Sacramento’s Special Districts: Everything You Didn’t Want To Know

tower bridge

From where your body can be buried to how we fend off those pesky mosquitoes, the County of Sacramento has over 100 special districts serving your needs that you never knew you didn’t care about. But that’s what we’re here for.

You’re welcome.

So, what even is a special district? According to the California Special Districts Association (yes, there truly is an association for everything), “Special districts are a form of local government created by a local community to meet a specific need…nearly 85% of California’s special districts perform a single function such as sewage, water, fire protection, pest abatement or cemetery management.” Some exist to provide services consolidated over multiple jurisdictions. Most provide services in unincorporated areas that are typically provided by cities.

Today I’ll be taking you on a trip through all of the types of special districts provided to us.

Air Quality

Do you ever wonder who makes sure the air we breathe is not toxic, filled with pollutants, or just downright smelly? Yeah, me neither.

But as it turns out, Sacramento County has it’s very own Metropolitan Air Quality Management District that does just that. This 14-member board, first created in 1959 by the County Board of Supervisors, develops plans and regulations, monitors air quality, enforces on the bad actors, provides incentives to clean up pollution, and reviews land and transportation projects for their impact on air quality. That board consists of all five Sacramento County Supervisors, four members of the Sacramento City Council, one member each from the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom and Rancho Cordova, and one member representing the cities of Galt and Isleton. They meet the 4th Thursday of every month at 9:30 a.m. in the Board of Supervisors Chambers if you ever want to pop by for a visit.

Now, that’s a breath of fresh air.

Cemeteries

grave stone

People die. It’s a fact of life, ironically. While whether we live or die is not up to us, how we choose to lay our dead to rest, is.

Fun macabre fact of the day: Sacramento County has four different cemetery districts to serve your burial needs. These appointed boards manage the day-to-day operations of cemeteries, and some are quite old. For instance, the Fair Oaks Cemetery was first created in 1903. Though burial privileges are limited to current or former district residents/taxpayers or former residents/taxpayers that purchased lots or plots while they were taxpayers/residents, family members of those eligible for burial and veterans are still allowed. Also, if you’re strapped for cash, the County can foot the bill of burial.

The Elk Grove-Cosumnes Cemetery District, founded in 1949, meets every 2nd Thursday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the District Office. The Fair Oaks Cemetery District, founded in 1926 meets every 2nd Wednesday of the month at 9:15am in the District Office. The Galt-Arno Cemetery District, founded in 1949, meets every 4th Wednesday of the month at 3:00 p.m. in the District Office; and the Sylvan Cemetery District, founded in 1926, meets every 2nd Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. in the Cemetery Office. Drop by and give them a visit next time you’re around the cemetery.

Side note: this may seem unintuitive, but the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery is in fact NOT a special district, but a city park. While folks are still able to bury their loved ones there, it’s only in existing familial plots.

Water

When it rains, it pours, but is your County equipped to deal with that excess water? You better believe Sacramento is.

Our very own Drainage Districts, housed under the Stormwater Utility, provide drainage and flood control services. While this may not seem like a huge priority in a place where rain can be scarce, all you need to do is take one look at how many feet of water we would be under if our floodplains systems, like Natomas, failed. Pretty serious stuff. These districts maintain and operate water channels, drainage pipes, investigate systems and design problems, develop programs to reduce pollutants in drainage, and manage regional flood control projects, among other important tasks. This is often done in tandem with the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency (SAFCA).

In addition to dealing with excess water, we’re also provided water for consumption and other uses. Through twenty-five Water Purveyors, which include dependent water districts, autonomous water districts, as well as cities and private companies, water is distributed to residents in the county. This includes the Sacramento County Water Agency, the City of Sacramento, and three mutual companies that are not regulated by any governmental body which sell shares of the water system, or “securities”. These mutual companies are Tokay Park Water Company​, Orangevale Water Company, and Natomas Central Mutual Water Company.

Fires

fire

This seems particularly relevant given recent fires that have ravaged other parts of California. We are fortunate to be protected from flames by the fire departments of the cities of Sacramento and Folsom, as well as eleven Fire Protection Districts. While fire protection has been a necessity since man first harnessed its power to burn stuff, coordination of services has taken a convoluted path to get to where it is today.

