California’s diverse geography ranges from the Pacific Coast in the west to the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the east; and from the redwood–Douglas fir forests in the northwest to the Mojave Desert in the southeast. The Central Valley, a major agricultural area, dominates the state’s center. Though California is well-known for its warm Mediterranean climate, the large size of the state means it can vary from moist temperate rainforest in the north, to arid desert in the interior, as well as snowy alpine in the mountains.California (kælᵻˈfɔːrnjə, –ni.ə/ KAL-ə-FORN-yə, KAL-ə-FORN-ee-ə) is the most populous state in the United States and the third most extensive by area. Located on the western (Pacific Ocean) coast of the U.S., California is bordered by the other U.S. states of Oregon, Nevada, and Arizona and shares an international border with the Mexican state of Baja California. The state capital is Sacramento. Los Angeles is California’s most populous city, and the country’s second largest after New York City. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation’s second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, respectively. California also has the nation’s most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County.
What is now California was first settled by various Native American tribes before being explored by a number of European expeditions during the 16th and 17th centuries. The Spanish Empire then claimed it as part of Alta California in their New Spain colony. The area became a part of Mexico in 1821 following its successful war for independence, but was ceded to the United States in 1848 after the Mexican–American War. The western portion of Alta California then was organized as the State of California, and admitted as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. The California Gold Rush starting in 1848 led to dramatic social and demographic changes, with large-scale emigration from the east and abroad with an accompanying economic boom.
If it were a country, California would be the 6th largest economy in the world and the 35th most populous. It is also regarded as a global trendsetter in both popular culture and politics, and is the origin of the film industry, the hippie counterculture, the Internet, and the personal computer, among others. Fifty-eight percent of the state’s economy is centered on finance, government, real estate services, technology, and professional, scientific and technical business services. The San Francisco Bay Area has the nation’s highest median household income by metropolitan area, and is the headquarters of three of the world’s largest 40 firms by revenue, Chevron, Apple, and McKesson. Although it accounts for only 1.5 percent of the state’s economy, California’s agriculture industry has the highest output of any U.S. state.
The word California originally referred to the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico; it was later extended to the entire region composed of the current United States states of California, Nevada, and Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.
The name California is surmised by some writers to have derived from a fictional paradise peopled by Black Amazons and ruled by Queen Calafia, who fought alongside Muslims and whose name was chosen to echo the title of a Muslim leader, the Caliph, fictionally implying that California was the Caliphate. The story of Calafia is recorded in a 1510 work The Adventures of Esplandián, written as a sequel to Amadis de Gaula by Spanish adventure writer Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. The kingdom of Queen Calafia, according to Montalvo, was said to be a remote land inhabited by griffins and other strange beasts, and rich in gold.
Know ye that at the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California, very close to that part of the Terrestrial Paradise, which was inhabited by black women without a single man among them, and they lived in the manner of Amazons. They were robust of body with strong passionate hearts and great virtue. The island itself is one of the wildest in the world on account of the bold and craggy rocks.— Chapter CLVII of The Adventures of Esplandián
When Spanish explorer Francisco de Ulloa was exploring the western coast of North America, his initial surveys of the Baja California Peninsula led him to believe that it was an island rather than part of the larger continent, so he dubbed the “island” after the mythical island in Montalvo’s writing. This conventional wisdom that California was an island, with maps drawn to reflect this belief, lasted as late as the 1700s.
Settled by successive waves of arrivals during the last 10,000 years, California was one of the most culturally and linguistically diverse areas in pre-Columbian North America. Various estimates of the native population range from 100,000 to 300,000. The Indigenous peoples of California included more than 70 distinct groups of Native Americans, ranging from large, settled populations living on the coast to groups in the interior. California groups also were diverse in their political organization with bands, tribes, villages, and on the resource-rich coasts, large chiefdoms, such as the Chumash, Pomo and Salinan. Trade, intermarriage and military alliances fostered many social and economic relationships among the diverse groups.
16th, 17th and 18th centuries
The first European effort to explore the coast as far north as the Russian River was a Spanish sailing expedition, led by Portuguese captain Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, in 1542. Some 37 years later English explorer Francis Drake also explored and claimed an undefined portion of the California coast in 1579. Spanish traders made unintended visits with the Manila galleons on their return trips from the Philippines beginning in 1565. The first Asians to set foot on what would be the United States occurred in 1587, when Filipino sailors arrived in Spanish ships at Morro Bay. Sebastián Vizcaíno explored and mapped the coast of California in 1602 for New Spain.
Despite the on-the-ground explorations of California in the 16th century, Rodríguez’s idea of California as an island persisted. That depiction appeared on many European maps well into the 18th century.
After the Portolà expedition of 1769–70, Spanish missionaries began setting up 21 California Missions on or near the coast of Alta (Upper) California, beginning in San Diego. During the same period, Spanish military forces built several forts (presidios) and three small towns (pueblos). Two of the pueblos grew into the cities of Los Angeles and San Jose. The Spanish colonization brought the genocide of the indigenous Californian peoples.
Imperial Russia explored the California coast and established a trading post at Fort Ross. Its early 19th-century coastal settlements north of San Francisco Bay constituted the southernmost Russian colony in North America and were spread over an area stretching from Point Arena to Tomales Bay.
In 1821, the Mexican War of Independence gave Mexico (including California) independence from Spain; for the next 25 years, Alta California remained a remote northern province of the nation of Mexico.
Cattle ranches, or ranchos, emerged as the dominant institutions of Mexican California. After Mexican independence from Spain, the chain of missions became the property of the Mexican government and were secularized by 1834. The ranchos developed under ownership by Californios (Spanish-speaking Californians) who had received land grants, and traded cowhides and tallow with Boston merchants.
From the 1820s, trappers and settlers from the United States and the future Canada arrived in Northern California. These new arrivals used the Siskiyou Trail, California Trail, Oregon Trail and Old Spanish Trail to cross the rugged mountains and harsh deserts in and surrounding California.
Between 1831 and 1836, California experienced a series of revolts against Mexico; this culminated in the 1836 California revolt led by Juan Bautista Alvarado, which ended after Mexico appointed him governor of the department. The revolt, which had momentarily declared California an independent state, was successful with the assistance of American and British residents of California, including Isaac Graham; after 1840, 100 of those residents who did not have passports were arrested, leading to the Graham affair in 1840.
One of the largest ranchers in California was John Marsh. After failing to obtain justice against squatters on his land from the Mexican courts, he determined that California should become part of the United States. Marsh conducted a letter-writing campaign espousing the California climate, soil and other reasons to settle there, as well as the best route to follow, which became known as “Marsh’s route.” His letters were read, reread, passed around, and printed in newspapers throughout the country, and started the first wagon trains rolling to California. He invited immigrants to stay on his ranch until they could get settled, and assisted in their obtaining passports.
