Special districts operate either under a principal act or a special act. A principal act is a generic statute which applies to all special districts of that type. For example, the Fire Protection District Law of 1987 in the state Health and Safety Code governs all 386 fire districts. There are about 60 principal law statutes which can be used anywhere in the state to create a special district.
Occasionally, local circumstances fail to fit the general conditions anticipated by a principal act. In those cases, the Legislature may create a special act district tailored to the unique needs of a specific area. Districts which are regional in nature, have specific governing board requirements, provide unique services, or need special financing, necessitate special laws for formation. Districts formed under a special act include: the Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District, the Fairfield-Suisun Sewer District, and the Alameda County Flood Control and Water District. There are about 120 special act districts. All principal acts appear as laws in the California State codes, whereas most special acts are not codified. However, for convenience, many of the special acts for water districts appear in the Appendix to the California Water Code. For a complete listing of these acts, see Appendix A in the State Controller’s Special Districts Annual Report.