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Glossary of Terms

Definition of Common LAFCo and Planning Terms

LAFCos use terms from California state law and in the fields of public administration and regional planning. The common terms are listed below. The definitions intend to help the general reader and, therefore, do not necessarily coincide with legal or technical definitions.

Annexation: The inclusion of territory in a city or special district.

CEQA: California Environmental Quality Act. (Pronounced “SEE-kwa”.)

Change of organization: An alteration of government structure, including: city incorporation; district formation; annexation to, or detachment from a city or district; city disincorporation; district dissolution; city or district consolidation; or merger or establishment of a subsidiary district.

Commission: The governing board of a LAFCo.

Conducting authority: The legislative body of an affected city, district or county, which is authorized by the Commission to conduct protest proceedings for a change of organization or reorganization. Usually, LAFCo itself will be the conducting authority. Under a few circumstances specified in law, such as district formations, LAFCo will designate another public agency to conduct protest proceedings. 

Consolidation: The uniting or joining of two or more cities, or two or more districts located in the same county into a single new successor city or successor district.

Contiguous: In the case of annexation, territory adjacent to an agency to which annexation is proposed. Territory is not contiguous if the only contiguity is based upon a strip of land more than 300 feet long and less than 200 feet wide.

Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000: The collection of state laws that govern the changes of organization of local governments in California. The act begins at Section 56000 of the Government Code. (Also known as the Local Government Reorganization Act.)

Dependent special district: A special district whose board of directors is another legislative body, such as a city council or board of supervisors. Also see special district.

Detachment: The removal of territory from a city or district.

Disincorporation: The termination of the existence of a city.

Dissolution: The termination of the existence of a district.

Easement: A less-than-fee interest that includes selected rights, or grants the holder the right to prevent certain land uses. A property owner retains ownership and the rights other than those expressly limited by the easement. Easements may be granted for a number of reasons, including access, public utilities, conservation, open-space, and scenic purposes.

Effective date: At the end of the boundary change process, this is the date upon which the boundary change becomes legally effective. For instance, for a municipal annexation, the annexed territory becomes part of the city on the effective date. Then the city’s ordinances apply to the annexed territory, and the city provides services to the territory.

Environmental Impact Report (EIR): As required by the California Environmental Quality Act, a document prepared by a public agency that examines the potential environmental impacts of a project and evaluates alternatives to avoid and mitigate impacts.

Environmental Justice: As used in LAFCo law, environmental justice means the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures, and incomes with respect to the location of public facilities and the provision of public services.

Extraterritorial service: A situation in which a city or special district is authorized by LAFCo to extend limited services to certain properties outside its boundaries. (Also known as out-of-agency service agreements.)

Formation: The creation of a district.

General Plan: A document containing a statement of development policies including a diagram and text setting forth the objectives of the plan. The general plan must include certain state mandated elements related to and use, circulation, housing, conservation, open-space, noise and safety.

Incorporation: The creation of a city.

Independent special district: A special district that has a directly elected board of directors. (see also special district)

Inhabited territory: Territory within which 12 or more registered voters reside.

Initiating petition: A document signed either by registered voters or landowners that requests LAFCo to consider a change of organization or reorganization.

Island: Unincorporated territory that is entirely surrounded or substantially surrounded by a city.

Lead agency: As used in the environmental review process, a lead agency is a public agency that acts first on a project and takes the lead in preparing the environmental review document.

Merger: The termination of the existence of a district, and the assumption of the district's responsibilities by a city.

Negative Declaration: A document, prepared by a public agency administering the California Environmental Quality Act, stating that a project would not have a significant effect on the environment.

Prezoning: A zoning designation, formally adopted by a city, that applies to property outside city limits. Prezoning has no regulatory effect until the property is annexed. (Also see zoning.)

Prime agricultural land: An area of land that has not been developed for a use other than agriculture and meets certain criteria related to soil classification or crop and livestock carrying capacity.

Principal act: The sections of state law under which authority a district was formed and now operates. The Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act provides for a formation process, but is not the principal act under which districts operate. An example of a principal act is Recreation and Park District Law, commencing with Section 5780 of the Public Resources Code.

Principal county: For districts located in more than one county, the county in which all boundary change applications are filed at LAFCo. A principal county is determined to be the county with the largest share of assessed value of taxable property within the district.

Protest proceedings: A process under state law which occurs after LAFCo approval of certain boundary changes, which provides notice to registered voters and property owners within the subject territory, and allows for written protest to be filed. Certain thresholds of protest can trigger either an election to be scheduled on the question of the boundary change, or a termination of the boundary change.

Redevelopment: A process under which a city or county can utilize increases in property tax revenue to finance capital improvements in an area. Redevelopment agency formations and boundary changes are not subject to LAFCo review.

Reorganization: Two or more changes of organization initiated in a single proposal.

Responsible agency: As used in the environmental review process, a responsible agency is a public agency that considers a project after a lead agency has prepared an environmental review document and granted its approval for the project. The responsible agency uses the environmental review document when considering the project.

Services review: A LAFCo study conducted for a county or an area of a county, examining all public service needs for the area and recommending actions to promote the efficient provision of public services. (Also known as municipal services review (MSR).

Special district: A local governmental agency formed pursuant to general law of the state or special act.

Specific plan: A policy statement and implementation tool that is used to address a single project or planning problem. Specific plans contain concrete standards and development criteria that supplement those of the general plan.

Sphere of influence: A plan adopted by LAFCo for the probable physical boundaries and service areas of a city or district.

Sphere of influence amendment: The changing or modification of an adopted sphere of influence.

Sphere of influence determinations: In establishing a sphere of influence, the Commission must consider and prepare written determinations related to present and planned land uses, need and capacity of public facilities, and existence of social and economic communities of interest.

Sphere of influence time frame: In establishing a sphere of influence, particular emphasis is placed on projected service demands for the next five years. This is consistent with the time frames of the land use and public service plans of the affected agencies (e.g., general plans, capital improvement plans, district service plans, etc.).

Subsidiary district: A district of limited powers for which a city council is designated as the ex officio board of directors of the district. At least 70% of the district’s land area and number of registered voters must be within the city limits for a district to become a subsidiary district.

Uninhabited territory: Territory within which less than 12 registered voters reside.

Urban limit line: A planning boundary established by a city or county that shows the limits of urban development (i.e., development greater than one residence per acre). Also referred to as urban development area, urban development boundary, etc.

Zoning: The primary instrument for implementing the general plan. Zoning divides a community into districts or "zones" that specify the permitted/prohibited land uses

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