After ushering in the period of organized emigration to California, Marsh helped end the rule of the last Mexican governor of California, thereby paving the way to California’s ultimate acquisition by the United States.
In 1846, settlers rebelled against Mexican rule during the Bear Flag Revolt. Afterwards, rebels raised the Bear Flag (featuring a bear, a star, a red stripe and the words “California Republic”) at Sonoma. The Republic’s only president was William B. Ide, who played a pivotal role during the Bear Flag Revolt.
The California Republic was short lived; the same year marked the outbreak of the Mexican–American War (1846–48). When Commodore John D. Sloat of the United States Navy sailed into Monterey Bay and began the military occupation of California by the United States, Northern California capitulated in less than a month to the United States forces. After a series of defensive battles in Southern California, the Treaty of Cahuenga was signed by the Californios on January 13, 1847, securing American control in California.
Following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that ended the war, the western territory of Alta California, became the United States state of California, and Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Utah became United States Territories. The lightly populated lower region of California, the Baja Peninsula, remained in the possession of Mexico.
In 1846, the non-native population of California was estimated to be no more than 8,000, plus about 100,000 Native Americans down from about 300,000 before Hispanic settlement in 1769. After gold was discovered in 1848, the population burgeoned with United States citizens, Europeans, Chinese and other immigrants during the great California Gold Rush. By 1854 over 300,000 settlers had come. Between 1847 and 1870, the population of San Francisco increased from 500 to 150,000. On September 9, 1850, as part of the Compromise of 1850, California was admitted to the United States undivided as a free state, denying the expansion of slavery to the Pacific Coast.
California’s native population precipitously declined, above all, from Eurasian diseases to which they had no natural immunity. As in other states, the native inhabitants were forcibly removed from their lands by incoming miners, ranchers, and farmers. And although California entered the union as a free state, the “loitering or orphaned Indians” were de facto enslaved by Mexican and Anglo-American masters under the 1853 Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. There were massacres in which hundreds of indigenous people were killed. Between 1850 and 1860, California paid around 1.5 million dollars (some 250,000 of which was reimbursed by the federal government) to hire militias whose purpose was to protect settlers from the indigenous populations. In later decades, the native population was placed in reservations and rancherias, which were often small and isolated and without enough natural resources or funding from the government to sustain the populations living on them. As a result, the rise of California was a calamity for the native inhabitants. Several scholars and Native American activists, including Benjamin Madley and Ed Castillo, have described the actions of the California government as a genocide.
The seat of government for California under Spanish and later Mexican rule was located at Monterey from 1777 until 1845. Pio Pico, last Mexican governor of Alta California, moved the capital to Los Angeles in 1845. The United States consulate was also located in Monterey, under consul Thomas O. Larkin.
In 1849, the Constitutional Convention was first held in Monterey. Among the tasks was a decision on a location for the new state capital. The first legislative sessions were held in San Jose (1850–1851). Subsequent locations included Vallejo (1852–1853), and nearby Benicia (1853–1854); these locations eventually proved to be inadequate as well. The capital has been located in Sacramento since 1854 with only a short break in 1862 when legislative sessions were held in San Francisco due to flooding in Sacramento.
Initially, travel between California and the rest of the continental United States was time consuming and dangerous. A more direct connection came in 1869 with the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad through Donner Pass in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Once completed, hundreds of thousands of United States citizens came west, where new Californians were discovering that land in the state, if irrigated during the dry summer months, was extremely well suited to fruit cultivation and agriculture in general. Vast expanses of wheat, other cereal crops, vegetable crops, cotton, and nut and fruit trees were grown (including oranges in Southern California), and the foundation was laid for the state’s prodigious agricultural production in the Central Valley and elsewhere.
Migration to California accelerated during the early 20th century with the completion of major transcontinental highways like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66. In the period from 1900 to 1965, the population grew from fewer than one million to become the most populous state in the Union. In 1940, the Census Bureau reported California’s population as 6.0% Hispanic, 2.4% Asian, and 89.5% non-Hispanic white.
To meet the population’s needs, major engineering feats like the California and Los Angeles Aqueducts; the Oroville and Shasta Dams; and the Bay and Golden Gate Bridges were built across the state. The state government also adopted the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 to develop a highly efficient system of public education.
Meanwhile, attracted to the mild Mediterranean climate, cheap land, and the state’s wide variety of geography, filmmakers established the studio system in Hollywood in the 1920s. California manufactured 8.7 percent of total United States military armaments produced during World War II, ranking third (behind New York and Michigan) among the 48 states. After World War II, California’s economy greatly expanded due to strong aerospace and defense industries, whose size decreased following the end of the Cold War. Stanford University and its Dean of Engineering Frederick Terman began encouraging faculty and graduates to stay in California instead of leaving the state, and develop a high-tech region in the area now known as Silicon Valley. As a result of these efforts, California is regarded as a world center of the entertainment and music industries, of technology, engineering, and the aerospace industry, and as the United States center of agricultural production. Just before the “Dot Com Bust” California had the 5th largest economy in the world among nations. Yet since 1991, and starting in the late 1980s in Southern California, California has seen a net loss of domestic migrants most years. This is often referred to by the media as the California exodus.
California is the 3rd largest state in the United States in area, after Alaska and Texas. California is often geographically bisected into two regions, Southern California, comprising the 10 southernmost counties, and Northern California, comprising the 48 northernmost counties.
In the middle of the state lies the California Central Valley, bounded by the Sierra Nevada in the east, the coastal mountain ranges in the west, the Cascade Range to the north and by the Tehachapi Mountains in the south. The Central Valley is California’s productive agricultural heartland.
Divided in two by the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the northern portion, the Sacramento Valley serves as the watershed of the Sacramento River, while the southern portion, the San Joaquin Valley is the watershed for the San Joaquin River. Both valleys derive their names from the rivers that flow through them. With dredging, the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers have remained deep enough for several inland cities to be seaports.
The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is a critical water supply hub for the state. Water is diverted from the delta and through an extensive network of pumps and canals that traverse nearly the length of the state, to the Central Valley and the State Water Projects and other needs. Water from the Delta provides drinking water for nearly 23 million people, almost two-thirds of the state’s population as well as water for farmers on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
The Sierra Nevada (Spanish for “snowy range”) includes the highest peak in the contiguous 48 states, Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet (4,421 m). The range embraces Yosemite Valley, famous for its glacially carved domes, and Sequoia National Park, home to the giant sequoia trees, the largest living organisms on Earth, and the deep freshwater lake, Lake Tahoe, the largest lake in the state by volume.
To the east of the Sierra Nevada are Owens Valley and Mono Lake, an essential migratory bird habitat. In the western part of the state is Clear Lake, the largest freshwater lake by area entirely in California. Though Lake Tahoe is larger, it is divided by the California/Nevada border. The Sierra Nevada falls to Arctic temperatures in winter and has several dozen small glaciers, including Palisade Glacier, the southernmost glacier in the United States.
