Local Agency Formation Commissions or LAFCOs are regional service planning agencies of the State of California. LAFCOs are located in all 58 counties and exercise regulatory and planning powers in step with their prescribed directive to oversee the establishment, expansion, governance, and dissolution of local government agencies and their municipal service areas to meet current and future community needs. LAFCOs were established in 1963 and administer a section of California planning law now known as the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2001.
LAFCOs' regulatory powers are outlined in California Government Code Sections 56375 and 56133. This include approving, establishing, expanding, reorganizing, and, in limited circumstances, dissolving cities and special districts. LAFCOs are also responsible for approving all outside service extensions by contract or agreement beginning in 2001. LAFCOs' regulatory powers are generally exercised in response to applications filed by other local agencies, landowners, or registered voters. LAFCOs' are also allowed to initiate certain proposals if consistent with a recommendation from its own planning studies, such as establishing, consolidating, or dissolving special districts.
LAFCOs' planning responsibilities are explicit to informing their regulatory powers and highlighted by establishing spheres of influence for all cities and special districts. Spheres of influence represent the State of California's version of municipal growth boundaries and demark the territory that the LAFCO independently believes represents the appropriate and probable future jurisdictional boundary and service area of the subject agency. All jurisdictional boundary changes and outside service extensions, notably, must be consistent with the subject agencies' spheres of influence, with limited exceptions.
They were established in 1963 in all California counties except San Francisco, which would obtain one only in 2001, by the California State Legislature. Their current legal authority and mandate are defined by the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Government Code Section 56000 et seq).
LAFCOs have both regulatory and planning authority:
Under the agency, no community within an incorporated city has ever been granted city status. That is partially because the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 makes it difficult for communities to break away from their original cities, as the community must gain approval from the city from which it is detaching, and it requires two thirds of the entire community and re-affected city to agree. The only community within a city ever to be brought before a vote by LAFCO was the San Fernando Valley in the early 2000s, which was denied. No detachments from a city have been successful in the state since 1947.
According to the Committee on Local Government of the California Senate, LAFCOs regulate all city and most special district boundaries, including these:
They do not regulate counties or special districts, such as these: