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LAFCOs were created in 1963 by Assembly Bill 1662 (John Knox) with the initial tasks of reviewing and approving/disapproving proposals for the incorporation of new cities and creation of new special district in all 58 counties in California.  The impetus leading to LAFCOs' creation, however, began several years earlier when Governor Edmund Brown created the Commission on Metropolitan Area Problems and tasked this blue-ribbon group with making recommendations to coordinate the management of statewide growth and development.  Markedly, at the time,  county governments were largely empowered to form and expand cities and special districts without any substantive oversight.  The prior decade highlighted the need for coordinated management as California’s population increased between 1950 and 1960 by more than half from 10.6 million to 15.9 and approximately 100 cities and special districts were formed, often with illogical and overlapping boundaries.  It was also projected at the time that California's growth would double to 30 million by 1980.   The Commission on Metropolitan Area Problems presented its findings in 1961 and recommended, among other items, a single statewide commission be created to regulate the formation and subsequent development of all cities and special districts within California.  Locally elected officials responded disfavorably to this recommendation fearing a substantive loss in controlling new growth and development and began negotiating a compromise with the Governor's Office and Legislature.  This negotiation ultimately led to a unique compromise that remains largely intact today in which the Legislature sets policies and procedures for managing the formation and post-formation development of local agencies highlighted by the directive to curb sprawl and protect agriculture while delegating implementation authority to locally elected officials serving on local agency formation commissions or "LAFCOs."  

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Since 1963, the Legislature has enacted several significant changes to further define and empower LAFCOs in managing growth in California.  Notable amendments include:

  • Assembly Bill 2284 (Knox) was enacted in 1965 and provided for a one-year term for completion of proceedings approved by LAFCO.  It also required the Executive Officer to review all applications and file a report with a recommendation to the commission.  The legislation also formally titled LAFCO law as the Knox-Nisbet Act. 
  • Senate Bill 999 (Cologne) was enacted in 1968 and provided for the appointment of alternate members for city, county, and public representation on LAFCO.  The net-result of this legislation was to increase the composition on LAFCOs from five to eight (five regular and three alternate) members.
  • Assembly Bill 1155 (Knox) was enacted in 1970 to allow special district membership on LAFCOs so long as the special districts within the affected county agree to relinquish their latent powers.  This legislation also specified LAFCOs could charge filing and processing fees.
  • Assembly Bill 2870 (Knox) was enacted in 1971 and directed LAFCOs to determine spheres of influence for all local governmental agencies under their jurisdiction.  This legislation specified all jurisdictional changes must be consistent with the affected agencies' spheres within limited exceptions.  The legislation also authorized LAFCOs to conduct government studies to inform boundary changes and sphere determinations.
  • Assembly Bill 237 (Knox) was enacted in 1972 and allowed LAFCOs to require prezoning of land as a precondition to considering city boundary changes. 
  • Assembly Bill 1533 (Knox) was enacted in 1977 and consolidated procedures governing annexations, detachments, and incorporations into the Municipal Organization Act or "MORGA."  This legislation also established uniform protest proceedings. 
  • Assembly Bill 498 (Cortese) was enacted in 1983 and required LAFCOs determine spheres of influence for all local governmental agencies by January 1, 1985. 
  • Assembly Bill 115 (Cortese) was enacted in 1985 and consolidated the Knox-Nisbet Act and Municipal Organization Act into the Cortese Local Government Act.  This legislation also established a new requirement that new cities must have at least 500 registered voters.
  • Assembly Bill 2128 (Lewis) was enacted in 1985 and established broad authority for LAFCOs to condition approvals so long as it does not directly regulate land use or density requirements.
  • Assembly Bill 1335 (Gotch) was enacted in 1993 and empowered LAFCOs to initiate proposals for the consolidation, dissolution, or merger of special districts.  This legislation also mandated cities and special districts request and receive written LAFCO approval before providing new or extended municipal services by contract or agreement beyond their jurisdictions. 
  • Assembly Bill 2328 (Hertzberg) was enacted in 2001 and comprehensively updated LAFCO law as part of the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act.  This legislation incorporated many of the recommendations made by the Commission on Local Governance in the 21st Century, which was highlighted by requiring LAFCOs independently appoint their own Executive Officer as well as begin preparing municipal service reviews - detailed assessments of local service provision - in conjunction with updating spheres of influence every five years as needed.   
  • Senate Bill 162 (McLeaod) was enacted in 2007 to require LAFCOs to consider environmental justice to the list of factors mandated for review anytime a change of organization or reorganization is proposed.
  • Senate Bill 215 (Wiggins) was enacted in 2009 to require LAFCOs to consider regional transportation plans to the list of factors mandated for review anytime a change of organization or reorganization is proposed.