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Kori Jensen
Kori Jensen explains why she should represent District 1 on Oceanside City Council during a special virtual workshop on Jan. 27. Courtesy photo
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Forgoing special election, Oceanside appoints District 1 member

OCEANSIDE — After a tense Oceanside City Council workshop on Jan. 27 to interview candidates and choose who would represent District 1 until 2022, members decided that Oceanside resident Kori Jensen was right for the role.

Jensen has deep roots in Oceanside starting with both sets of grandparents. On her mother’s side, her grandparents immigrated to Oceanside from Mexico, and on her dad’s side, her grandfather came from Minnesota.

Her mother worked for The Blade-Tribune, Oceanside’s former newspaper.

Jensen recalled walking to South Oceanside Elementary School from her grandmother’s house on Tremont Street between Kindergarten and third grade. After that period of her early life, Jensen moved around a lot but always seemed to find her way back to Oceanside.

“Home is where your heart is, and the best of my childhood memories and my heart will always be in Oceanside,” Jensen said.

Jensen is a real estate agent and drug counselor, though her counseling work has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jensen previously volunteered at the McAlister Institute in Oceanside, which influenced the priorities she has for the city today.

“I got to know and really care about a section of our community that I hadn’t had the opportunity before to interact with,” Jensen told The Coast News. “There you heard people’s stories about where they came from and where they’ve been, and you want to help them.”

Jensen went on to complete a certification in a drug and alcohol-counseling program at the University of California San Diego.

Jensen’s number one priority for the city is combatting homelessness. For her, one way to deal with that problem is addressing the city’s housing supply and finding permanent housing for those without homes or on the verge of losing their homes.

“If we can find permanent housing for citizens, it benefits everybody, including the client,” she said.

Jensen is also concerned about Oceanside businesses getting back on track and recovering from the past year’s pandemic hurdles.

Representing District 1, one of the most diverse districts in terms of socioeconomic status as well as business, tourist and residential activity, is no small task. The District includes Downtown Oceanside and everything along the coast starting from its northwestern border and stopping at Oceanside Boulevard.

Mayor Esther Sanchez was elected to represent District 1 when district elections were first implemented into City Council in 2018. Previously, she had served as an at-large member of the Council since 2000. She served as the district’s representative until assuming her newly elected role as the city’s mayor, which left the District 1 seat open.

Council decided to appoint a new member to District 1 rather than wait and spend the money on a special election. Though the other council members found it would be more prudent to appoint someone now rather than wait for an election, Sanchez strongly disagreed.

Sanchez is an Oceanside native who has lived in District 1 nearly all of her life, growing up in the Eastside community, along with most of her family stemming back five generations.

“This whole process has been very difficult for me as one who has lived in Oceanside all my life,” Sanchez said.

For the mayor, the appointment process was “not the most democratic” option the city could have pursued when choosing the District 1 councilmember. She felt the brief interviews Council had with the nearly 35 candidates were not enough for her to feel comfortable choosing a new member, let alone someone she had never heard of, and felt the city should have held an election despite the associated costs and wait time.

If the city had gone through with a special election, which would not have happened until November, Council would have continued working with only four members as opposed to five members for almost an entire year. The person who would have been elected to the seat would then only serve for a year in that role until the district’s term expires in 2022.

Cost estimates for a special election were not cheap.

City Clerk Zeb Navarro previously estimated that a special election would cost more than $250,000. At the Jan. 27 meeting, Councilmember Ryan Keim said a more recent estimate concluded that a special election would have cost between $400,000 and $600,000.

“Marshall Street Pool costs us $47,000 per summer to operate, Brook Street Pool is $500,000 a year, Crown Heights Resource Center is $122,000 a year, and Balderrama Recreation Center is $248,000 a year,” Keim said. “I think that $400-600,000 is not made up, fake money — that is real money that goes to real services and I think it’s incumbent upon us to look at qualified candidates and see if we can find consensus and find someone who can really represent our city.”

Both Keim and Councilmember Peter Weiss suggested Jensen as one of their finalists for the position. Councilmember Chris Rodriguez did not choose any finalists but opted for Jensen in the end.

Several residents who gave public comment during the meeting were frustrated with the Council’s decision to appoint yet another councilmember in a matter of three years. In 2018, Weiss was appointed mayor, and in 2019 Keim was appointed as a member. Both Keim and Weiss ran for reelection as council members and won Districts 3 and 4 respectively in the most recent 2020 election.

Jensen felt the tension regarding the appointment process during the meeting and in the days following. She said she understood why people were upset but felt it was more logical for the city was to appoint someone to fill the council seat now.

Since the Jan. 27 meeting, questions about Jensen’s qualifications for the role have popped up as well as questions about where she really lives.

Jensen is the owner of 815 North Pacific St., which is the address she listed on her application for the council position. Jensen also owns 7039 Estrella Del Mar in Carlsbad, which some believed was her actual residence.

According to Jensen, she does not live at the property in Carlsbad but her son does. She also told The Coast News that she previously rented out her North Pacific Street home on Airbnb, but said she now lives there and will not be using it as a short-term rental anymore.

“It’s my primary address,” Jensen said. “I’m not going to rent it out ever again.”

City Council members are required to live in the districts they represent. According to City Clerk Zeb Navarro, the Clerk’s Office cannot verify if an applicant or candidate actually lives at their stated address.

Following articles in the San Diego Union-Tribune and San Diego Reader scrutinizing Jensen’s residence, Navarro wrote on Facebook on Feb. 2:

“My office and I checked that the submitted addresses were in District One and verified the voter registration with the San Diego County Registrar of Voters. Applicants that did not meet either qualification were rejected.
“Additional vetting of the applications, including providing proof of residency, is not within my legal responsibility or authority as City Clerk. I cannot conduct additional screening other than what is prescribed by policy.
“I work hard every day to help maintain the integrity and independence of my office. With that, complaints alleging that Council Member Jensen does not reside in Council District One have been referred to the District Attorney’s Office.”