About 45 percent of the state’s total surface area is covered by forests, and California’s diversity of pine species is unmatched by any other state. California contains more forestland than any other state except Alaska. Many of the trees in the California White Mountains are the oldest in the world; an individual bristlecone pine is over 5,000 years old.
In the south is a large inland salt lake, the Salton Sea. The south-central desert is called the Mojave; to the northeast of the Mojave lies Death Valley, which contains the lowest and hottest place in North America, the Badwater Basin at −279 feet (−85 m). The horizontal distance from the bottom of Death Valley to the top of Mount Whitney is less than 90 miles (140 km). Indeed, almost all of southeastern California is arid, hot desert, with routine extreme high temperatures during the summer. The southeastern border of California with Arizona is entirely formed by the Colorado River, from which the southern part of the state gets about half of its water.
A majority of California’s cities are located in either the San Francisco Bay Area or the Sacramento metropolitan area in Northern California; or the Los Angeles area, the Riverside-San Bernardino-Inland Empire, or the San Diego metropolitan area in Southern California. The Los Angeles Area, the Bay Area, and the San Diego metropolitan area are among several major metropolitan areas along the California coast.
As part of the Ring of Fire, California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, Santa Ana winds, wildfires, landslides on steep terrain, and has several volcanoes. It has many earthquakes due to several faults running through the state, in particular the San Andreas Fault. About 37,000 earthquakes are recorded each year, but most are too small to be felt.
Northern parts of the state have more rain than the south. California’s mountain ranges also influence the climate: some of the rainiest parts of the state are west-facing mountain slopes. Northwestern California has a temperate climate, and the Central Valley has a Mediterranean climate but with greater temperature extremes than the coast. The high mountains, including the Sierra Nevada, have an alpine climate with snow in winter and mild to moderate heat in summer.
California’s mountains produce rain shadows on the eastern side, creating extensive deserts. The higher elevation deserts of eastern California have hot summers and cold winters, while the low deserts east of the Southern California mountains have hot summers and nearly frostless mild winters. Death Valley, a desert with large expanses below sea level, is considered the hottest location in the world; the highest temperature in the world, 134 °F (56.7 °C), was recorded there on July 10, 1913. The lowest temperature in California was −45 °F (−43 °C) in 1937 in Boca.
The table below lists average temperatures for August and December in a selection of places throughout the state; some highly populated and some not. This includes the relatively cool summers of the Humboldt Bay region around Eureka, the extreme heat of Death Valley, and the mountain climate of Mammoth in the Sierra Nevadas.
|Downtown Los Angeles||84/64||29/18||67/47||20/8||377/15|
California is one of the richest and most diverse parts of the world, and includes some of the most endangered ecological communities. California is part of the Nearctic ecozone and spans a number of terrestrial ecoregions.
California’s large number of endemic species includes relict species, which have died out elsewhere, such as the Catalina ironwood (Lyonothamnus floribundus). Many other endemics originated through differentiation or adaptive radiation, whereby multiple species develop from a common ancestor to take advantage of diverse ecological conditions such as the California lilac (Ceanothus). Many California endemics have become endangered, as urbanization, logging, overgrazing, and the introduction of exotic species have encroached on their habitat.
Flora and fauna
California boasts several superlatives in its collection of flora: the largest trees, the tallest trees, and the oldest trees. California’s native grasses are perennial plants. After European contact, these were generally replaced by invasive species of European annual grasses; and, in modern times, California’s hills turn a characteristic golden-brown in summer.
Because California has the greatest diversity of climate and terrain, the state has six life zones which are the lower Sonoran (desert); upper Sonoran (foothill regions and some coastal lands), transition (coastal areas and moist northeastern counties); and the Canadian, Hudsonian, and Arctic Zones, comprising the state’s highest elevations.
Plant life in the dry climate of the lower Sonoran zone contains a diversity of native cactus, mesquite, and paloverde. The Joshua tree is found in the Mojave Desert. Flowering plants include the dwarf desert poppy and a variety of asters. Fremont cottonwood and valley oak thrive in the Central Valley. The upper Sonoran zone includes the chaparral belt, characterized by forests of small shrubs, stunted trees, and herbaceous plants. Nemophila, mint, Phacelia, Viola, and the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – the state flower – also flourish in this zone, along with the lupine, more species of which occur here than anywhere else in the world.
The transition zone includes most of California’s forests with the redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) and the “big tree” or giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), among the oldest living things on earth (some are said to have lived at least 4,000 years). Tanbark oak, California laurel, sugar pine, madrona, broad-leaved maple, and Douglas-fir also grow here. Forest floors are covered with swordfern, alumnroot, barrenwort, and trillium, and there are thickets of huckleberry, azalea, elder, and wild currant. Characteristic wild flowers include varieties of mariposa, tulip, and tiger and leopard lilies.
The high elevations of the Canadian zone allow the Jeffrey pine, red fir, and lodgepole pine to thrive. Brushy areas are abundant with dwarf manzanita and ceanothus; the unique Sierra puffball is also found here. Right below the timberline, in the Hudsonian zone, the whitebark, foxtail, and silver pines grow. At about 10,500 feet (3,200 m), begins the Arctic zone, a treeless region whose flora include a number of wildflowers, including Sierra primrose, yellow columbine, alpine buttercup, and alpine shooting star.
Common plants that have been introduced to the state include the eucalyptus, acacia, pepper tree, geranium, and Scotch broom. The species that are federally classified as endangered are the Contra Costa wallflower, Antioch Dunes evening primrose, Solano grass, San Clemente Island larkspur, salt marsh bird’s beak, McDonald’s rock-cress, and Santa Barbara Island liveforever. As of December 1997, 85 plant species were listed as threatened or endangered.
In the deserts of the lower Sonoran zone, the mammals include the jackrabbit, kangaroo rat, squirrel, and opossum. Common birds include the owl, roadrunner, cactus wren, and various species of hawk. The area’s reptilian life include the sidewinder viper, desert tortoise, and horned toad. The upper Sonoran zone boasts mammals such as the antelope, brown-footed woodrat, and ring-tailed cat. Birds unique to this zone are the California thrasher, bushtit, and California condor.
In the transition zone, there are Colombian black-tailed deer, black bears, gray foxes, cougars, bobcats, and Roosevelt elk. Reptiles such as the garter snakes and rattlesnakes inhabit the zone. In addition, amphibians such as the water puppy and redwood salamander are common too. Birds such as the kingfisher, chickadee, towhee, and hummingbird thrive here as well.
