Counties in California

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Counties in the United States

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California is divided into 58 counties.[1] Counties are responsible for all elections, property tax collection, maintenance of public records (such as deeds) and local-level courts within their borders. Counties also provide law enforcement (through the county sheriff and sheriff's deputies) to areas that do not lie within incorporated cities.

Types of local government

Local government in California consists of:

  • Cities: as of November 2012, California had 482 cities. California's city with the largest population is Los Angeles, with a population of 3,792,621 as of the 2010 census. The city with the smallest population in California is Vernon which, as of the 2010 census, had a population of 112.
  • Counties: California has 58 counties.
  • Public school districts: there are roughly 1,300 public school districts in the state.
  • Special taxing districts: this includes Community Service Districts, Fire Protection Districts, Parks & Recreation Districts, Hospital Districts, and more. As of 2011, there were 4,772 special districts in California.[2]
  • San Francisco is a consolidated city-county government, exercising powers and responsibilities of both forms of government.

Further classifications:

Counties in California are classified in one of two ways:

  • Charter counties: 14 of the 58 counties are governed under a charter. They are Alameda, Butte, El Dorado, Fresno, Los Angeles, Orange, Placer, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Tehama.[3]
  • General law counties: the remaining 44 operate under the general law.

Cities in California are classified in one of two ways:

  • Charter cities: as of November 2012, there were 121 charter cities in the state.[4]
  • General law cities: the remaining 361 cities are general law cities.

Types of counties

The California Constitution recognizes two types of counties:

  • General law counties
  • Charter counties

General law

General law counties adhere to state law as to the number and duties of county elected officials. Charter counties have a limited degree of "home rule" authority that may provide for the election, compensation, terms, removal and salary of the governing board; for the election or appointment (except the sheriff, district attorney, and assessor who must be elected), compensation, terms and removal of all county officers; for the powers and duties of all officers; and for consolidation and segregation of county offices. A charter does not give county officials extra authority over local regulations, revenue-raising abilities, budgetary decisions or intergovernmental relations.


See also: Section 3, Article XI of the California Constitution

A county may adopt, amend or repeal a charter with majority vote approval. In counties that do not have a charter, a complete charter can be proposed by the Board of Supervisors or a charter commission. Likewise, the amendment or repeal of an existing charter may be proposed by the Board of Supervisors or a charter commission. The amendment or repeal of a charter can also be proposed through an initiative petition.

Citizens of a county can put a question to determine whether to draft or revise a charter and elect a charter commission on the ballot using the initiative petition process. If this question receives majority approval, the 15 candidates for the charter commission that receive the most votes will organize into a commission to draft a charter. The initiative question on the ballot must be: “Shall a charter commission be elected to propose a new charter?"[5]

The provisions of a charter are the law of the state and have the force and effect of legislative enactments. There are currently 44 general law counties and 14 charter counties.

County history

The original 27 counties in California were Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, El Dorado, Los Angeles, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Monterey, Napa, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Solano, Sonoma, Sutter, Trinity, Tuolumne, Yolo and Yuba.

Initiative process availability

See also: Laws governing local ballot measures in California

The local units of government in California that make the initiative process available are:

  • All 361 general law cities, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process for ordinances.
  • All 121 charter cities, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process for charter amendments.
  • All 44 general law counties, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process for ordinances.
  • All 14 charter counties, which have a state mandated initiative and referendum process.[6]

County website evaluation

See also: Evaluation of California county websites

As of the end of 2008:

List of counties

California counties
County name County seat General law county Charter county
Alameda County Oakland X
Alpine County Markleeville X
Amador County Jackson X
Butte County Oroville X
Calaveras County San Andreas X
Colusa County Colusa X
Contra Costa County Martinez X
Del Norte County Crescent City X
El Dorado County Placerville X
Fresno County Fresno X
Glenn County Willows X
Humboldt County Eureka X
Imperial County El Centro X
Inyo County Independence X
Kern County Bakersfield X
Kings County Hanford X
Lake County Lakeport X
Lassen County Susanville X
Los Angeles County Los Angeles X
Madera County Madera X
Marin County San Rafael X
Mariposa County Mariposa X
Mendocino County Ukiah X
Merced County Merced X
Modoc County Alturas X
Mono County Bridgeport X
Monterey County Salinas X
Napa County Napa X
Nevada County Nevada City X
Orange County Santa Ana X
Placer County Auburn X
Plumas County Quincy X
Riverside County Riverside X
Sacramento County Sacramento X
San Benito County Hollister X
San Bernardino County San Bernardino X
San Diego County San Diego X
San Francisco County San Francisco X
San Joaquin County Stockton X
San Luis Obispo County San Luis Obispo X
San Mateo County Redwood X
Santa Barbara County Santa Barbara X
Santa Clara County San Jose X
Santa Cruz County Santa Cruz X
Shasta County Redding X
Sierra County Downieville X
Siskiyou County Yreka X
Solano County Fairfield X
Sonoma County Santa Rosa X
Stanislaus County Modesto X
Sutter County Yuba City X
Tehama County Red Bluff X
Trinity County Weaverville X
Tulare County Visalia X
Tuloumne County Sonora X
Ventura County Ventura X
Yolo County Woodland X
Yuba County Marysville X

External links