LAFCo Frequently Asked Questions

* What is LAFCo?
* Where do LAFCos get the power to determine boundaries?
* What State laws govern LAFCos?
* What do LAFCos do?
* Which jurisdictional boundaries are regulated by LAFCos?
* Which jurisdictional boundaries are NOT regulated by LAFCos?
* What are special districts and why are they so special?
* How are LAFCos funded?
* How do I apply to LAFCo?
* How long does it take to process a proposal?
* How is the public notified about LAFCo actions?
* How can I become involved?
* How can I appeal a LAFCo decision?
* How do LAFCo actions differ from land use regulations such as zoning?
* Who is the City Selection Committee?
* Who is the Independent Special District Selection Committee?
* What are service reviews?
* What is a sphere of influence?
* What are Ventura County’s Guidelines for Orderly Development?
* In Ventura County, what is the difference between areas of interest, greenbelts, SOAR and CURB boundaries, and spheres of influence?

What is LAFCo?

From city limits to cemetery districts, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCos) are independent, quasi-legislative agencies created in 1963 by the California Legislature to control the boundaries of cities and most special districts. In carrying out this function LAFCos are charged with encouraging the orderly formation and expansion of cities and most special districts, preserving agricultural land resources and discouraging urban sprawl.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, California experienced a period of explosive growth. New cities were created, and existing cities were expanded, in what many planners and civic leaders considered an inefficient manner. A number of new or expanded cities had such irregular boundaries that service provision to some areas was infeasible. Numerous special districts were being formed to serve small or difficult to serve areas leading to inefficient or expensive services. Farmers and others were concerned about the unprecedented loss of productive farmland. The need for inter-agency coordination was not extensively recognized.

To address these concerns, LAFCos were created to act, where appropriate, to minimize the effects of unchecked urban sprawl upon finite prime agricultural and open space land resources and to encourage the efficient provision of urban services. To accomplish this goal, LAFCos must balance a number of factors including the adequacy of services, the need to provide infrastructure for healthy growth and the need to conserve the State’s precious resources.

Each county in California has a LAFCo. LAFCos are independent agencies that are not part of county government and are not under the authority of the county board of supervisors. All LAFCos include at least five Commissioners from cities, the county and the public. Many LAFCos, like the Ventura LAFCo, have representatives from special districts as well, although special district membership is optional.

A LAFCo’s diversity brings the views, perspectives and experience of various local agencies and the public into the decision making process. Although members represent constituent groups, each LAFCo Commissioner is independent when weighing and reviewing information and when making determinations.

LAFCos are generally small in size with a limited number of staff. Each LAFCo has an appointed Executive Officer and Legal Counsel who perform essential duties. A Commission Clerk generally assists the Executive Officer with office management and important proposal processing and public hearing functions.

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Where do LAFCos get the power to determine boundaries?

The boundary powers exercised by LAFCo have been delegated to them by the State legislature. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution … are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Each state reserved the power to determine how to organize its local governments.

Article XI, Section 2(a) of the California Constitution requires the Legislature to “prescribe [a] uniform procedure for city formation and provide for city powers.” The Legislature has the complete authority to create, dissolve, or change the governing jurisdiction of special districts because they receive their powers only through State statutes.

The Legislature prescribed a “uniform process” for boundary changes for both cities and special districts that is now embodied in the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (California Government Code Section 56000 et seq.). This Act delegates the Legislature’s boundary powers to LAFCos.

The State possesses the exclusive power to regulate boundary changes, which means that no local government has the right to change its own boundary without State approval. Local governments cannot use an initiative or referendum to vote upon a boundary change as an attempt to circumvent LAFCo approval.

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What State laws govern LAFCos?

The Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (California Government Code Section 56000 et seq.) is the primary law that governs LAFCos. This Act establishes how LAFCos are formed and sets forth the powers and duties of LAFCos.

Other State laws that are relevant to the work of LAFCos include:

* California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq.) and the related CEQA Guidelines (Title 14, California Code of Regulations Section 15000 et seq.) – Proposals considered by LAFCo are considered projects under CEQA and, as such, LAFCos must comply with CEQA.
* Ralph M. Brown Act (California Government Code Section 54950 et seq.) – This law, commonly known as the “open meeting law,” sets forth a variety of requirements and restrictions governing meetings of the Commission to assure that the public has an adequate opportunity to participate in LAFCo processes.
* Political Reform Act of 1974 (California Government Code Section 81000 et seq.) – LAFCo Commissioners and designated staff are subject to the conflict of interest provisions of this Act and must report certain types of economic interests.
* California Revenue and Taxation Code Sections 93 and 99 – LAFCos must take into account the revenue and taxation implications of proposals and initiate the property tax negotiation process among agencies affected by a proposal.