The Canadian zone mammals include the mountain weasel, snowshoe hare, and several species of chipmunks. Conspicuous birds include the blue-fronted jay, Sierra chickadee. Sierra hermit thrush, water ouzel, and Townsend’s solitaire. As one ascends into the Hudsonian zone, birds become scarcer. While the Sierra rosy finch is the only bird native to the high Arctic region, other bird species such as the hummingbird and Clark’s nutcracker. Principal mammals found in this region include the Sierra coney, white-tailed jackrabbit, and the bighorn sheep. As of April 2003, the bighorn sheep was listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The fauna found throughout several zones are the mule deer, coyote, mountain lion, northern flicker, and several species of hawk and sparrow.
Aquatic life in California thrives, from the state’s mountain lakes and streams to the rocky Pacific coastline. Numerous trout species are found, among them rainbow, golden, and cutthroat. Migratory species of salmon are common as well. Deep-sea life forms include sea bass, yellowfin tuna, barracuda, and several types of whale. Native to the cliffs of northern California are seals, sea lions, and many types of shorebirds, including migratory species.
As of April 2003, 118 California animals were on the federal endangered list; 181 plants were listed as endangered or threatened. Endangered animals include the San Joaquin kitfox, Point Arena mountain beaver, Pacific pocket mouse, salt marsh harvest mouse, Morro Bay kangaroo rat (and five other species of kangaroo rat), Amargosa vole, California least tern, California condor, loggerhead shrike, San Clemente sage sparrow, San Francisco garter snake, five species of salamander, three species of chub, and two species of pupfish. Eleven butterflies are also endangered and two that are threatened are on the federal list. Among threatened animals are the coastal California gnatcatcher, Paiute cutthroat trout, southern sea otter, and northern spotted owl. California has a total of 290,821 acres (1,176.91 km2) of National Wildlife Refuges. As of September 2010, 123 California animals were listed as either endangered or threatened on the federal list provided by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Also, as of the same year, 178 species of California plants were listed either as endangered or threatened on this federal list.
The vast majority of rivers in California are dammed as part of two massive water projects: the Central Valley Project, providing water to the agricultural central valley, the California State Water Project diverting water from northern to southern California. The state’s coasts, rivers, and other bodies of water are regulated by the California Coastal Commission.
The two most prominent rivers within California are the Sacramento River and the San Joaquin River, which drain the Central Valley and the west slope of the Sierra Nevada and flow to the Pacific Ocean through San Francisco Bay. Several major tributaries feed into the Sacramento and the San Joaquin, including the Pit River, the Tuolumne River, and the Feather River.
The Eel River and Salinas River each drain portions of the California coast, north and south of San Francisco Bay, respectively, and the Eel River is the largest river in the state to remain in its natural un-dammed state. The Mojave River is the primary watercourse in the Mojave Desert, and the Santa Ana River drains much of the Transverse Ranges as it bisects Southern California. Some other important rivers are the Klamath River and the Trinity River in the far north coast, and the Colorado River on the southeast border with Arizona.
|Sources: 1790–1990, 2000, 2010, 2016
Chart does not include Indigenous population figures.
Studies indicate that the Native American
population in California in 1850 was close to 150,000
before declining to 15,000 by 1900.
The United States Census Bureau estimates that the population of California was 39,144,818 on July 1, 2015, a 5.08% increase since the 2010 United States Census. Between 2000 and 2009, there was a natural increase of 3,090,016 (5,058,440 births minus 2,179,958 deaths). During this time period, international migration produced a net increase of 1,816,633 people while domestic migration produced a net decrease of 1,509,708, resulting in a net in-migration of 306,925 people. The state of California’s own statistics show a population of 38,292,687 for January 1, 2009. However, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, since 1990 almost 3.4 million Californians have moved to other states, with most leaving to Texas, Nevada, and Arizona.
California is the 2nd-most populous subnational entity in the Western Hemisphere and the Americas, with a population second to that of the state of São Paulo in Brazil. California’s population is greater than that of all but 34 countries of the world. The Greater Los Angeles Area is the 2nd-largest metropolitan area in the United States, after the New York metropolitan area, while Los Angeles, with nearly half the population of New York, is the 2nd-largest city in the United States. Also, Los Angeles County has held the title of most populous United States county for decades, and it alone is more populous than 42 United States states. Including Los Angeles, four of the top 15 most populous cities in the U.S. are in California: Los Angeles (2nd), San Diego (8th), San Jose (10th), and San Francisco (13th). The center of population of California is located in the town of Buttonwillow, Kern County.
The state has 482 incorporated cities and towns; of which 460 are cities and 22 are towns. Under California law, the terms “city” and “town” are explicitly interchangeable; the name of an incorporated municipality in the state can either be “City of (Name)” or “Town of (Name)”.
Sacramento became California’s first incorporated city on February 27, 1850. San Jose, San Diego and Benicia tied for California’s second incorporated city, each receiving incorporation on March 27, 1850. Jurupa Valley became the state’s most recent and 482nd incorporated municipality on July 1, 2011.
The majority of these cities and towns are within one of five metropolitan areas: the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Riverside-San Bernardino Area, the San Diego metropolitan area and the Sacramento metropolitan area.
Largest cities or towns in California
|1||Los Angeles||Los Angeles||3,971,883||
|2||San Diego||San Diego||1,394,928|
|3||San Jose||Santa Clara||1,026,908|
|4||San Francisco||San Francisco||864,816|
|7||Long Beach||Los Angeles||474,140|
Starting in the year 2010, for the first time since the California Gold Rush, California-born residents make up the majority of the state’s population. Along with the rest of the United States, California’s immigration pattern has also shifted over the course of the late 2000s-early 2010s. Immigration from Latin American countries has dropped significantly with most immigrants now coming from Asia. In total for 2011, there were 277,304 immigrants. 57% came from Asian countries vs. 22% from Latin American countries. Net immigration from Mexico, previously the most common country of origin for new immigrants has dropped to zero/less than zero, since more Mexican nationals are departing for their home country than immigrating. As a result it is estimated that Hispanic citizens will constitute 49% of the population by 2060, instead of the previously projected 2050, due primarily to domestic births.
The state’s population of undocumented immigrants has been shrinking in recent years, due to increased enforcement and decreased job opportunities for lower-skilled workers. The number of migrants arrested attempting to cross the Mexican border in the Southwest plunged from a high of 1.1 million in 2005 to just 367,000 in 2011. Despite these recent trends, illegal aliens constituted an estimated 7.3 percent of the state’s population, the third highest percentage of any state in the country, totaling nearly 2.6 million. In particular, illegal immigrants tended to be concentrated in Los Angeles, Monterey, San Benito, Imperial, and Napa Counties – the latter four of which have significant agricultural industries that depend on manual labor. More than half of illegal immigrants originate from Mexico.
According to the United States Census Bureau in 2015 the population self-identifies as (alone or in combination):
- 72.9% White
- 14.7% Asian
- 6.5% Black or African American
- 3.8% Two or More Races
- 1.7% Native American and Alaska Native
- 0.5% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander
By ethnicity, in 2015 the population was 61.2% non-Hispanic (of any race) and 38.8% Hispanic or Latino (of any race).
