LAFCos have been given three core objectives by the State, including:
To Encourage the Orderly Formation of Local Governmental Agencies
LAFCo's review proposals for the formation of new local governmental agencies and for changes in the organization of existing agencies. There are 58 LAFCo's working with nearly 3,500 governmental agencies (400+ cities and 3,000+ special districts). Agency boundaries are frequently unrelated to one another and sometimes overlap at random, often leading to higher service costs to the taxpayer and general confusion regarding service area boundaries. LAFCo decisions strive to balance the competing needs for efficient services, affordable housing, economic opportunity, and conservation of natural resources.
To Preserve Agricultural Land Resources
LAFCo must consider the effect that any proposal will have on existing agricultural lands. By guiding development toward vacant urban land and away from agricultural preserves, LAFCo assists with the preservation of California's valuable agricultural resources.
To Discourage Urban Sprawl
Urban sprawl can best be described as irregular and disorganized growth occurring without apparent design or plan. This pattern of development is characterized by the inefficient delivery of municipal services (e.g., police, fire, water, and sanitation) and the unnecessary loss of agricultural resources and open space lands. By discouraging sprawl, LAFCo limits the misuse of land resources and promotes a more efficient system of local governmental agencies.
The State has granted LAFCos authority over several important issues within their boundaries, including:
LAFCo's regulate, through approval or denial, the boundary changes proposed by other public agencies or individuals. LAFCo's do not have the power to initiate boundary changes on their own, except for proposals involving the dissolution or consolidation of special districts and the merging of subsidiary districts.
Typical applicants might include:
- Individual homeowners requesting annexation to a sewer district due to a failing septic system
- Developers seeking annexation to cities in order to obtain urban services for new housing
- Cities wishing to annex pockets of unincorporated land, or "islands," located within their borders in order to avoid duplication of services with the county
Sphere of Influence Studies
In 1972, LAFCo's were given the power to determine spheres of influence for all local governmental agencies. A sphere of influence is a planning boundary outside of an agency's legal boundary (such as the city limit line) that designates the agency's probable future boundary and service area. Factors considered in a sphere of influence review focus on the current and future land use, the current and future need and capacity for service, and any relevant communities of interest. With the passage of the CKH Act, spheres are reviewed every five years. The purpose of the sphere of influence is to ensure the provision of efficient services while discouraging urban sprawl and the premature conversion of agricultural and open space lands by preventing overlapping jurisdictions and duplication of services. Commissions cannot tell agencies what their planning goals should be. Rather, on a regional level, LAFCo's coordinate by reconciling differences between agency plans so that the most efficient urban service arrangements are created for the benefit of area residents and property owners.
Service reviews were added to LAFCo's mandate with the passage of the CKH Act in 2000. A service review is a comprehensive study designed to better inform LAFCo, local agencies, and the community about the provision of municipal services. Service reviews attempt to capture and analyze information about the governance structures and efficiencies of service providers and to identify opportunities for greater coordination and cooperation between providers. The service review is a prerequisite to a sphere of influence determination and may also lead a LAFCo to take other actions under its authority.
Initiation of Special District Consolidations
As of July 1, 1994, LAFCo's have the authority to initiate proposals that include the dissolution or consolidation of special districts or the merging of existing subsidiary districts. Prior to initiating such an action, LAFCo must determine that the district's customers would benefit from the proposal through adoption of a sphere of influence or other special study.
Out of Agency Service Agreements
Cities and districts are required to obtain LAFCo's approval prior to entering into contracts with private individuals or organization to provide services outside of the agency's boundaries.
Adoption of Local Policies
Each LAFCo may adopt local policies to appropriately administer the CKH Act in its county. LAFCo's must act in accordance with any locally adopted policies.