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Dozens of people sought the vacant Oceanside City Council seat, and leaders selected someone who’s stirring up controversy in a few ways.
There’s been plenty of uproar in Oceanside recently over Kori Jensen, a Realtor and the city’s newest councilwoman, and whether she actually lives in the district she was appointed to represent. The dispute has been documented in numerous media reports.
But the most striking discussions have taken place in local Facebook groups, where highly involved residents share their opinions about politics and the community.
Many said Jensen had been on the short list of potential Council members, but few seemed to know much about her, leading to open speculation that her ascension was somehow improper. Others cautioned against jumping to conclusions, like assuming she’s pro-development because she’s a Realtor.
“I don’t know her personally but we should try to hear her platform,” wrote Nanette Emrich. “I do know she is from a family of original Oceansiders who have [been] here longer than most in this group.”
Let’s take a step back. Jensen is filling the District 1 seat vacated by Esther Sanchez, who was elected mayor in November. In December, Oceanside opened up applications to fill the seat, and a whopping 36 candidates applied. In January, the City Council decided not to interview all of the applicants and instead chose to interview the top five candidates selected by each Council member.
Of the 20 candidates the Council ultimately interviewed, the City Council selected Jensen, a Republican, to fill the vacancy on a 3-1 vote on Jan. 27. Sanchez, a Democrat, was the sole vote against Jensen’s appointment.
But some District 1 residents were concerned about the City Council’s choice to limit the number of candidates they interviewed because “the existing Council members — all white, conservative men — will choose another white conservative to further stack their political majority on the Council rather than choosing someone who properly represents D1 demographics,” Jason Coker, pastor at The Oceanside Sanctuary, told me in an email. Residents who live in Oceanside’s District 1 communities are primarily Latino and Democrat, according to Census and voter data.
So who is Jensen? On Jan. 27, she told the Oceanside Council members that housing, public safety, solutions for the city’s homeless problem and keeping sand on the city’s eroding beaches would be her top priorities if appointed to the position. In an interview with the Union-Tribune, Jensen, 56, said she’s a real estate agent who has also worked as a counselor and specialist for the McAlister Institute in Oceanside, Sovereign Health Group in San Clemente, and Luminance Recovery in San Juan Capistrano, and for almost three years she’s had a private practice. She told the paper her primary purpose is her work as a counselor, and she hopes her people skills will transfer as a Council member.
Earlier this week, the San Diego Reader published a report about how Jensen does not appear to live in the home she listed on her application because it also shows up on Airbnb. The Union-Tribune reported that, despite rumors circling about her residency, Jensen has roots in Oceanside and has lived at the address on her application full time since the beginning of the pandemic. “I used to go back and forth … I have an apartment nearby … two blocks away. I’ve had it for 13 years,” she told the paper.
Even so, some Oceanside residents have questioned how a seemingly temporary District 1 resident can represent them on the City Council, and whether the process short-changed others running for the seat.
“The Oceanside City Council (men) majority is running over the residents with questionable actions. We still don’t know who our new councilperson is and the more we learn the worse it looks,” Joan Bockman, an Oceanside resident and former planning commissioner, told me in an email.
Zeb Navarro, the city clerk of Oceanside, has been on the receiving end of the residency questions. He told me that the address Jensen provided is located in District 1 and Jensen is registered to vote at that address.
“In order to validate the addresses that applicants provide to the City Clerk’s office, city staff inputs those addresses in the city’s Geographic Information System map which shows them what council district they live in,” he wrote. “We also verify with the San Diego County Registrar of Voters if the applicant is registered to vote at that address.”
He said any additional vetting beyond this is not within the scope or authority of the city clerk’s office. Additional vetting is, however, within the scope of the district attorney’s office.
Steve Walker, a spokesman for the San Diego district attorney, said the office has received multiple complaints alleging that Jensen does not live in District 1. He said the office is reviewing those complaints.
Jensen will be ceremonially sworn in at Wednesday’s Oceanside City Council meeting. She started her term, which lasts until 2022, on Jan. 28.