Esther Sanchez

Mayor of Oceanside, CA

Esther SanchezTell us about your background. What are the experiences, including education, that make up the person you currently are?

Daughter of an immigrant on my mother’s side, part of a 5 generation Oceanside family on my dad’s side, both of my parents began working as farmworkers before settling on lifetime work in a rubber factory (mom) and as a warehouseman at Camp Pendleton (dad). My mom had 1-year education in Mexico, but she always wanted to be able to go to school, so she encouraged me very much. I graduated from Oceanside High School, Brown University with a BA in Urban Studies, and UC Hastings College of Law. I worked as a deputy public defender for 20 years and have been on the Oceanside City Council for 21 years, the first 20 as a council member (overlap of 8 years). I was elected Mayor last year, the first woman, first Latina Mayor of Oceanside. I have been an activist all of my adult life, initially almost exclusively on behalf of the Latino community, becoming active on environmental justice issues. I believe my family, my culture, my community supported me in finding what matters most – which is family and community, seeking political empowerment. As a leader on behalf of all communities, I see the value and the urgency to have equal access for all – in order to achieve our maximum potential as a city – economically, socially, culturally.

What was your trigger moment and why this specific office?

My trigger was in 1998, serving as President of the San Diego La Raza Lawyers, seeing people like me serving as political leaders in Sacramento at the state level, primarily due to term limits. While I had been involved in campaigns every other year since turning 18, I never imagined running myself for office, until that moment. I ran and won my first election for city council in 2000. I’ve had the bug ever since then.

What made you feel qualified to run for office?

Background in urban studies/planning, as well as being an attorney. I was also very active in my community, born and raised in Oceanside so I knew my city very well, especially with respect to people’s issues. I also was/am very good at finding resolutions and bringing people together.

Do you work full-time or part-time?


Most people don’t know what their elected official does on a daily basis. What’s a typical day looking like for you?

Responding to phone calls and emails, attending regional and local meetings addressing a variety of issues (i.e., including COVID vaccines, economic development, issues affecting our poverty/communities of color), representing the city at various community events,  and running meetings of the city council. I also continue to be a community organizer, knocking on doors.

Additionally, they might not know what their elected official is responsible for. What is your role in comparison to other elected offices on your level?

We are a strong city manager form of government, so the city council is responsible for setting policy matters, deciding the budget that includes public safety (police/fire), parks/open space and recreation programs, housing, harbor and beaches, water issues (we have our own utility), economic development, affordable housing, homeless, after-school programs, and zero waste goals. We are currently studying involvement in Community Choice Energy JPA.

What are 3-5 skills needed to be successful in the elected office you served in/are currently serving in?

Know your community, be willing to set aside a number of hours each week to respond to various issues and be proactive, and be able to bring people together with staff and resolve issues.

What’s the best part about serving in elected office?

Being a role model and being able to affect systemic change for entire neighborhoods, especially within our communities of color and senior communities.

What has been the accomplishment you’re most proud of while in office?

Saving rent control for our mobile home park residents, expanding the number of parks and recreational programs, creating economic development where nothing was happening, creating over 1,000 affordable housing units, and empowering our communities of color and LGBTQ community.

In terms of finances, how much money did you have to raise for your campaign?

Last year my campaign raised approximately $90,000.

What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone who’s thinking about running for the position you serve/have served in their community?

Know your community and always be true to yours and your community values. Never compromise your values or those of your community.