Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo): Charged with Regional Preservation of Open Space & Agricultural Lands

By Ali Ong Lee


International news has been featuring Brexit, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union that draws more distinct lines at its borders.  National news has been featuring controversial politics, policies, and practices at the Mexican border.  Local news has featured Humboldt County Planning Commission decisions, and recently mentioned the Humboldt Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), responsible for drawing borders for cities and special districts.

What is LAFCo?

LAFCo, in Humboldt ( as in other California counties, is an obscure independent planning and regulatory agency established to oversee the boundaries for municipal services and the agencies providing those services.

In 2003, Chair Tom Torlakson of the Senate Committee on Local Government, summed-up well the purpose of LAFCo as part of a guide for citizens:

“City limits and district boundaries shape California’s future. Drawing these lines controls who gets to develop land, who pays which taxes, and who receives public services.”

LAFCo’s History

Established in 1963, the California State Legislature created LAFCos in each county to be watchdogs with quasi-legislative powers for planning and regulation:

  1. To discourage urban sprawl;
  2. To encourage orderly growth and government;
  3. To preserve open space and agricultural lands.

Expanded powers in 1971 charged LAFCos to determine future growth boundaries, also known as Spheres of Influence (SOIs), for cities and special districts providing a range of common municipal services: parks, water, sewer, lighting, recreation, and fire protection services.

Less common services provided by special districts overseen by Humboldt LAFCo are, for example:

  • Petrolia Cemetery District and the Fortuna Cemetery District;
  • Reclamation District 768 (Land Reclamation and Levee Maintenance);
  • Resort Improvement, District No. 1 (Shelter Cove);
  • Southern Humboldt Community Healthcare District;

Not all Special Districts, like school districts, fall under LAFCo’s purview.

In 2000, the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act expanded LAFCo powers further to update Municipal Service Reviews (MSRs) every five years (

Humboldt LAFCo

Humboldt LAFCo’s website states: “Each LAFCo operates independently of the state and local government agencies. However, LAFCOs are tasked with administering a section of Government Code (Section 5600, et. Seq.)” by a commission comprised of mostly elected government representatives.  Humboldt LAFCo has a commission of seven members (with alternates):

  • Two county board of supervisors;
  • Two city members;
  • Two district members;
  • One public member.

Commissioners are paid a $20 honorarium per meeting in which they participate.


In early 2021, LAFCo will likely address the following MSR & SOI Updates:

  • City of Fortuna (January 20th LAFCo meeting);
  • City of Trinidad (January 20th LAFCo meeting;)
  • Big Lagoon Community Services District;
  • Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District;
  • McKinleyville Community Services District;
  • Westhaven Community Services District;
  • Willow Creek Community Services District.


Also upcoming in 2021 for Humboldt LAFCo:


Humboldt LAFCo Contact Information:

1125-16th Street, Suite 202

Arcata, CA 95521


Executive Officer Colette Metz

Senior Advisor George Williamson 


Humboldt LAFCo meetings:

Currently on Zoom, 9:00 a.m., the third Wednesday of every odd month.


California Association of Local Agency Formation Commissions (CALAFCo)’s Citizens Guide to LAFCos: