained “ with their heads out of the water.”
She loves passing on to all of her students, especially children, her passion. Water’s magical. It supports you and takes away your pain.
When voters chose district over countywide elections in November 2012, they expected the most radical change would be voting for just one, instead of five supervisors. But the new maps, prepared by a committee as part of the settlement between the county and a group of civil rights lawyers, are something else. San Mateo and Menlo Park could be split between two supervisors and some districts may be based more on race and income than geography. For some cities, the committee’s recommendations make sense. Redwood Shores will be reunited with Redwood City and South San Francisco will be less cut up. The supervisors will have the final say as they start debating the issue tomorrow.
The committee’s goal was to get more people of color on the board. That was also a factor in abandoning countywide elections to make it easier and cheaper for a candidate to run in just his or her own district. But playing around with geography doesn’t always work. Neighborhoods change over time. And much depends on the candidate. Ruben Barrales won a smashing victory throughout the county as the first Hispanic member of the Board of Supervisors before the move to district elections. Today, Redwood City Mayor Alicia Aguirre could probably win a seat countywide. So could San Mateo Mayor David Lim. Ironically, in Daly City, the most non-white district in the county, where Filipinos and Latinos predominate, the leading candidate for a seat on the board when Adrienne Tissier is termed out, is blue-eyed Caucasian David Canepa, a member of the Daly City Council. Fellow councilmembers Sal Torres (who was a member of the boundary committee) and Michael Guingona have not expressed interest although district elections could work in their favor.
As the supes grapple with the new maps, maybe the change to district elections is enough of a change for now. Maybe the supes might want to wait for the next census before more serious tinkering.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.