Property Owners To Vote On Storm Drain FeesNov 12, 2023 09:57AM ● By Jeanne Fratello
City crews vacuum trash from a storm drain outfall. Photo via City of Manhattan Beach.
Manhattan Beach property owners, check your mailbox: You're going to get a ballot to vote on a storm drain fee increase in the coming week - and you need to cast your vote by January 17.
The proposed increase represents a big jump, from an annual fixed fee of $19.12 to an average annual fee of $129 per parcel. However, that fee has not increased since 1996.
The city's stormwater funds pay for the maintenance of and improvements to its 81-mile storm drain system, which eventually leads to the ocean. The storm drain system is designed with the goal of preventing floods and sinkholes, keeping the ocean clean, and minimizing property damage.
At its Tuesday meeting, Manhattan Beach City Council members expressed reluctance for raising the fees, but emphasized that the larger amount was sorely needed due to increasing costs.
"Nobody up here wants to raise fees or taxes or go ask the public for a lot more money," said Councilmember Steve Napolitano, who was on the council in 1996 when the fee was first instituted. "We know things are tough out there, but things are tough in here too when it comes to this particular fund because it hasn't been raised since 1996... A lot has changed since 1996."
Napolitano noted that the cost increases have been due to increased labor, materials, and reporting costs; as well as state and federal mandates for clean water.
"The number one thing we hit on every survey is that people want to make sure that the ocean is clean offshore here so that's its attractive to our visitors - but to do that takes investment," Napolitano said. "We want to maintain those A grades from Heal the Bay and others, and to do that it takes money."
"This is one of those things that we don't want to do but it's necessary to do," added Napolitano, who characterized clean water efforts as "good for the environment, good for our city, and good for our economy. We either pay now, or pay more later."
"We're very blessed to live by the ocean, but with that privilege comes an obligation to keep it clean," said Mayor Pro Tem Joe Franklin. "It's our obligation to be stewards of the environment, to keep the ocean water as clean as possible. This intricate [storm drain] network is built for that purpose and it needs to be taken care of, it needs to be upgraded, it needs to be maintained - but we can't do it on the back of our General Fund. Think of it as an investment in our properties, in our infrastructure."
Councilmembers agreed to move forward with the mail balloting on a vote of 4-0. (Mayor Richard Montgomery was absent.)
Stormwater Fund Operating at a Deficit
The city's stormwater fund is currently operating at a deficit, according to city staff. The current fees generate approximately $350,000 in revenue, while the program has racked up costs of about $2.2 million per year. The city has been funding the difference through its General Fund, providing $6 million in subsidies over the past four years.
The city also receives funding through L.A. County's Measure W and applies for grants where applicable, although city staff emphasized that those dollars alone do not cover the increased needs. Consultants took into account an aggregate amount of Measure W funding and stormwater fees when determining the new amount for the fee, according to staff.
If the fee is not increased, the city projects it will need to subsidize the stormwater fund by approximately $11.4 million over the next six years - dollars that would take away from other General Fund items.
Under the proposed fee structure, 88% of residential property owners will pay a fee under $200 annually; 7% of residents will pay an annual fee higher than $200 due to more impervious square footage (lot square footage that is covered by structures or surfaces such as concrete that do not absorb water and thus create more runoff) on their properties. The remaining 5% accounts for commercial property. The fees are collected via the Los Angeles County consolidated property tax bill.
The ballots will be mailed out on November 17; property owners will have until January 17 to mail in their votes.
Given that the vote is meant for property owners only (one vote per parcel), the vote is held separately from a general election.
Property owners who do not want the fee increase already had one chance to turn it down. The city had mailed out 13,102 notices on September 22, giving property owners the chance to submit written protests. Half of the property owners would have had to file a protest to block the fee increase from going to a ballot. However, by the November 7 deadline, only 1,628 property owners had filed a protest.