LAFCo is No Laughing Matter

LAFCO: Not a laughing matter!

By Paul Stein

What is the Local Agency Formation Commission?

The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFC0) is a political subdivision of the State of California. LAFC0s are independent agencies ensuring that changes in government organizations facilitate efficient delivery of services and preserves agricultural land resources. They provide orderly formation and development of local governmental agencies in all 58 counties.

What is LAFCo’s authority?

LAFCo has both regulatory and planning authority:

  •  As a regulatory agency, LAFCo is charged with “discouraging urban sprawl and encouraging the orderly formation and development of local agencies” based on “local circumstances and conditions.” LAFCo’s regulatory responsibilities include reviewing, approving or denying proposals to annex land to cities or special districts.
  •  As a planning agency, LAFCo is mandated to define and update the “sphere of influence” of each city and special district every five years. In updating spheres of influence, the LAFCo must prepare Municipal Service Reviews (MSR) of relevant local agencies and services. A LAFCo may initiate proposals to consolidate special districts, merge a special district with a city, dissolve a special district, establish a subsidiary district, or any combination of these changes.

Why was LAFCo Created?

The creation of LAFCo was a legislative response to actions by local jurisdictions in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Local agencies were incorporating large, irregular portions of land in a manner that promoted irrational urban boundaries and unnecessary conversion of prime agricultural land, thus creating isolated populations lacking efficient services and utilities. In 1963, the Legislature established LAFCo in each county to regulate boundary changes, serving as a “watchdog” in promoting orderly development and discouraging urban sprawl.

The Legislature recognized the connection between urban sprawl and loss of prime agricultural land, and how local government was forming new service areas. In response to these concerns, LAFCos were charged with implementing changes in governmental organization, to preserve agricultural and open space land resources and provide for efficient delivery of services.

The Legislature further expanded the authority of LAFCos in 1972 and ordered each agency to adopt a sphere of influence within its jurisdiction. The sphere is the physical boundary and service area each local government agency is expected to serve. This new authority was born of concerns that LAFCos were responding reactively without considering long-term regional issues. Each proposal the Commission considers must be consistent with the overall sphere plan.

How are members of the LAFCo Board Selected?

The LAFCo Board is comprised of seven voting members: two members are appointed from the Board of Supervisors; two members are appointed from the Angels Camp City Council; two members are appointed from the Special Districts Association; one public member at large is appointed from the seated elected officials. Each member serves four years and may be reappointed at the end of each term. Alternate members represent each respective agency to fill absences as they occur.

How is LAFCo funded?

Funding is provided through a combination of application fees and charges from the general tax revenue of Calaveras County, Independent Special Districts within the County, and the City of Angels as requested by the Commission in accordance with the LAFCo Act.

What is a Municipal Service Review?

In 1997, the Legislature assembled a Commission on Local Governance in the 21st Century to examine governance issues with special attention to the Local Government Reorganization Act.

As a result of the Commission’s findings, LAFCos are now required to conduct a service review of the municipal services provided throughout the county. If you are unsatisfied with the services you are receiving from your City, County, Water Agency, Fire District or other government entity, be watchful for when LAFCo reviews the sphere of influence for this agency. It is during these public hearing that you will have the most opportunity to offer corrective suggestions to the respective public agency.   LAFCo meeting are open to the public, and participation is always encouraged when the Municipal Service Review of a particular agency is under consideration.

What is the Importance of LAFCo in Calaveras County?

LAFCos were created through the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Act which makes them state agencies, even though the Board is comprised of local elected officials and public members.. Most importantly, the decisions of LAFCo are not accountable to anyone beyond the legislature and the courts and must be independent of city, district, or county government. There is no appeal to the Board of Supervisors, which make LAFCo an independent and very powerful form of local government in Calaveras County. As you can see, this authority of LAFCo is no laughing matter.

Paul Stein is a freelance writer and former Calaveras County supervisor.  Contact him at [email protected]. Send news tips to [email protected].

LAFCo at a Glance:

Mission of LAFCo: The Local Agency Formation Commission of Calaveras County is committed to serving the citizens, governmental agen­cies, and applicants of its jurisdiction by using its authority, knowledge and expertise to make beneficial changes in the structure of public agencies through special studies, programs and actions resulting in the resolution of conflicts; or­derly growth, development, and governance of communities within Calaveras County; cost-effective delivery of services; and timely processing of applications.

Board Makeup: Two County Supervisors; Two City of Angels Council members; Two Special District members; One Public Member.

Meetings: 4th Monday of the Month at 6:00 pm in the Board of Supervisors Chambers in Government Center, 891 Mountain Ranch Road, San Andreas.

2012-2013 Adopted Final Budget: $123,691.00 

Revenue Sources: 1/3 annual budget each from Calaveras County, City of Angels, Special Districts

Executive Director: John Benoit

Executive Director Salary: $40,000 (part time)

Number of Staff: one part-time Clerk

Address: Calaveras LAFCo, P.O. Box 2694 Granite Bay, CA 95746

Phone: 209-754-6511