Local Agency Formation Commissions are independent regulatory bodies that oversee changes to the boundaries of cities and special districts. LAFCos were created by the Legislature in 1963 during the post-World War II housing boom to “discourage sprawl and encourage orderly government.” They are governed by the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Act. All 58 counties have LAFCos. However, San Francisco’s LAFCo is unique.
Since the City and County of San Francisco are consolidated, and there is no unincorporated territory in its jurisdiction, the San Francisco LAFCo doesn’t oversee annexations or boundary changes like other LAFCos. Our LAFCo wasn’t formed until 2000 when there was a voter petition drive to create a municipal utility district (MUD) that would extend to include the City of Brisbane. At the time, City Attorney Louise Renne issued an opinion that said a LAFCo must be formed before the Board of Supervisors could place such a measure on the ballot. That’s because state law requires LAFCo review and approval for the formation of a new municipal utility district. LAFCo was formed and the first chair was Supervisor Tom Ammiano.
Ultimately, the movement to create a MUD and other public power measures failed, and the LAFCo was eventually assigned the function of providing oversight and research on forming a community choice energy program, CleanPowerSF. In 2007, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed Ordinance 146-07 which mandates that LAFCo “advise the Board of Supervisors, SFPUC and other agencies on all aspects of development, implementation, operation and management of the CCA program.”
A $2.1 million memorandum of understanding was established with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which funded LAFCo research, contract work and staff time on CleanPowerSF. The result has been a number of key reports on the governance structure, risk assessment and implementation of CleanPowerSF, and how a local buildout of renewable energy projects would create green jobs.
Oversight of CleanPowerSF remains an essential function of SF LAFCo in 2019. The MOU fund currently has a balance of around $200,000. LAFCo is funded through this MOU, and the City and County of San Francisco is required to provide $297,342 annually from the General Fund. This pays the salary of the executive officer, legal counsel, the Clerk of the Board’s staff, SF Gov TV and other costs.
Special studies authority
State law gives LAFCos broad authority to conduct special studies regarding municipal services, and this has been a significant function of the SF LAFCo. It gives LAFCo the ability to assist and support the City on studies and specialized consultant hiring, and can ensure the logical and reasonable development of communities and their municipal service needs. Some examples of SF LAFCo special studies include studies on energy services, tidal wave power, refuse, undergrounding of utility wiring, open source voting and increasing voter participation.
In 2019, LAFCo is leading a labor study on emerging mobility services that includes a groundbreaking survey of gig economy workers. The Commission is also keeping tabs on two issues Commissioners have expressed interest in: the establishment of a public bank and public broadband.
Commission and meetings
SF LAFCo is governed by a five member Commission. It’s comprised of four members of the Board of Supervisors, one alternate Board member, and one public member and an alternative public member. Commission meetings are generally held on the third Friday of every month, with the exception of August and December, when there are no meetings scheduled because of the winter and summer recesses. The LAFCo office is located at City Hall in Room 409.
Former LAFCo Commissioners
Tom Ammiano (chair), John Avalos (chair), Sue Bierman, Michael Bornstein, David Campos (chair), Chris Daly, Bevan Dufty, Matt Gonzalez (chair), Tony Hall, Barbara Kaufman (alternate), Mark Leno (alternate), Edwin Lindo (alternate), Eric Mar, Sophie Maxwell, Jake McGoldrick, Ross Mirkarimi (chair), Christina Olague, Aaron Peskin (alternate), Leah Pimentel (alternate), Hope Schmeltzer, Michael Yaki.
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