Legislative Authority

Established by State Law in 1963, the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is a regulatory agency with quasi-legislative authority. (To view the original LAFCO statutes, click . Note these statutes have been repealed.) While having county-wide jurisdiction, LAFCO is independent of county government. LAFCOs were designed to provide assistance to local agencies in overseeing jurisdictional boundary changes. LAFCOs are governed by the Cortese/Knox/Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Government Code Section 56000, et seq.).

General Purpose and Responsibilities

LAFCO is responsible for coordinating, directing, and overseeing logical and timely changes to local governmental boundaries, including annexation and detachment of territory, incorporation of cities, formation of special districts, and consolidation, merger, and dissolution of districts. In addition, LAFCO is charged with reviewing ways to reorganize, simplify, and streamline governmental structure. A primary objective of LAFCO is to initiate studies and furnish information that contributes to the logical and reasonable development of public agencies. In 1994, LAFCOs were given the authority to initiate proposals involving district consolidation, dissolution, subsidiary district establishment, merger, and reorganization (combinations of the above jurisdictional changes).

Commission Goals

  • Encourage orderly growth
  • Promote logical and efficient public services for cities and special districts
  • Streamline governmental structure
  • Discourage premature conversion of prime agricultural and open space lands to urban uses

Spheres of Influence

The Commission also is obligated to develop and adopt spheres of influence for each city and special district within the county. A sphere of influence is defined as a "plan for the probable physical boundaries and service area of a local government agency as determined by the Commission" (Government Code Section 56076). Spheres are characterized as planning tools used to provide guidance for individual proposals involving jurisdictional changes, and are intended to encourage efficient provision of organized community services and prevent duplication of service delivery. Territory must be within a city or district's sphere in order to be annexed. Periodically, spheres may be amended, but are required to be updated every five years.

Municipal Service Review

A Municipal Service Review (MSR) is a study that must be conducted under the provisions of State Law to determine the adequacy of governmental services being provided in the region or sub-region (Government Code Section 56430). Developing and updating spheres of influence and performing service reviews for each city and special district within the county is a priority for the San Diego LAFCO. These studies may be used by LAFCO, other governmental agencies, and the public to better understand and improve provision of services. Specifically, service reviews are required to address:

  • Growth and population projections for the affected area.
  • Present and planned capacity of public facilities and adequacy of public services, including infrastructure needs or deficiencies.
  • Financial ability of agencies to provide services.
  • Status of, and opportunities for, shared facilities.
  • Accountability for community service needs, including governmental structure and operational efficiencies.
  • Any other matter related to effective or efficient service delivery, as required by commission policy.


The enactment of the Cortese/Knox/Hertzberg Act of 2000 brought about major changes to LAFCO funding. To encourage autonomy, the new legislation requires that all cities, independent special districts, and the county share in funding LAFCO activities. This method of financial allocation reinforces LAFCO's independence and ensures that no single agency or class of agencies can control the policy direction of the Commission.

San Diego LAFCO

The San Diego LAFCO was the first commission in California to utilize its consolidation authority and in 1998 was recognized by the California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions (CALAFCO) as the most effective commission. Since 1988, San Diego LAFCO has streamlined government services in the County by consolidating 83 special districts. Each year, the Commission deliberates on approximately 75 annexation and detachment proposals involving city and special district boundary changes as well as about 12 requests for contractual service agreements to extend public services. In 2002 and 2004, the San Diego LAFCO was again honored by receiving CALAFCO's "Most Effective Commission" award.

Membership and Meetings

San Diego LAFCO consists of eight regular members: two members from the Board of Supervisors, two city representatives, one City of San Diego representative, two special district representatives, and one public member, who is appointed by the other members of the Commission. There are five alternates to the regular members; one for each category. Alternate Commissioners can vote only in the absence or disqualification of regular Commissioners. All Commissioners are appointed to four-year terms.

A Commissioner is not automatically disqualified from voting on items that affect the agency he or she represents; however, a Commissioner may voluntarily disqualify himself or herself. Commissioners must disqualify themselves if they have received contributions of more than $250 from any person or entity involved in a proposal under consideration by LAFCO. This disqualification requirement is determined through completion of a Fair Political Practices Committee disclosure form previously submitted by each applicant.

Both regular and alternate Commissioners are paid a per diem for each LAFCO meeting attended. Commissioners also receive reimbursement for authorized travel costs and mileage. Both regular and alternate Commissioners, except supervisors, file Statements of Economic Interest Form 700 when assuming office, annually thereafter, and when leaving office.

Regular LAFCO meetings are held at 9 a.m. on the first Monday of each month, except when the first Monday is a holiday. In those cases, the meeting is held the following Monday. Generally, meetings are held in Room 302 of the County Administration Center, 1600 Pacific Highway. The length of the meetings varies from one-half to four hours, depending on the complexity of the items on the agenda and the amount of public testimony. Occasionally, evening meetings are held in the community; this occurs perhaps once or twice a year, for controversial items such as incorporations or a complex, city sphere update.