As of 2011, 75.1% of California’s population younger than age 1 were minorities, meaning that they had at least one parent who was not non-Hispanic white (white Hispanics are counted as minorities).
In terms of total numbers, California has the largest population of White Americans in the United States, an estimated 22,200,000 residents. The state has the 5th largest population of African Americans in the United States, an estimated 2,250,000 residents. California’s Asian American population is estimated at 4.4 million, constituting a third of the nation’s total. California’s Native American population of 285,000 is the most of any state.
According to estimates from 2011, California has the largest minority population in the United States by numbers, making up 60% of the state population. Over the past 25 years, the population of non-Hispanic whites has declined, while Hispanic and Asian populations have grown. Between 1970 and 2011, non-Hispanic whites declined from 80% of the State’s population to 40%, while Hispanics grew from 32% in 2000 to 38% in 2011. It is currently projected that Hispanics will rise to 49% of the population by 2060, primarily due to domestic births rather than immigration. With the decline of immigration from Latin America, Asian Americans now constitute the fastest growing racial/ethnic group in California; this growth primarily driven by immigration from China, India and the Philippines, respectively.
In total, 16 languages other than English were spoken as primary languages at home by more than 100,000 persons, more than any other state in the nation. New York State, in second place, had 9 languages other than English spoken by more than 100,000 persons. The most common language spoken besides English was Spanish, spoken by 28.46% (9,696,638) of the population. With Asia contributing most of California’s new immigrants, California had the highest concentration nationwide of Vietnamese and Chinese speakers, the second highest concentration of Korean, and the third highest concentration of Tagalog speakers.English serves as California’s de jure and de facto official language. In 2010, the Modern Language Association of America estimated that 57.02% (19,429,309) of California residents age 5 and older spoke only English at home, while 42.98% spoke another primary language at home. According to the 2007 American Community Survey, 73% of people who speak a language other than English at home are able to speak English well or very well, with 9.8% not speaking English at all. Like most U.S. states (32 out of 50), California law enshrines English as its official language, and has done so since the passage of Proposition 63 by California voters. Various government agencies do, and are often required to, furnish documents in the various languages needed to reach their intended audiences.
California has historically been one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world, with more than 70 indigenous languages derived from 64 root languages in 6 language families. A survey conducted between 2007 and 2009 identified 23 different indigenous languages of Mexico that are spoken among California farmworkers. All of California’s indigenous languages are endangered, although there are now efforts toward language revitalization.
As a result of the state’s increasing diversity and migration from other areas across the country and around the globe, linguists began noticing a noteworthy set of emerging characteristics of spoken English in California since the late 20th century. This dialect, known as California English, has a vowel shift and several other phonological processes that are different from the dialects used in other regions of the country.
The culture of California is a Western culture and most clearly has its modern roots in the culture of the United States, but also, historically, many Hispanic influences. As a border and coastal state, Californian culture has been greatly influenced by several large immigrant populations, especially those from Latin America and Asia.
California has long been a subject of interest in the public mind and has often been promoted by its boosters as a kind of paradise. In the early 20th century, fueled by the efforts of state and local boosters, many Americans saw the Golden State as an ideal resort destination, sunny and dry all year round with easy access to the ocean and mountains. In the 1960s, popular music groups such as The Beach Boys promoted the image of Californians as laid-back, tanned beach-goers.
The California Gold Rush of the 1850s is still seen as a symbol of California’s economic style, which tends to generate technology, social, entertainment, and economic fads and booms and related busts.
|Religion in California (2014)|
The largest religious denominations by number of adherents as a percentage of California’s population in 2014 were the Catholic Church with 28 percent, Evangelical Protestants with 20 percent, and Mainline Protestants with 10 percent. Together, all kinds of Protestants accounted for 32 percent. Those unaffiliated with any religion represented 27 percent of the population. The breakdown of other religions is 1% Muslim, 2% Hindu and 2% Buddhist. This is a change from 2008, when the population identified their religion with the Catholic Church with 31 percent; Evangelical Protestants with 18 percent; and Mainline Protestants with 14 percent. In 2008, those unaffiliated with any religion represented 21 percent of the population. The breakdown of other religions in 2008 was 0.5% Muslim, 1% Hindu and 2% Buddhist.The American Jewish Year Book placed the total Jewish population of California at about 1,194,190 in 2006. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA) the largest denominations by adherents in 2010 were the Roman Catholic Church with 10,233,334; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with 763,818; and the Southern Baptist Convention with 489,953.
The first priests to come to California were Roman Catholic missionaries from Spain. Roman Catholics founded 21 missions along the California coast, as well as the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco. California continues to have a large Roman Catholic population due to the large numbers of Mexicans and Central Americans living within its borders. California has twelve dioceses and two archdioceses, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the former being the largest archdiocese in the United States.
A Pew Research Center survey revealed that California is somewhat less religious than the rest of the US: 62 percent of Californians say they are “absolutely certain” of their belief in God, while in the nation 71 percent say so. The survey also revealed 48 percent of Californians say religion is “very important”, compared to 56 percent nationally.
California has twenty major professional sports league franchises, far more than any other state. The San Francisco Bay Area has seven major league teams spread in its three major cities: San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. While the Greater Los Angeles Area is home to ten major league franchises. San Diego and Sacramento each have one major league team. The NFL Super Bowl has been hosted in California 11 times at four different stadiums: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, Stanford Stadium, and San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium. A twelfth, Super Bowl 50, was held at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on February 7, 2016.
California has long had many respected collegiate sports programs. California is home to the oldest college bowl game, the annual Rose Bowl, among others.
California is the only US state to have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics. The 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles. Squaw Valley Ski Resort in the Lake Tahoe region hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics. Multiple games during the 1994 FIFA World Cup took place in California, with the Rose Bowl hosting eight matches including the final, while Stanford Stadium hosted six matches.
Below is a list of major league sports teams in California:
|Los Angeles Rams||American football||National Football League (NFL)|
|Oakland Raiders||American football||National Football League|
|Los Angeles Chargers||American football||National Football League|
|San Francisco 49ers||American football||National Football League|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||Baseball||Major League Baseball (MLB)|
|Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim||Baseball||Major League Baseball|
|Oakland Athletics||Baseball||Major League Baseball|
|San Diego Padres||Baseball||Major League Baseball|
|San Francisco Giants||Baseball||Major League Baseball|
|Golden State Warriors||Basketball||National Basketball Association (NBA)|
|Los Angeles Clippers||Basketball||National Basketball Association|
|Los Angeles Lakers||Basketball||National Basketball Association|
|Sacramento Kings||Basketball||National Basketball Association|
|Los Angeles Sparks||Basketball||Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA)|
|Anaheim Ducks||Ice hockey||National Hockey League (NHL)|
|Los Angeles Kings||Ice hockey||National Hockey League|
|San Jose Sharks||Ice hockey||National Hockey League|
|Los Angeles Galaxy||Soccer||Major League Soccer (MLS)|
|San Jose Earthquakes||Soccer||Major League Soccer|
|Los Angeles Football Club||Soccer||Major League Soccer|
Public secondary education consists of high schools that teach elective courses in trades, languages, and liberal arts with tracks for gifted, college-bound and industrial arts students. California’s public educational system is supported by a unique constitutional amendment that requires a minimum annual funding level for grades K–12 and community colleges that grows with the economy and student enrollment figures.