Copies of all California codes can be found at the California Law web site by checking the appropriate code (e.g. Government Code) and searching for the section number. Annotated and indexed copies of the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (California Government Code Section 56000 et seq.) are available at here.

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What do LAFCos do?

LAFCOs are responsible for reviewing and approving proposed jurisdictional boundary changes, including the annexation and detachment of territory to and/or from cities and most special districts, incorporations of new cities, formations of new special districts, and consolidations, mergers, and dissolutions of existing districts. In addition, LAFCos must review and approve contractual service agreements, conduct service reviews, and determine spheres of influence for each city and district. For special districts LAFCo may initiate proposals involving consolidation, dissolution, establishment of subsidiary districts, mergers, and reorganizations (combinations of these jurisdictional changes).

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Which jurisdictional boundaries are regulated by LAFCos?

LAFCos regulate all city, all town and most special district boundaries, including (but not limited to):

* Cemetery Districts
* Community Services Districts
* County Service Areas
* County Waterworks Districts
* Fire Protection Districts
* Harbor and Port Districts
* Hospital or Health Care Districts
* Irrigation Districts
* Library Districts
* Municipal Utility Districts
* Police Protection Districts
* Public Utility Districts
* Reclamation Districts
* Recreation and Parks Districts
* Resource Conservation Districts
* Sanitary Districts
* Sewer Districts
* Transit Districts
* Water Districts

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Which jurisdictional boundaries are NOT regulated by LAFCos?

LAFCos don’t regulate boundaries for counties and the following types of local governments:

* Air Pollution Control Districts
* Bridge or Highway Districts
* Community College Districts
* Community Facility Districts (Mello -Roos Districts)
* Improvement Districts
* Metropolitan Water Districts
* Redevelopment Agencies
* School Districts
* Separation of Grade Districts
* Special Assessment Districts
* Unified or Union High School Library Districts

Instead of using LAFCos, the Legislature has established alternative procedures to create and dissolve these agencies, and to change their boundaries.

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What are special districts and why are they so special?

Special districts provide important services throughout the State, even if you live in a city. If you live in an unincorporated area, you probably receive a number of vital services such as fire protection, water service, sewer service, and other services from districts established to provide those services. Districts are either dependent (governed by the County Board of Supervisors or a city council) or independent (governed by a locally-elected board of directors, or a separate board appointed for a fixed term). They are “special” because they provide services to areas that require special services above and beyond the regional services typically provided by the County.

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How are LAFCos funded?

LAFCo is required by law to annually adopt a budget for a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year. LAFCo charges application fees for processing proposals and can accept grants and other forms of revenue. Any costs necessary to fund LAFCos that are not derived from application fees or other revenue sources are apportioned by the County Auditor based on the budget adopted by LAFCo and charged one third to the County, one third to the cities based on total revenues, and one third to the independent special districts based on “revenues for general purpose transactions.”

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How do I apply to LAFCo?

While certain types of applications can be filed directly with LAFCo by a petition of property owners, the typical applicant to LAFCo is a city and/or a special district that proposes a change in boundaries. A property owner who wants to annex to a city and/or district should first contact the respective city and/or district. The city and/or district may have separate application forms and can charge separate fees for boundary changes. Once a city and/or district accepts an application from a property owner for a boundary change, the city and/or district becomes the lead agency for compliance with CEQA and determines whether or not to initiate the annexation and make application to LAFCo.

For annexation to a city, the law requires that the city first pre-zone the property involved. This is typically done concurrently with city processes to initiate the annexation. Once a property is annexed to a city, the city cannot change the zoning for at least two years after the annexation is completed.

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How long does it take to process a proposal?

The normal, routine proposal will take about three to four months to complete from the time a completed application is accepted by LAFCo. If protest proceedings are necessary the process can take four to six months provided no election is required. More complex proposals can take from six months to a year or more to complete.

If a proposal is approved by LAFCo and there is no majority protest, LAFCo proceedings are complete upon the recordation of a Certificate of Completion with the County Recorder. Recordation does not occur until and unless all terms and conditions imposed by LAFCo are satisfied, all fees have been paid (including fees payable to the State Board of Equalization) and after posting a Notice of Determination or Notice of Exemption for the proposal for the time period required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Thus, even for routine proposals, it will take at least 30 days after LAFCo approves a proposal before it can be recorded and deemed complete.

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How is the public notified about LAFCo actions?

LAFCo is required to notify affected agencies and the public regarding most jurisdictional boundary change proposals. Notification of pending proposals is made to County departments, County Superintendent of Schools, affected school districts, interested individuals, and other local governmental agencies.