Back in the day, just a short seventy or so years ago, fires were fought primarily on a volunteer basis. While some fire districts started forming, such as Galt in 1921 and North Highlands in 1951, there still wasn’t a great need for sophisticated coordination across the county. As the need became more pronounced, several studies conducted in 1968, 1972, 1977, and 1981, helped determine how to best manage the myriad districts with outdated and weird boundaries. Alas, through a very long series of consolidations, we have the advanced fire protection system we know today. What a day to be alive.

Utilities

This is a no-brainer. If you live in Sacramento, you’re likely writing checks for gas and/or electricity to one of these each month. That’s right, good old Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

According to the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), the Sacramento PG&E district was established in 1917, is governed by a board of directors, and is regulated by the Public Utilities Commission, Energy Commission, and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Now, that’s a lot of bosses.

SMUD was founded just a few years later in 1923, and is governed by a 7-member board of directors that are elected during the November General Election. Come say “hi” at their next board meeting held on the 1st Thursday of every month at 7:00 p.m. and the 3rd Thursday of every month at 9:00 a.m. in the SMUD Headquarters Building.

Joint Powers And More

As you know, things are usually done better when people work together. While governments don’t always do this well, they can make a big impact when they do.

Sacramento has several Joint Powers Agencies (JPA), which are entities that formed so that two or more entities can work together to do similar things, and play nice in the figurative government sandbox. These include waste management and recycling, employment and training, housing and redevelopment, public libraries, and transit, among others.

Here’s a list of JPA’s and other authorities for you:

Mosquitoes and Rodents

Oh yes, the bane of my existence. Aside from being possibly the most annoying creature on the planet, mosquitoes can also put our lives at risk. In fact, mosquitoes are considered one of the more dangerous creatures on the planet because of their ability to spread deadly diseases, including Zika Virus, Malaria, West Nile Virus, and Yellow Fever. No, thank you.

Luckily for us, the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District, founded in 1946, is here to ensure we’re not victims of mosquito-borne illnesses. This district is governed by a 13-member board of trustees which are appointed by the legislative bodies in Woodland, Winters, Sacramento, Isleton, Davis, Galt, Folsom, Citrus Heights, West Sacramento, Elk Grove, Rancho Cordova and Sacramento and Yolo Counties.

Parks and Recreation

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Who doesn’t love to recreate? I sure do. I  enjoy spending my summers paddle boarding on Lake Natoma, riding on the American River Parkway, and hiking around on my favorite local trails.

If you’re like me and never wondered who the heck manages all of the outdoor spaces we love, then you’d probably be surprised to find out that it is done by five different types of governmental entities: dependent park districts, independent park districts, county service areas, cities, and the County Regional Park System. Some are quite small, such as the Arden Manor Recreation and Park District which only spans one square mile, while others like the City of Sacramento park and community services department encompasses ninety-four square miles. Dang, that’s a lot of recreation.

Here’s another list for you:

Land Reclamation

Yeah, I thought the same thing when I read “Reclamation District”…what the heck is that? As it turns out, these districts are the oldest in Sacramento County. Most were formed prior to 1900, and some are over one hundred years old. That’s a trip.

These districts were created to maintain and reclaim land threatened by flooding, and use it for the purposes of agriculture, residential, commercial, or industrial use. Beginning around 1864, large parts of the Delta region were reclaimed by land investors and over the course of about 30 years, turned the region into one of the most rich agricultural areas in California. While it’s difficult to know just how many reclamation districts exist because historically little reporting has been required, there are eighty-four on record, with about twenty-one of them thought to be still active.

You can view a map of those districts here.

Resource Conservation

The Dust Bowl isn’t just a name for a Brewery in Turlock (they’ve got a great IPA, though), but also a dark time in America’s history. With little understanding of the value of preserving our soils, the introduction of large-scale agriculture, with almost no regulation, depleted the land of moisture and nutrients. By the 1930’s, much of the agricultural land across the midwest had become a barren wasteland.

