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What is a Special District 

“Independent, special purpose governmental units (other than school districts) that exist as separate entities with substantial administrative and fiscal independence from general-purpose governments” (U.S. Census Bureau, 1994, p.23). “Legally constituted governmental entities…that are neither cities, counties, redevelopment agencies, or schools” (Office of the California State Controller, 1994, p.2).


What does a Special District do?

Special districts fulfill a needed function, as determined by a local constituency. For example, the League of Women Voters identified the following types of special districts: Hospital districts, levee districts, community service districts, municipal utility districts, public utility districts, park & recreation districts, airport districts, sanitary districts, water districts, resource conservation districts, water storage districts. Additionally, special districts are formed to provide the following services: fire services (emergency mitigation), road maintenance, drainage functions, mosquito abatement, and library service.


Are all Special Districts the same?

1. Single Purpose Districts: The district provides a single service or function, i.e. street lighting.

2. Combination Districts: The preponderance of the fees charged does not make a significant portion of the district’s revenues.

3. Multipurpose Districts: The district provides at least two services, i.e. fire districts provide fire suppression, EMS, hazardous materials mitigation, technical rescue, fire prevention services, and arson investigation.

4. Independent Districts: The district is governed by an elected board. Created by residents who see an unfilled need or service. Independent special districts can determine their own budget, levy taxes, collect charges, and issue debt.

5. Dependent Districts: The district is governed by a city council or county board of supervisors, directly or indirectly. Joint Powers Authority or Joint Powers Agreement (JPA's)

6. Enterprise Districts: These districts are able to charge fees for some or all of their services, i.e. garbage, sewer, water.

7. Non-Enterprise Districts: Generally, they do not charge for their services, i.e., fire protection, and libraries.


How Many Special Districts are there in California,
Compared to Other Forms of Government?

  •  58 Counties
  • 470 Cities
  • 380 Redevelopment Agencies
  • 1,100 School Districts
  • 4800 Special Districts

What Laws Govern Special Districts?

All State and Federal Laws apply. Additionally, the following laws are particularly important for special districts.

  • The Cortese-Knox Act
  •  The Brown Act
  • The Bergeson Fire District Law