California had over 6.2 million school students in the 2005–06 school year. Funding and staffing levels in California schools lag behind other states. In expenditure per pupil, California ranked 29th (of the 50 states and the District of Columbia) in 2005–06. In teaching staff expenditure per pupil, California ranked 49th of 51. In overall teacher-pupil ratio, California was also 49th, with 21 students per teacher. Only Arizona and Utah were lower.
A 2007 study concluded that California’s public school system was “broken” in that it suffered from over-regulation.
California’s public postsecondary education offers three separate systems:
- The research university system in the state is the University of California (UC), a public university system. As of fall 2011, the University of California had a combined student body of 234,464 students. There are ten general UC campuses, and a number of specialized campuses in the UC system. The system was originally intended to accept the top one-eighth of California high school students, but several of the schools have become even more selective. The UC system was originally given exclusive authority in awarding Ph.Ds, but this has since changed and the CSU is also able to award several Doctoral degrees.
- The California State University (CSU) system has almost 430,000 students, making it the largest university system in the United States. The CSU was originally intended to accept the top one-third of California high school students, but several of the schools have become much more selective. The CSU was originally set up to award only bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but has since been granted the authority to award several Doctoral degrees.
- The California Community Colleges System provides lower division coursework as well as basic skills and workforce training. It is the largest network of higher education in the US, composed of 112 colleges serving a student population of over 2.6 million.
California is also home to such notable private universities as Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the California Institute of Technology, and the Claremont Colleges. California has hundreds of other private colleges and universities, including many religious and special-purpose institutions.
The economy of California is large enough to be comparable to that of the largest of countries. As of 2016, the gross state product (GSP) is about $2.514 trillion, the largest in the United States. California is responsible for 13.9 percent of the United States’ approximate $18.1 trillion gross domestic product (GDP). California’s GSP is larger than the GDP of all but 5 countries in dollar terms (the United States, China, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom), larger than Brazil, France, Russia, Italy, India, Canada, Australia, Spain and Turkey. In Purchasing Power Parity, it is larger than all but 10 countries (the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil, France, the United Kingdom, and Indonesia), larger than Italy, Mexico, Spain, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada and Turkey.
The five largest sectors of employment in California are trade, transportation, and utilities; government; professional and business services; education and health services; and leisure and hospitality. In output, the five largest sectors are financial services, followed by trade, transportation, and utilities; education and health services; government; and manufacturing. As of September 2016, California has an unemployment rate of 5.5%.
California’s economy is dependent on trade and international related commerce accounts for about one-quarter of the state’s economy. In 2008, California exported $144 billion worth of goods, up from $134 billion in 2007 and $127 billion in 2006. Computers and electronic products are California’s top export, accounting for 42 percent of all the state’s exports in 2008.
Agriculture is an important sector in California’s economy. Farming-related sales more than quadrupled over the past three decades, from $7.3 billion in 1974 to nearly $31 billion in 2004. This increase has occurred despite a 15 percent decline in acreage devoted to farming during the period, and water supply suffering from chronic instability. Factors contributing to the growth in sales-per-acre include more intensive use of active farmlands and technological improvements in crop production. In 2008, California’s 81,500 farms and ranches generated $36.2 billion products revenue. In 2011, that number grew to $43.5 billion products revenue. The Agriculture sector accounts for two percent of the state’s GDP and employs around three percent of its total workforce. According to the USDA in 2011, the three largest California agricultural products by value were milk and cream, shelled almonds, and grapes.
Per capita GDP in 2007 was $38,956, ranking eleventh in the nation. Per capita income varies widely by geographic region and profession. The Central Valley is the most impoverished, with migrant farm workers making less than minimum wage. According to a 2005 report by the Congressional Research Service, the San Joaquin Valley was characterized as one of the most economically depressed regions in the United States, on par with the region of Appalachia. California has a poverty rate of 23.5%, the highest of any state in the country. Many coastal cities include some of the wealthiest per-capita areas in the United States The high-technology sectors in Northern California, specifically Silicon Valley, in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, have emerged from the economic downturn caused by the dot-com bust.
In 2010, there were more than 663,000 millionaires in the state, more than any other state in the nation. In 2010, California residents were ranked first among the states with the best average credit score of 754.
State spending increased from $56 billion in 1998 to $127 billion in 2011. California, with 12% of the United States population, has one-third of the nation’s welfare recipients. California has the third highest per capita spending on welfare among the states, as well as the highest spending on welfare at $6.67 billion. In January 2011 the California’s total debt was at least $265 billion. On June 27, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed a balanced budget (no deficit) for the state, its first in decades; however the state’s debt remains at $132 billion.
With the passage of Proposition 30 in 2012, California now levies a 13.3% maximum marginal income tax rate with ten tax brackets, ranging from 1% at the bottom tax bracket of $0 annual individual income to 13.3% for annual individual income over $1,000,000. California has a state sales tax of 7.5%, though local governments can and do levy additional sales taxes. Many of these taxes are temporary for a seven-year period (as stipulated in Proposition 30) and afterwards will revert to a previous maximum marginal income tax bracket of 10.3% and state sales tax rate of 7.25%.
All real property is taxable annually; the tax is based on the property’s fair market value at the time of purchase or new construction. Property tax increases are capped at 2% per year (see Proposition 13).
Because it is the most populous United States state, California is one of the country’s largest users of energy. However because of its high energy rates, conservation mandates, mild weather in the largest population centers and strong environmental movement, its per capita energy use is one of the smallest of any United States state. Due to the high electricity demand, California imports more electricity than any other state, primarily hydroelectric power from states in the Pacific Northwest (via Path 15 and Path 66) and coal- and natural gas-fired production from the desert Southwest via Path 46.
As a result of the state’s strong environmental movement, California has some of the most aggressive renewable energy goals in the United States, with a target for California to obtain a third of its electricity from renewables by 2020. Currently, several solar power plants such as the Solar Energy Generating Systems facility are located in the Mojave Desert. California’s wind farms include Altamont Pass, San Gorgonio Pass, and Tehachapi Pass. Several dams across the state provide hydro-electric power. It would be possible to convert the total supply to 100% renewable energy, including heating, cooling and mobility, by 2050.
