The Ins and Outs of Joint Powers Authorities in California
By Paula C.P. de Sousa Mills
Joint Powers Authorities are legally created entities that allow two or more public agencies to jointly exercise common powers. Forming such entities may not only provide a creative approach to the provision of public services, but also permit public agencies with the means to provide services more efficiently and in a cost-effective manner.
The Joint Exercise of Powers Act, as codified in California Government Code section 6500, governs JPAs. Under the Act, JPAs are restricted to use by public agencies only. However, the term public agency is defined very broadly. A public agency can include, but is not limited to, the federal government, the state or state departments, mutual water companies, public districts and recognized Indian tribes.
The Act authorizes two kinds of JPA arrangements. The first allows two or more public agencies to contract to jointly exercise common powers. The second allows two or more public agencies to form a separate legal entity. This new entity has independent legal rights, including the ability to enter into contracts, hold property and sue or be sued. Forming a separate entity can be beneficial because the debts, liabilities and obligations of the JPA belong to that entity, not the contracting parties.
To enter into a JPA (either to jointly exercise common powers or to form a separate legal entity), the public agencies must enter into an agreement. This agreement must state both the powers of the JPA and the manner in which it will be exercised. The governing bodies of all the contracting public agencies must approve the agreement.
A 2007 Senate Local Government Committee Report noted that JPAs have played an increased role in California’s governmental services, with more than 1,800 JPAs and counting. Thus, a JPA arrangement could be an advantageous avenue for public agencies when exploring better ways to provide public services.
Note: This article originally appeared on the now-defunct BBKnowledge blog, where Best Best & Krieger authors shared their knowledge on emerging issues in public agency law.