Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCos) were established in 1963 by the California Legislature with the initial tasks of approving or disapproving proposals for the incorporation of new cities and creation of new special district in all 58 counties. The impetus leading to LAFCos' creation began several years earlier when the newly elected Governor Edmund (Pat) 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.
The Commission on Metropolitan Area Problems and its findings ultimately led to a unique compromise between the State and local government as it relates to setting regional growth management responsibilities in California. This compromise 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 to locally elected officials through LAFCos.
LAFCos' power and authority have increasingly expanded since their creation in 1963 through additional legislation and instep with the State's ongoing interest in ensuring effective local governance. The substantive result of the additional legislation over the past 50 plus years is the delineation of two distinct LAFCo duties: (a) regulating the physical development of cities, towns, and special districts and their service areas and (b) informing such decisions through various planning activities.