What is a Special District and What do They do?

Special districts are local government agencies that provide essential services to millions of Californians. Special districts are formed and governed by local residents to establish or enhance essential services and infrastructure in their communities. Each special district focuses on providing specific types of services. It is this focused service that allows for innovation and long-term planning to meet the community’s needs.

There are approximately 2,300 independent special districts in California, meaning they are governed by an independent board of directors elected by the districts' voters or appointed to a fixed term of office by either the city councilor board of supervisors. Dependent districts are governed by other existing legislative bodies like a city councilor board of supervisors. Larger independent districts have a professional manager, similar to a city manager or county administrator, to assist the governing officials. The governing boards adopt policies that the general managers carry out.

Just over a quarter of California's independent special districts are enterprise districts. Enterprise districts operate more like a business enterprise, charging customers for their services. For example, a hospital district charges room fees just to their patients, not the district's other residents. Water districts charge water rates to their customers. Virtually all water, waste and hospital districts are enterprise districts.

Special districts are primarily accountable to the voters who elect their boards of directors and the customers who use their services. However, although they are not functions of the state, the state also provides critical oversight to special district operations. Special districts must submit annual financial reports to the State Control-ler and must also follow state laws pertaining to public meetings, bonded debt, record keeping and elections.

To learn more, please visit districtsmakethedifference.org:


California Special Districts Association Mapping Program

Please click here for the California Special Districts Association Mapping Program