The state’s crude oil and natural gas deposits are located in the Central Valley and along the coast, including the large Midway-Sunset Oil Field. Natural gas-fired power plants typically account for more than one-half of state electricity generation.
California is also home to two major nuclear power plants: Diablo Canyon and San Onofre, the latter having been shut down in 2013. Also voters banned the approval of new nuclear power plants since the late 1970s because of concerns over radioactive waste disposal. In addition, several cities such as Oakland, Berkeley and Davis have declared themselves as nuclear-free zones.
California’s vast terrain is connected by an extensive system of controlled-access highways (‘freeways’), limited-access roads (‘expressways’), and highways. California is known for its car culture, giving California’s cities a reputation for severe traffic congestion. Construction and maintenance of state roads and statewide transportation planning are primarily the responsibility of the California Department of Transportation, nicknamed “Caltrans”. The rapidly growing population of the state is straining all of its transportation networks, and California has some of the worst roads in the United States. The Reason Foundation’s 19th Annual Report on the Performance of State Highway Systems ranked California’s highways the third-worst of any state, with Alaska second, and Rhode Island first.
The state has been a pioneer in road construction. One of the state’s more visible landmarks, the Golden Gate Bridge, was once the longest suspension bridge main span in the world at 4,200 feet (1,300 m) when it opened in 1937. With its orange paint and panoramic views of the bay, this highway bridge is a popular tourist attraction and also accommodates pedestrians and bicyclists. The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge (often abbreviated the “Bay Bridge”), completed in 1936, transports about 280,000 vehicles per day on two-decks. Its two sections meet at Yerba Buena Island through the world’s largest diameter transportation bore tunnel, at 76 feet (23 m) wide by 58 feet (18 m) high. The Arroyo Seco Parkway, connecting Los Angeles and Pasadena, opened in 1940 as the first freeway in the Western United States. It was later extended south to the Four Level Interchange in downtown Los Angeles, regarded as the first stack interchange ever built.
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the 6th busiest airport in the world, and San Francisco International Airport (SFO), the 23rd busiest airport in the world, are major hubs for trans-Pacific and transcontinental traffic. There are about a dozen important commercial airports and many more general aviation airports throughout the state.
California also has several important seaports. The giant seaport complex formed by the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach in Southern California is the largest in the country and responsible for handling about a fourth of all container cargo traffic in the United States. The Port of Oakland, fourth largest in the nation, also handles trade entering from the Pacific Rim to the rest of the country. The Port of Stockton is the easternmost port on the west coast of the United States.
The California Highway Patrol is the largest statewide police agency in the United States in employment with over 10,000 employees. They are responsible for providing any police-sanctioned service to anyone on California’s state maintained highways and on state property.
The California Department of Motor Vehicles is by far the largest in North America. By the end of 2009, the California DMV had 26,555,006 driver’s licenses and ID cards on file. In 2010, there were 1.17 million new vehicle registrations in force.
Intercity rail travel is provided by Amtrak California, which manages the three busiest intercity rail lines in the United States outside the Northeast Corridor, all of which are funded by Caltrans. This service is becoming increasingly popular over flying and ridership is continuing to set records, especially on the LAX-SFO route. Integrated subway and light rail networks are found in Los Angeles (Metro Rail) and San Francisco (MUNI Metro). Light rail systems are also found in San Jose (VTA), San Diego (San Diego Trolley), Sacramento (RT Light Rail), and Northern San Diego County (Sprinter). Furthermore, commuter rail networks serve the San Francisco Bay Area (ACE, BART, Caltrain), Greater Los Angeles (Metrolink), and San Diego County (Coaster).
The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996 by the state to implement an extensive 700 miles (1,100 km) rail system. Construction was approved by the voters during the November 2008 general election, a $9.95 billion state bond will go toward its construction. Nearly all counties operate bus lines, and many cities operate their own city bus lines as well. Intercity bus travel is provided by Greyhound and Amtrak Thruway Coach.
California’s interconnected water system is the world’s largest, managing over 40,000,000 acre feet (49 km3) of water per year, centered on six main systems of aqueducts and infrastructure projects. Water use and conservation in California is a politically divisive issue, as the state experiences periodic droughts and has to balance the demands of its large agricultural and urban sectors, especially in the arid southern portion of the state. The state’s widespread redistribution of water also invites the frequent scorn of environmentalists.
The California Water Wars, a conflict between Los Angeles and the Owens Valley over water rights, is one of the most well-known examples of the struggle to secure adequate water supplies. Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said: “We’ve been in crisis for quite some time because we’re now 38 million people and not anymore 18 million people like we were in the late 60s. So it developed into a battle between environmentalists and farmers and between the south and the north and between rural and urban. And everyone has been fighting for the last four decades about water.”
Government and politics
In California, as of 2009, the U.S. Department of Defense had a total of 117,806 active duty servicemembers of which 88,370 were Sailors or Marines, 18,339 were Airmen, and 11,097 were Soldiers, with 61,365 Department of Defense civilian employees. Additionally, there were a total of 57,792 Reservists and Guardsman in California.
In 2010, Los Angeles County was the largest origin of military recruits in the United States by county, with 1,437 individuals enlisting in the military. However, as of 2002, Californians were relatively under-represented in the military as a proportion to its population.
In 2000, California, had 2,569,340 veterans of United States military service: 504,010 served in World War II, 301,034 in the Korean War, 754,682 during the Vietnam War, and 278,003 during 1990–2000 (including the Persian Gulf War). As of 2010, there were 1,942,775 veterans living in California, of which 1,457,875 served during a period of armed conflict, and just over four thousand served before World War II (the largest population of this group of any state).
The state of California sends 53 members to the House of Representatives, the nation’s largest congressional state delegation. Consequently California also has the largest number of electoral votes in national presidential elections, with 55. California’s U.S. Senators are Dianne Feinstein, a native and former mayor of San Francisco, and Kamala Harris, a native, former District Attorney from San Francisco and former Attorney General of California. In 1992, California became the first state to have a Senate delegation entirely composed of women.
The state’s capital is Sacramento.
California is organized into three branches of government – the executive branch consisting of the Governor and the other independently elected constitutional officers; the legislative branch consisting of the Assembly and Senate; and the judicial branch consisting of the Supreme Court of California and lower courts. The state also allows ballot propositions: direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification. Before the passage of California Proposition 14 (2010), California allowed each political party to choose whether to have a closed primary or a primary where only party members and independents vote. After June 8, 2010 when Proposition 14 was approved, excepting only the United States President and county central committee offices, all candidates in the primary elections are listed on the ballot with their preferred party affiliation, but they are not the official nominee of that party. At the primary election, the two candidates with the top votes will advance to the general election regardless of party affiliation. If at a special primary election, one candidate receives more than 50% of all the votes cast, they are elected to fill the vacancy and no special general election will be held.
