In January 2000, a new law was adopted by the California legislature – the Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000 (Government Code §56000 et seq). Commonly referred to as “CKH” – this law provides important tools for Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCOs) throughout California and changed, forever, the way we do business.
Orange County LAFCO, and the other 57 LAFCOs spread throughout California (there’s one in every county), are local, state-mandated agencies that set boundaries for cities and special districts so that local government services (fire, police, water, libraries, etc.) are both efficient for the taxpayers and effective for the users. LAFCOs are unique in many ways, but one of their key strengths is the composition of the seven voting members (and four alternates) that constitute the LAFCO commission. Two of the members are from the County Board of Supervisors, two are elected city council members from various Orange County cities, two are board members from special districts, and a seventh member represents the public. I do not believe you will find a more representative commission in local government. Commissioners have different professional backgrounds, bring unique perspectives to the dais, and as granted by the California Legislature, are expected to exercise independent judgement on behalf of the interests of Orange County residents, property owners, and the public as a whole. For over 50 years, Orange County LAFCO has been responsive to the Commission’s legislative charge through its overarching mission of fostering orderly development and governance, and promoting efficient delivery of municipal services.
Since its inception, Orange County LAFCO has approved numerous routine and complex boundary changes. This has included the formation of nine of the County’s 34 cities and the consolidation of multiple special districts that have resulted in more cost efficient and effective public services. Over 15 years ago, the California Legislature provided LAFCOs with a tool to augment its mission to ensure the long-range health of municipal services. This process, known as Municipal Service Reviews or MSRs has become an important tool. It is a comprehensive study designed to better inform LAFCO, local agencies, and the community about the provision of local services and if there are more efficient ways to deliver them. The study looks at how municipal services are currently provided and financed by an agency, the costs to residents for those services, the level of service residents receive and, perhaps most importantly, potential alternatives for providing that service in a new or different way.
For this Commission, this means preparing one of these studies for each of Orange County’s 34 cities and 35 special districts. While this may sound like just another bureaucratic, “receive and file” report that will sit on a shelf gathering dust, it is not. In Orange County, MSRs have become agents for change with real, tangible results. As Chair of Orange County LAFCO for the past two years, I have seen first-hand the value of MSRs in assisting LAFCO, local agencies, and the public in evaluating and understanding complex proposals involving service delivery and jurisdictional changes. The real strengths of an MSR are that it gets people talking, discussing new ideas, and thinking outside of geographical boundaries with OC LAFCO bringing an objective overview to the process that no other agency currently provides. More simply put, MSRs plant seeds for change without forcing conversations or government action through sound data and a thorough vetting of important issues. Still not well known to the public and even some agencies, MSRs are often overlooked, but they provide an invaluable source of information and a platform for LAFCOs to advocate more efficient ways to serve the public.
As we begin planning for our fourth round of MSRs, LAFCO staff is meeting with agencies throughout Orange County to determine which agencies and services can most benefit from our upcoming MSR cycle. We are excited to begin this effort and look forward to also engaging the public. Interested in learning more about MSRs or other LAFCO projects? Go to Orange County LAFCO’s website – www.oclafco.org. Your thoughts, comments and observations are always welcome. You may contact LAFCO staff at (714) 640-5100 or LAFCO Executive Officer, Carolyn Emery at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derek J. McGregor, first appointed to Orange LAFCO in 2009, has served as Commission Chair for the past two years.