FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
What is a Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO)?
LAFCO is an independent agency with countywide jurisdiction, created by the State Legislature to encourage orderly boundaries, discourage urban sprawl, preserve agricultural lands and open space, and ensure efficient delivery of services.
Why were LAFCOs created?
At the end of World War II, California experienced a dramatic growth in population and economic development. With this boom came demands for housing, jobs, and public services which triggered the sporadic formation and expansion of cities and special service districts, often with little forethought to planning or coordination amongst the overlapping local government jurisdictions. This unplanned development resulted in inefficient, expensive systems of delivering public services and the premature conversion of California’s agricultural and open space lands to urban uses.
In 1959, Governor Edmund G. Brown, Sr., responded to this problem by appointing the Commission on Metropolitan Area Problems with a charge to study and make recommendations to address the concerns raised by the “misuse of land resources” and the growing complexity of overlapping local government jurisdictions. The Commission’s recommendations on local government reorganization were introduced in the Legislature in 1963, resulting in the creation of Local Agency Formation Commissions or LAFCOs in each county with a mandate to coordinate the timely development of local governmental agencies and their services while protecting agricultural and open-space resources.
What does LAFCO do?
LAFCO regulates, through approval or denial, the boundary changes proposed by other public agencies or individuals such as annexations to or detachments from, special districts or cities; formation of new districts; incorporation of cities; consolidation of districts; merger of a district with a city; creation of a subsidiary district; and dissolution of a district. LAFCOs do not have the power to initiate boundary changes on their own, except for proposals involving dissolution, consolidation, formation or merger of districts. Cities and districts are required to obtain LAFCO’s approval prior to entering into contracts with individuals or organizations to provide services outside of the agency’s boundaries. Districts are required to obtain LAFCO’s approval prior to exercising their power to provide new or and different services.
LAFCO plans for orderly growth and development by establishing and considering amendments to the urban service areas of cities; establishing, considering amendments to and updating once every 5 years or as necessary, the spheres of influence of cities and special districts; conducting service reviews for cities and special districts in the county; and by working collaboratively with local agencies on growth, preservation, governmental efficiency and service issues.
What jurisdictional boundaries are regulated by LAFCOs?
LAFCO regulates the boundaries of cities (i.e. city limits, urban service area, and sphere of influence) and special districts (i.e. district boundary and sphere of influence).
Which jurisdictional boundaries are NOT regulated by LAFCOs?
LAFCO does not regulate the following boundaries: county boundary, school districts, community college districts, air quality districts, private water companies, mutual water companies and other local government agencies such as joint powers agencies and improvement districts; Mello-Roos districts, to name a few.
What is an Urban Service Area?
An USA is a planning boundary for cities in Santa Clara County. It delineates areas that are currently provided with urban services, facilities and utilities; or areas proposed to be annexed into a city within the next 5 years in order to be developed and receive such services.
What is a Sphere of Influence?
A SOI is a planning boundary that applies to special districts and cities. State law defines a SOI as a plan for the probable physical boundaries and service area of a local agency, as determined by LAFCO. In Santa Clara County, this definition is applicable to special districts. However for cities, it is the USA that is an indication of areas that the city will annex or provide services. For cities, the SOI is a long range planning tool to help LAFCO evaluate USA amendments and annexation requests. In addition, the SOI is sometimes an area where a City and the County may have shared interests in preserving non-urban levels of land use.
What are the Joint Urban Development Policies?
The Joint Urban Development Policies are what make Santa Clara County unique in the State in terms of county / city planning and development issues. These policies, developed through a locally controlled process that was driven by the cities and the County and adopted by LAFCO, the County, and the 15 cities in the early 1970s, can be summarized as follows:
- Urban development should occur only on lands annexed to cities – and not within unincorporated areas, urban or rural.
- Urban expansion should occur in an orderly, planned manner – with the cities responsible for planning and providing services to urban development, within explicitly adopted “urban service areas” whose expansion is subject to LAFCO approval.
- Urban unincorporated islands should eventually be annexed into their surrounding cities – so that the cities have urban service responsibilities and land use authority over all lands within their urban service area boundaries.
The result of the implementation of these long-standing policies has been that the County of Santa Clara does not compete with cities by approving new urban development in urban unincorporated islands and that the County limits development within rural unincorporated areas to rural land uses and densities. In return, the cities agreed to plan for orderly urban development and expansion, within explicitly adopted “urban service area” boundaries, which they proposed and LAFCO adopted. Changes to those boundaries require LAFCO approval. Additionally, the cities agreed to annex unincorporated islands – which were generally the result of past annexation practices and annexation wars between the cities.
What are special districts?
A special district is an agency of the state, formed pursuant to general law or special act, for the local performance of governmental or proprietary functions within limited boundaries. Examples include fire protection districts, sanitary districts, water districts, county service areas, open space districts, etc.
Who are the members of LAFCO?
Santa Clara LAFCO is composed of seven commissioners:
- Two County Supervisors appointed by the Board of Supervisors
- One Council Member from the City of San Jose appointed by the City Council
- One Council Member from any of the other cities appointed by the Cities Selection Committee
Two Board Members from independent special districts:
- One appointed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District
- One appointed by the Independent Special District Selection Committee
- One Public Member appointed by the other members of the Commission
Alternate commissioners are appointed for each of the categories. The commissioners and alternates serve four-year terms.
How is LAFCO of Santa Clara County 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 LAFCO 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 sixth to the City of San Jose, one sixth to the other cities based on total revenues, and one third to the independent special districts based on an alternative formula adopted by these districts.
How can I become involved?
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 LAFCO actions, please review this website. If you have further questions, please contact the LAFCO staff.