- Executive branch
The California executive branch consists of the Governor of California and seven other elected constitutional officers: Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Controller, State Treasurer, Insurance Commissioner, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction. They serve four-year terms and may be re-elected only once.
- Legislative branch
The California State Legislature consists of a 40-member Senate and 80-member Assembly. Senators serve four-year terms and Assembly members two. Members of the Assembly are subject to term limits of three terms, and members of the Senate are subject to term limits of two terms.
- Judicial branch
California’s legal system is explicitly based upon English common law (as is the case with all other states except Louisiana) but carries a few features from Spanish civil law, such as community property. California’s prison population grew from 25,000 in 1980 to over 170,000 in 2007. Capital punishment is a legal form of punishment and the state has the largest “Death Row” population in the country (though Oklahoma and Texas are far more active in carrying out executions).
California’s judiciary system is the largest in the United States (with a total of 1,600 judges, while the federal system has only about 840). At the apex is the seven Justices of the Supreme Court of California, while the California Courts of Appeal serve as the primary appellate courts and the California Superior Courts serve as the primary trial courts. Justices of the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal are appointed by the Governor, but are subject to retention by the electorate every 12 years. The administration of the state’s court system is controlled by the Judicial Council, composed of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, 14 judicial officers, four representatives from the State Bar of California, and one member from each house of the state legislature.
California is divided into 58 counties. Per Article 11, Section 1, of the Constitution of California, they are the legal subdivisions of the state. The county government provides countywide services such as law enforcement, jails, elections and voter registration, vital records, property assessment and records, tax collection, public health, health care, social services, libraries, flood control, fire protection, animal control, agricultural regulations, building inspections, ambulance services, and education departments in charge of maintaining statewide standards. In addition, the county serves as the local government for all unincorporated areas. Each county is governed by an elected board of supervisors.
City and town governments
Incorporated cities and towns in California are either charter or general-law municipalities. General-law municipalities owe their existence to state law and are consequently governed by it; charter municipalities are governed by their own city or town charters. Municipalities incorporated in the 19th century tend to be charter municipalities. All ten of the state’s most populous cities are charter cities. Most small cities have a council-manager form of government, where the elected city council appoints a city manager to supervise the operations of the city. Some larger cities have a directly-elected mayor who oversees the city government. In many council-manager cities, the city council selects one of its members as a mayor, sometimes rotating through the council membership—but this type of mayoral position is primarily ceremonial.
The Government of San Francisco is the only consolidated city-county in California, where both the city and county governments have been merged into one unified jurisdiction. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors also acts as the city council and the Mayor of San Francisco also serves as the county administrative officer.
School districts and special districts
About 1,102 school districts, independent of cities and counties, handle California’s public education. California school districts may be organized as elementary districts, high school districts, unified school districts combining elementary and high school grades, or community college districts.
There are about 3,400 special districts in California. A special district, defined by California Government Code § 16271(d) as “any agency of the state for the local performance of governmental or proprietary functions within limited boundaries”, provides a limited range of services within a defined geographic area. The geographic area of a special district can spread across multiple cities or counties, or could consist of only a portion of one. Most of California’s special districts are single-purpose districts, and provide one service.
|California registered voters as of January 5, 2016|
|Party||Number of Voters||Percentage|
|No Party Preference||4,141,860||24%|
|Peace and Freedom||75,579||0.44%|
|2016||31.62% 4,483,810||61.73% 8,753,788|
|2012||37.12% 4,839,958||60.24% 7,854,285|
|2008||36.91% 5,011,781||60.94% 8,274,473|
|2004||44.36% 5,509,826||54.40% 6,745,485|
|2000||41.65% 4,567,429||53.45% 5,861,203|
|1996||38.21% 3,828,380||51.10% 5,119,835|
|1992||32.61% 3,630,574||46.01% 5,121,325|
|1988||51.13% 5,054,917||47.56% 4,702,233|
|1984||57.51% 5,467,009||41.27% 3,922,519|
|1980||52.69% 4,524,858||35.91% 3,083,661|
|1976||49.35% 3,882,244||47.57% 3,742,284|
|1972||55.01% 4,602,096||41.54% 3,475,847|
|1968||47.82% 3,467,664||44.74% 3,244,318|
|1964||40.79% 2,879,108||59.11% 4,171,877|
|1960||50.10% 3,259,722||49.55% 3,224,099|
California has an idiosyncratic political culture compared to the rest of the country, and is sometimes regarded as a trendsetter. In socio-cultural mores and national politics, Californians are perceived as more liberal than other Americans, especially those who live in the inland states.
Among the political idiosyncrasies and trendsetting, California was the second state to recall their state governor, the second state to legalize abortion, and the only state to ban marriage for gay couples twice by voters (including Proposition 8 in 2008). Voters also passed Proposition 71 in 2004 to fund stem cell research, and Proposition 14 in 2010 to completely change the state’s primary election process. California has also experienced disputes over water rights; and a tax revolt, culminating with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, limiting state property taxes.
The state’s trend towards the Democratic Party and away from the Republican Party can be seen in state elections. From 1899 to 1939, California had Republican governors. Since 1990, California has generally elected Democratic candidates to federal, state and local offices, including current Governor Jerry Brown; however, the state has elected Republican Governors, though many of its Republican Governors, such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, tend to be considered moderate Republicans and more centrist than the national party.
The Democrats also now hold a majority in both houses of the state legislature. There are 56 Democrats and 24 Republicans in the Assembly; and 26 Democrats and 12 Republicans in the Senate.
The trend towards the Democratic Party is most obvious in presidential elections; Republicans have not won California’s electoral votes since 1988.
In the United States House, the Democrats held a 34–19 edge in the CA delegation of the 110th United States Congress in 2007. As the result of gerrymandering, the districts in California were usually dominated by one or the other party, and few districts were considered competitive. In 2008, Californians passed Proposition 20 to empower a 14-member independent citizen commission to redraw districts for both local politicians and Congress. After the 2012 elections, when the new system took effect, Democrats gained 4 seats and held a 38–15 majority in the delegation.
In general, Democratic strength is centered in the populous coastal regions of the Los Angeles metropolitan area and the San Francisco Bay Area. Republican strength is still greatest in eastern parts of the state. Orange County also remains mostly Republican. One study ranked Berkeley, Oakland, Inglewood and San Francisco in the top 20 most liberal American cities; and Bakersfield, Orange, Escondido, Garden Grove, and Simi Valley in the top 20 most conservative cities.
In October 2012, out of the 23,802,577 people eligible to vote, 18,245,970 people were registered to vote. Of the people registered, the three largest registered groups were Democrats (7,966,422), Republicans (5,356,608), and Decline to State (3,820,545). Los Angeles County had the largest number of registered Democrats (2,430,612) and Republicans (1,037,031) of any county in the state.