Meeting agendas and public hearing notices are posted on this web site and at the Ventura County Government Center. Minutes of LAFCo meetings are also posted on this web site.

Meeting agendas are also sent to all cities and LAFCo regulated special districts in Ventura County. In addition, the Ventura LAFCo will e-mail meeting agendas to anyone who requests agendas and will mail meeting agendas to anyone who provides self-addressed, stamped envelopes.

For most public hearings all property owners and all registered voters within 300 feet of a proposal area, plus all property owners and registered voters within a proposal area, receive mailed notices of hearings. Public hearing notices are also published in the legal notices section of a newspaper of general circulation.

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How can I become involved?

All LAFCo meetings are open to the public and anyone interested in any aspect of LAFCo business is encouraged to attend LAFCo meetings. For general information about LAFCo processes and procedures, or potential future LAFCo actions, please contact the LAFCo staff.

If you are affected or believe you may be affected by a proposal pending with LAFCo, please also contact the LAFCo office for information. Questions or written comments in favor or against pending proposals are encouraged.

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How can I appeal a LAFCo decision?

There is no administrative appeal process of a LAFCo decision. Persons who oppose a decision of the Commission may request the Commission to reconsider its decision as provided by law. If there is no reconsideration or if, upon reconsideration, the Commission reaffirms its decision, the only recourse is to seek judicial review of the matter.

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How do LAFCo actions differ from land use regulations such as zoning?

LAFCos were created by the Legislature specifically to resolve local boundary issues. They possess the Legislature’s delegated authority to make decisions regarding jurisdictional boundaries of cities and most special districts, but their powers are limited to that subject. LAFCos have no general governmental powers, and thus no authority to regulate the uses of land (zoning, etc.), property development, or subdivision design (e.g. roads, sizes of water lines, etc.).

The power to adopt zoning and similar local government land use regulation is a part of the police power vested in cities and counties.

LAFCos do, however, engage in indirect land use decisions by approving or denying boundary changes to cities and special districts. LAFCo’s boundary decisions control access to public facilities and services that may be growth inducing (e.g. sewer services to an undeveloped area), growth supporting (e.g. boundary changes which affect already developed areas), or non-growth related (e.g. services provided by districts for rural areas).

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Who is the City Selection Committee?

California Government Code Section 50270 states as follows: “In any county in which two or more cities are incorporated there is hereby created a city selection committee the purpose of which shall be to appoint city representatives to boards, commissions, and agencies as required by law. The membership of each such city selection committee shall consist of the mayor of each city within the county.”

The City Selection Committee appoints two city members and one alternate city member to the Ventura LAFCo.

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Who is the Independent Special District Selection Committee?

Pursuant to California Government Code Section 56332 the independent special district selection committee consists of the presiding officer of the legislative body (e.g. the chair of the board), or another designated member of the legislative body, of each independent special district in the County. The sole function of this committee is to appoint two special district board members and one alternate special district board member to LAFCo. If the independent special district selection committee cannot meet due to a lack of a quorum or other reasons, the LAFCo Executive Officer is authorized to conduct a mailed or electronic ballot election of the independent special districts to fill any special district vacancies on LAFCo.

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What are Service Reviews?

Service reviews are studies and analyses that evaluate existing and future service conditions, and a review of the advantages and disadvantages of various government service structure options. For example, a service review of sewer services within a county might evaluate all agencies that provide sewer service to determine if such services are being provided in the most effective and efficient manner, and to make recommendations for changes.

With the passage of the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (California Government Code Section 56000 et seq.) LAFCos are required to conduct service reviews every five years based on guidelines developed by the State. As a part of the service review process, LAFCos must render written determinations of evaluation categories such as local accountability and governance, and cost avoidance. Recommendations from these determinations may ultimately lead to the consideration of identified government structure options (e.g. consolidations or dissolutions of districts). Service reviews will also to be used as information bases for other LAFCo decisions and as information resources for service providers and the public. LAFCOs must conduct service reviews either prior to or in conjunction with required updates of spheres of influence.

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What is a sphere of influence?

A sphere of influence is defined as, “A plan for the probable physical boundaries and service area of a local agency, as determined by the Commission.” LAFCos are responsible for establishing a sphere of influence for each city and district whose boundaries are regulated by LAFCo. Typically, a sphere of influence is the territory a city or district is expected to annex. Thus, spheres or influence are usually larger in area than the actual boundaries of a city or district, although they can be the same as the city or district boundaries.

