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Storm Drain Fee Increase Wins Approval

Jan 23, 2024 10:27PM ● By Jeanne Fratello

Stormwater pours out underneath the Manhattan Beach Pier during storms last January.

Manhattan Beach property owners have approved a measure that would increase the city's storm drain fee, the first such increase since 1996.

Out of 13,468 ballots mailed (one to every parcel owner in the city), 5,309 ballots were returned. The city received 2,795 (52.65%) votes in favor of the measure, and 2,514 (47.35%) against the measure, resulting in a 281-vote margin for approval.

The Manhattan Beach City Council had experienced some pushback on the issue at last week's City Council meeting when residents called into question the fact that the city would have the right to cast 70 votes on the measure for the 70 parcels it owns. However, city staff and legal counsel said that the city had a legal right and obligation to vote on the measure as a property owner.

"The city is being treated just like every other property owner, which is appropriate," said City Manager Bruce Moe at the meeting. "We’re subject to the fee just like everybody else is."

The City Council then voted, 5-0, to delegate the city manager to use the city's 70 votes to support its position in favor of the measure.

Even without those 70 votes, however, the measure still would have passed. Without the city's 70 ballots, there would have been 5,239 total ballots collected and 2,725 yes votes, or 52.01% in favor of the measure.

The votes were tabulated on Monday and Tuesday in public, in the community room of the police station, by a third-party company that was hired to count the ballots.

The measure increases the storm drain fee for the first time since 1996 and is expected to raise approximately $2.1 million per year to be used for Manhattan Beach storm drains. The funds cannot be taken away by the state, the county, or diverted to other purposes.

“The support for the storm drain measure reflects our community’s dedication to building a city that can withstand environmental challenges while preserving the beauty of our surroundings and the clean beaches and ocean we all hold dear,” said Mayor Joe Franklin in a statement. “My council colleagues and I are very grateful for the support of Manhattan Beach residents, and we look forward to maintaining the infrastructure that will prepare us for future storms.”

Average Homeowner Will Pay $129 Per Year

The storm drain fee provides funding to repair, maintain, and operate Manhattan Beach’s storm drain system. The storm drain system captures trash and pollution in stormwater before those items reach the beaches and ocean. 

Since 1996, property owners have paid a fixed fee of $19.12 per year, which is collected with the property tax bill. The average homeowner will now pay approximately $129 per year. The storm drain fee will be subject to annual inflation adjustments that cannot exceed the increase in the Consumer Price Index, upon City Council approval at a public hearing.

Under the new 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 will be collected via the Los Angeles County consolidated property tax bill. 

Property owners who did 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. 

Aging Storm Drain Infrastructure In Need of Repair

The city's 81-mile storm drain system is designed with the goal of preventing floods and sinkholes, keeping the ocean clean, and minimizing property damage.

According to a city staff report, most of the storm drain infrastructure in Manhattan Beach is 50 or more years old and was installed as the city developed. "Engineering reports show that many storm drains are in need of repair or replacement as they deteriorate and fail," according to the report. "When storm drains fail they create sinkholes and cause flooding that damages streets, sidewalks, and public and private property. Outdated storm drains are not as effective in preventing trash, toxic chemicals, and pollutants from reaching the ocean, beaches, and waterways. The cost to proactively repair or replace aging storm drains is far less than the cost of reconstructing storm drains when they fail, potentially creating sinkholes and property damage."

(City crews vacuum trash from a storm drain outfall. Photo via City of Manhattan Beach.)


The storm drain fund is currently operating at a deficit, according to city staff. The previous fees had generated approximately $350,000 in revenue, while the program 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 at a meeting last November that those dollars alone do not cover the increased needs. Consultants took into account an aggregate amount of Measure W funding and storm drain fees when determining the new amount for the fee, according to staff.

If the fee increase had not passed, the city projected that it would have needed to subsidize the storm drain fund by approximately $11.4 million over the next six years - dollars that the city said would take away from other General Fund items such as 9-1-1 emergency response, fire protection, police patrols, pothole repair, and parks and recreation.

Funds from the fees may only be used for repairs, operations, maintenance, and improvements to the City of Manhattan Beach’s aging storm drain system, including:

  • Reconstructing or replacing aging storm drains that are identified by engineers as at risk for collapse or failure;
  • Installing and maintaining storm drain devices that protect local beaches, waterways, and the ocean from trash and pollution;
  • Inspecting and testing stormwater quality regularly to ensure clean water standards;
  • Removing pollutants, toxic chemicals, and infectious bacteria from runoff;
  • Reducing illegal discharges of pollution in local waterways.

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