Local Agency Formation Commission’s Jurisdiction Did Not Depend On Identity Of Applicant

A local agency formation commission (“LAFCO”) could consider an application to allow an extraterritorial extension of urban services even though the application was filed by the prospective recipient of the services instead of the city that would provide the services. (Community Water Coalition v. Santa Cruz County Local Agency Formation Commission (— Cal.Rptr.3d —-, Cal.App. 6 Dist., November 18, 2011).)


The University of California Santa Cruz (“UCSC”) approved a long-range plan to expand its student population and building space. The City of Santa Cruz (“City”) filed a lawsuit because it was concerned about the impact UCSC’s expansion would have on City services. Pursuant to a comprehensive settlement agreement arising out of that lawsuit, UCSC agreed to apply to the Santa Cruz Local Agency Formation Commission (“Santa Cruz LAFCO”) for an extension of City’s water and sewer services to an area where new construction would occur. The City agreed to obtain approval from Santa Cruz LAFCO to amend the City’s sphere of influence to encompass the north campus area where the new construction was planned. Both UCSC and the City submitted an application as promised.

The Community Water Coalition (“Coalition”) filed a lawsuit against Santa Cruz LAFCO alleging that it did not have jurisdiction to consider the request for extension of services because UCSC, not the City, filed the application to extend services. The trial court found in favor of Santa Cruz LAFCO.


LAFCO is the organization that oversees urban development within a county. LAFCO has only those powers that are granted by statute, either expressly or those necessarily implied, including the power to authorize a district or city to extend its service or provide new service outside its jurisdictional boundaries. Government Code section 56133, subdivision (a), provides that a district or city may only agree or contract to provide new services or extend existing services outside its jurisdictional boundaries if it first requests and receives written approval from LAFCO within the county. The Coalition interpreted subdivision (a) to require that a city or district must in all cases initiate the request for approval from LAFCO.

Section 51633, subdivision (b), provides that LAFCO “may authorize a city or district to provide new or extended services outside its jurisdictional boundaries but within its sphere of influence in anticipation of a later change of organization.” Subdivision (c) provides that LAFCO may authorize service outside a city’s or district’s jurisdictional boundaries and sphere of influence if there is an existing or pending threat to public health and safety, the entity that submitted the application provided documentation of the threat, and LAFCO has notified any alternate service provider. The Court concluded that subdivision (a) limits the power of a city or district while subdivisions (b) and (c) grant power to LAFCO. In other words, a district or a city may extend its services outside its jurisdictional boundaries only if LAFCO approves its request but LAFCO may only approve a request under the circumstances listed in subdivisions (b) and (c).

However, the Court disagreed that Santa Cruz LAFCO’s jurisdiction turned on the identity of the organization that filled out the application submitted to it. Government Code section 56300 provides that each LAFCO must establish its own written policies. Santa Cruz LAFCO’s policy provides individual requests for extraterritorial service may be submitted provided that the affected public agency has submitted a written endorsement that indicates its willingness to provide the requested service if Santa Cruz LAFCO approves the applicant’s request.

Coalition asserted that Santa Cruz LAFCO’s practice of allowing individual requests permits a district or city to avoid Santa Cruz LAFCO’s jurisdiction and the application of any conditions of approval that Santa Cruz LAFCO may decide to impose. The Court rejected this argument. An application is merely the mechanism that triggers review by Santa Cruz LAFCO. Under Santa Cruz LAFCO’s policy, City will still be constrained from providing extraterritorial services unless it obtains approval from Santa Cruz LAFCO. An individual applicant may not file an application unless the city or district provides a “will-serve” endorsement. The Court concluded that Santa Cruz LAFCO’s policy of allowing individual applicants is consistent with section 56133, subdivision (a). Therefore, Santa Cruz LAFCO had the power to consider the request to approve the agreement to extend water and sewer services to UCSC’s north campus.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of the trial court. The fact that UCSC filed the application to extend services did not prevent Santa Cruz LAFCO from ruling on the application because City joined in the request by indicating its willingness to provide the services to UCSC.


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