Cities and districts cannot provide services outside their sphere of influence except in very limited circumstances. With the passage of the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (California Government Code Section 56000 et seq.) LAFCos are required to update spheres of influence every five years either in conjunction with, or after completing, service reviews. This Act also specifies the process that LAFCos must follow and the written determinations LAFCos must make in order to update or amend a sphere of influence.

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What are Ventura County’s Guidelines for Orderly Development?

The Guidelines for Orderly Development are what make Ventura County unique in the State in terms of County/city development issues. Originally adopted in 1969 by the Ventura LAFCo, Ventura County and each of the cities in the County, the Guidelines for Orderly Development are statements of local policies which provide that urban development should occur, whenever and wherever practical, within incorporated cities. Urban development is defined as the need for a new community sewer system or the expansion of an existing community sewer system, the creation of residential lots less than two acres in area, or the establishment of commercial or industrial uses that are not related to agriculture or the production of mineral resources.

The result of the implementation of the Guidelines for Orderly Development has been that the County of Ventura does not compete for urban development with cities and the County does not allow urban development to occur in a city’s sphere of influence unless the area involved is annexed to a city. For County areas outside a city’s sphere of influence urban development is allowed only in limited circumstances within the areas designated “Existing Communities” or “Unincorporated Urban Centers” in the County General Plan. The Guidelines for Orderly Development have been updated periodically, most recently in 1996, and have been effective because the County, all the cities in the County, and the Ventura LAFCo enforce them. The Guidelines for Orderly Development do not apply to special districts.

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In Ventura County, what is the difference between areas of interest, greenbelts, SOAR and CURB boundaries, and spheres of influence?

The Ventura LAFCo established areas of interest in Ventura County in the late 1960s. Areas of interest divide the south half of Ventura County (the non Forest Service land) into fifteen major geographic planning areas based primarily on topography and community identity. They are areas created by local policy that are not based on any legislative direction or mandate. The basic policies are to have no more than one city in any area of interest and to have areas of interest serve as planning referral lines between the County and cities for discretionary land use entitlements. Areas of interest have been reviewed and updated periodically in conjunction with the Guidelines for Orderly Development and the County of Ventura General Plan. Areas of interest do not apply to special districts and are separate from greenbelts, SOAR and CURB lines and spheres of influence.

Greenbelts are statements of local policy adopted by one or more cities and the County of Ventura, either by resolution or ordinance. In Ventura County greenbelts are areas where cities have agreed not to annex territory and the County has pledged to permit only open space or agricultural uses. Greenbelt agreements are policy statements only. They do not apply to special districts.

Greenbelts were created for different purposes, and are thus separate from, areas of interest. Greenbelts are also separate from SOAR and CURB lines, and greenbelt boundaries are not necessarily the same as SOAR and CURB lines. The Ventura LAFCO has “endorsed” each of the seven greenbelt agreements adopted to date as local policies and considers greenbelts in making decisions on city sphere of influence amendments and annexations.

SOAR and CURB boundaries are the result of various Save Our Agricultural Resources (or in some instances Save Our Agricultural and Open Space Resources) initiatives that have been approved by the voters as ordinances for the County of Ventura and, to date, eight of the ten cities in the County. Each of the SOAR ordinances is slightly different and each is distinct. This means that the County SOAR does not apply to cities and none of the individual city SOAR ordinances apply to the County or to another city. None of the SOAR ordinances apply to special districts.

SOAR ordinances are based on the general plan of the jurisdiction to which they apply and, unlike greenbelts, are local land use regulations that have binding legal authority. The SOAR ordinances for the cities of Camarillo, Fillmore, Moorpark, Oxnard, Santa Paula, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks, established a City Urban Restriction Boundary (CURB) that references the sphere of influence of the respective city, but the CURB line does not necessarily coincide with the sphere of influence. With limited exceptions, SOAR ordinances and CURB lines cannot be changed without a majority vote of the people in the jurisdictions to which they apply. For those cities that have CURB lines, services provided by the city cannot be extended beyond the CURB unless the voters first amend the CURB.

The Ventura LAFCo considers general plan consistency, including SOAR ordinances and CURB lines, in making decisions about city annexations and sphere of influence amendments. Even though LAFCo is not bound by SOAR ordinances or CURB lines, because they are local land use regulations tied to local agricultural and open space general plan designations and/or the ability to extend services, the policy of the Ventura LAFCo is not to allow city annexations or sphere of influence amendments into areas covered by a SOAR ordinance or outside the CURB line of a city. Thus, if a SOAR ordinance requires voter approval to convert land designated agricultural or open space on a general plan to another land use, or voter approval to extend city services, the Ventura LAFCo requires that the voters approve such a change prior to LAFCo action on any proposal to amend a city’s sphere of influence or involving annexation to a city.

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