Thus, the federal government sprung into action to preserve this land and avoid another dust bowl disaster, and in 1933 the Federal Soil Conservation Service (FSCS) was founded. Unable to address the needs of individual land owners, the FSCS pushed for the creation of local districts to help individuals get on board with taking care of the soil. This lead to the creation of Sacramento’s four Resource Conservation Districts, each with a five-member elected board of directors that work directly with the FSCS.

The Florin Resource Conservation District was founded in 1953 and meets the 3rd Wednesday of every month at 6:30 pm. at 8820 Elk Grove Boulevard. The Granite Resource Conservation District was founded in 1950 and is currently inactive. The Lower Cosumnes Resource Conservation District was founded in 1952 and meets bimonthly in the odd number months on the 2nd Thursday, at 7:30 p.m. in the USDA Service Center located at 9701 Dino Drive, Suite 170, Elk Grove. The Sloughhouse Resource Conservation District was founded in 1956 and meets bimonthly in the even number months on the 2nd Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. in Vince’s Restaurant in Elk Grove. Drop by and say hello if you’re in the neighborhood.

Sanitation

toilet

I’ve often pondered which direction the water actually should swirl in the toilet, but I have to admit that I’ve never given any thought to where that water (and waste) goes, or who is responsible for its disposal. Good thing someone has already thought of that for me. The Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District (SRCSD) provides wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal services to the major urban areas of Sacramento. Some of the more rural areas, such as Galt, Isleton, and Rancho Murieta, manage their own sewage services.

Street Lights

We all know the typical horror movie scene where a character is randomly walking through a dark alleyway at night, because of course they are. Inevitably that person gets kidnapped, attacked, or chased by something creepy. It’s funny because most of us would not walk down a pitch-black alley at night, and recognize the value of well-lit streets!

We’re fortunate to have street lighting in the urbanized areas of Sacramento, provided independently by cities. In addition to those, County Service Area No. 1 was founded in 1986, which includes all the unincorporated areas of the County of Sacramento and City of Rancho Cordova. This district does just about everything you would guess; it purchases, installs, and maintains all street and highway lights. In total, that’s 23,140 street lights and 3,770 highway lights. It is governed by the Board of Supervisors.

Transportation

We’ve all got places to go, people to see; and in all the hustle and bustle we may sometimes take for granted the transit systems Sacramento has in place and the value that public transportation brings to our lives. There are currently four special transportation districts which are responsible for public busses, light rail, paratransit, and other ways of getting around town.

The Sacramento Regional Transit District was founded in 1973 and currently operates over 60 bus routes covering 418 square miles, as well as an extensive light rail system. It is governed by an 11-member board of directors, all consisting of county supervisors and city council members. The Sacramento Transportation Authority was founded in 1988 by the initiative Measure A, with much of its funding earmarked for the construction of highways, streets, and roads, increased light rail service, expanded services for the handicapped and elderly, and air quality programs. It is governed by a 15-member board of directors; 5 elected officials appointed by the County Supervisors, 5 elected officials appointed by the Sacramento City Council; 1 elected official appointed by the each of the following city councils: Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Galt and Rancho Cordova.

Additional transportation districts include:

And so here we are…

Throughout this journey we’ve learned about how Sacramento manages its cemeteries, water, and lights, and even how fires are fought. I always knew government was complex and expansive, but by diving deep into just one county, it’s clear the tentacles reach far beyond what I had expected.

reading rainbow

To find out more, visit the Sacramento Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) website! But, what’s a LAFCo, you ask? Well… that another complicated story for another day. Stay tuned.

**Author’s Note: the majority of the data provided in this article is from the Sacramento LAFCo website on special districts. Some information may outdated or missing, please contact them directly for the most up-to-date information.

Legal Weed: The Low Down in Sac Town

weed

As a lobbyist for a variety of industries, I have to admit that working within the cannabis space is thrilling. It is not often that one gets an opportunity to actively influence an entirely new sector, particularly when so much is happening so quickly.

And it can be kind of a whirlwind to understand if you’re not immersed in it.

At this point, most folks are aware that the people of California legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64 last November. What they may not be aware of, however, are the deliberative steps the City of Sacramento has been taking to ensure that it’s done right — and they’re doing a lot.

