When Nancy Hersman was first voted onto the Manhattan Beach city council in 2017, she was the only political upstart on the panel.
“I came on as brand new,” Hersman said, explaining she had experience as a former school board member, parks and recreation as well as planning commissioner, but never one of the city's top positions. “I came in feeling like I was the inexperienced one.”
Now, as the 21-year resident, mother of three and former attorney steps into the role of mayor for the first time June 4, she is no longer the newcomer.
“I’m excited about it...bring it on,” Hersman said.
The new mayor will be leading the city’s first ever woman-majority council—which includes two first-time council members Suzanne Hadley and Hildy Stern, as well as repeat city leaders Steve Napolitano and Richard Montgomery.
Hersman said she will focus on top issues such as environmental legislation as well as planning a celebration for the 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage.
More money necessary to keep stormwater afloat
For her first move as mayor, Hersman wants to draw residents’ attention to the stormwater fund—something she admits seems unexciting, but is actually extremely important.
“I would like to get the community to focus on stormwater,” said Hersman, a member of the city’s sustainability task force. “It’s a big environmental issue but I don’t think it’s ever been portrayed as that.”
Hersman explained the city’s stormwater fund - generated by an assessment on homeowners based on a complex formula that incorporates the size and runoff generated by their parcel of land - was set up in 1996 and has never been updated.
Thus, Hersman added, the money being generated by the assessment is no longer covering necessary maintenance to the system that keeps pollution out of collected rainwater which then directly drains into the ocean.
“There are so many stormwater projects that have to be done,” Hersman said, noting installation of debris collection devices, drain repairs, a monitoring system and master plan update as just a few. “We’re required to do these, but we don’t have the money to do it. So what happens is at the end of the budget year, we have to transfer from the general fund money to cover those projects.”
The city will be transferring $1,270,456 from the general fund to the stormwater fund in 2020 alone, Hersman added.
The money must be added to the stormwater fund to ensure the entire program remains efficient, according to Stephanie Katsouleas, the city's public works director.
That fund covers many activities, including but not limited to street sweeping, compliance monitoring of the shoreline and outfalls, education and training for city staff, businesses, restaurants, inspections, storm drain cleaning and stenciling and more, Katsouleas said.
“The storm water assessment should be updated to reflect the actual cost of managing storm water pollution,” Katsouleas said.
Hersman’s solution is to create an educational campaign about the stormwater system to hopefully get voters to understand its overall importance.
“We need to increase the amount that we pay into this fund every year to cover these projects,” she said. “It’s something that has to be put in front of the voters, but the bottom line is environmentally this what we need to do.”
A celebration of women’s rights
Hersman said her other goal as she steps into Manhattan Beach’s biggest leadership role will be coordinating a celebration of the 100 year anniversary of women’s suffrage and highlighting the rich history of the women who were a driving force in Manhattan Beach’s early days.
“It ties in beautifully with our city. Manhattan Beach was started by women before they even had the right to vote,” Hersman explained of the 19th amendment to the Constitution which was officially ratified in 1920, although women in California were able to vote as early as 1911.
Indeed, the Neptunian Woman’s Club—founded in 1909 by a group of 10 local women during a time when Manhattan Beach was unincorporated—played an integral role in the city, according to local historian Jan Dennis.
“These ladies were years ahead of their time, striving for the right to petition to become an incorporated city and influence the development of a new town,” Dennis says in her book “Skirts Across the Sand.”
These efforts came to fruition in 1912 when the city became officially incorporated as Manhattan Beach.
The Neptunians also helped to create the city’s fire and police departments as well as the school district, first library and botanical gardens, according to the Club.
“Women of Manhattan Beach have volunteered and worked hard…” Dennis said. “May the young women of future generations have the same commitment and willingness to work together while finding resolve from the courage and success of Manhattan Beach’s women of the past.”
Fast-forward a century, now the 10th female mayor of Manhattan Beach is hoping to remind the community—local youth, in particular—about where the city came from.
“Maybe it’s a parade or a fun picnic at the park or maybe it’s just educational materials for the schools (but) it reminds everyone that it’s only been 100 years that women have had the right to vote and look where we are: we now have a majority of women on the council,” Hersman explained.
“It’s something I want to shine a light on and say this is important.”
*Updated 6/6 to reflect new information about money transferred from general fund into stormwater fund