The end of World War II saw California experiencing a tremendous population increase, which resulted in the sporadic formation of cities and special service districts. The results of this development boom became evident as more of California's agricultural land was converted to urban uses. Premature and unplanned development created inefficient, expensive systems of delivering public services using various small units of local government. Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr. responded to this problem in 1959 by appointing the Commission on Metropolitan Area Problems. The Commission's charge was to study and make recommendations on the "misuse of land resources" and the growing complexity of overlapping, local governmental jurisdictions. The Commission's recommendations on local governmental reorganization were introduced in the Legislature in 1963, resulting in the creation of Local Agency Formation Commission, or "LAFCOs," operating in each county except San Francisco.

The Cortese-Knox Local Government Reorganization Act of 1985 consolidated three major laws used by California's local governments for boundary changes into a single, unified law. The Cortese-Knox Act became operative on January 1, 1986. LAFCO law was further amended by the comprehensive Cortese-Knox-Hertzberg Local Government Reorganization Act of 2000.