Let’s start with how we got here.

The medical sale of cannabis to qualified patients has been legal for quite some time, 21 years in fact. The industry was left largely unregulated during those years, and it wasn’t until 2015 with the passage of a package of bills entitled the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) that a more formalized regulatory structure was put in place. These laws set forth the requirements for everything from packaging and labeling, to taxation, to what licenses are available including dispensaries, distributors, and cultivators. Then Proposition 64 passed in 2016, and suddenly the state, cities, and counties were handed a very tight timeline to figure out how to regulate recreational weed too.

Now, it’s 2018 or bust.

According to the law, California has until January 1, 2018 to develop a process for licensing both medical and recreational cannabis businesses. In the last few months, the Governor and Legislature passed two bills that helped streamline the process. The first combined medical and recreational laws into one in order to avoid duplicative work and inefficiencies (there’s really no need for two separate processes). The second clarified the issues that remained unaddressed in the first, such as whether or not businesses can sell both medical and recreational cannabis in the same location (they can).

Now that these laws are in place, the agencies in charge of creating the detailed regulations – such as how much cannabis you can sell to one person, or how much security you’re required to have – are fiercely writing away to ensure those are in place before January of next year. So, we’re all good, right? Seems like the work is underway and we can all go buy special brownies to celebrate in January…well, not exactly.

Cities and Counties are calling the shots.

One of the more prominent requirements of the law is that the ultimate power over whether or not – and how – cannabis is regulated rests in the hands of local governments. This means 58 counties and hundreds of cities can give the thumbs up or down, and even determine what’s allowable. For instance, the County of Marin is considering only allowing cannabis delivery businesses, while the County of Sacramento has banned commercial sales altogether in the unincorporated parts of the county.

This makes things very, very complex if you’re a business that’s hoping to operate statewide. The law requires that you submit proof of local authorization (i.e. that you’re allowed to be there) in order to obtain a state license. That is a huge road block considering many local governments haven’t even begun the process of deciding whether or not they will allow cannabis sales, and many more are waiting to see what others do first.

Luckily for us, the City of Sacramento is not waiting, they’re leading.

Sacramento’s Cannabis Czar (more formally known as the Chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement), Joe Devlin, has no enviable job. While simultaneously waiting for the state to determine their rules, the city has also been charting its own path into the unknown, and there’s no guide book. Sacramento currently has 30 storefront dispensaries (and that number is unlikely to change any time soon), and is accepting applications for both cultivation and manufacturing.

After months of community stakeholder meetings and hearings, they are set to develop plans for delivery and distribution in the coming months, and may even hold discussions for on-site consumption and the potential of “cannabis cafes” as soon as early 2018. These are “high times” (pun intended) for the industry, city officials, consumers, and city coffers alike. Dispensaries alone brought in millions of additional revenues last year.

So, I can buy recreational weed in January, right?

Nope, sorry. And there is no clear timeline for when that might happen. While the city is a leader in regulating medical cannabis, they are also taking precautions. It appears that city officials would prefer to finish laying out what the rules will look like for medical first before tackling the recreational market. So, while it is legal to consume cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation, the City of Sacramento will not be the place to buy legal recreational weed…at least any time soon.

Is it too late to get involved in the process?

Quite the opposite. There are still many opportunities to have your voice heard on the sale and use of cannabis in Sacramento. The city is currently holding community discussions in each council district, stakeholder meetings at city hall, and will vet each proposal through the law and legislation committee, budget and audit committee, and planning commission before being voted upon by the city council. The Planning Commission will be discussing delivery dispensaries, distribution, and background checks at their October 26th meeting, and those are expected to be voted on by the city council on November 21st.

You can visit the City of Sacramento cannabis page for the most up-to-date information.

Upcoming Meetings:

September 27 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 3 Neighborhood Workshop

October 5 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 8 Neighborhood Workshop

October 23 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

October 24 | 3 pm | Law and Legislation Committee Meeting

November 7 | 2 pm | Budget and Audit Committee Meeting

November 16 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

November 21 | 5 pm | City Council Meeting