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List of counties in California: Map

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The U.S. state of Californiamarker is divided into fifty-eight counties. Counties are responsible for all elections, property-tax collection, maintenance of public records such as deeds, and local-level court within their borders, as well as providing law enforcement (through the county sheriff and sheriff's deputies) to areas that do not lie within incorporated cities.

  • The county is the default unit of local government (all parts of the state's land are allocated to one of the state's 58 counties). Each county has a Board of Supervisors and is subject to mandatory duties under state law to provide its residents with services like law enforcement, healthcare, road maintenance, and so on. Balancing a county's mandatory and discretionary duties is a very difficult task; any sufficiently injured county taxpayer has standing to sue the county to enforce certain duties where financial distress is no excuse, such as healthcare.
  • Residents of a sufficiently large piece of unincorporated county land can incorporate a city. The city government then takes some of the tax revenue that would have gone to the county, and can impose additional taxes on its residents. It can then choose to provide almost all the services usually provided by the county (and more), or provide only a few and pay the county to do the rest. A city in this last arrangement is called a contract city; this type of contract is generally known among lawyers as the "Lakewood Plan," because it was pioneered by the city of Lakewoodmarker in 1954.
  • The idea of "opting out" of county control in California has been taken to its logical extremes. Almost all of the city of Vernonmarker is one large industrial zone, while almost all of the town of Los Altos Hillsmarker is zoned as residential.
  • Due to geographical variations in property tax and sales tax revenue (the primary revenue source for cities and counties) and differing attitudes towards priorities, there are interesting variations in the levels of various services from one city to the next. For example, the city of Santa Monicamarker is far more generous when it comes to helping the homeless than other cities in Los Angeles County or the county government.
  • Also, county ordinances do not apply to cities unless they are ratified by each individual city. Thus, for instance, in Los Angeles County, a few cities have not ratified the ordinance requiring the posting of restaurant food safety ratings — even though it was passed many years ago — and in those cities, ratings need not be posted.
  • The state of Californiamarker has one consolidated city-county, San Franciscomarker. The city's board of supervisors govern both aspects, and there is both a city police department and a county sheriff, the latter mostly responsible for operating the county jail.


First establishment of California counties

County FIPS code of California
On January 4, 1850, the California constitutional committee recommended the formation of 18 counties. They were Benicia, Butte, Fremont, Los Angeles, Mariposa, Monterey, Mount Diablo, Oro, Redding, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Jose, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Sonoma, and Sutter. On April 22, the counties of Branciforte, Calaveras, Coloma, Colusi, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Trinity, and Yuba were added. Benicia was renamed Solano, Coloma to El Dorado, Fremont to Yolo, Mt. Diablo to Contra Costa, San Jose to Santa Clara, Oro to Tuolumne, and Redding to Shasta. One of the first state legislative acts regarding counties was to rename Branciforte County to Santa Cruz, Colusi to Colusa, and Yola to Yolo.

The last California county to have been established is Imperial Countymarker in 1907.

Table of California counties

The current number of counties was achieved over time by subdivision of many of the larger counties into smaller ones. The links in the column FIPS County Code are to the Census Bureau Info page for that county. The map at the right hand side also shows the FIPS codes for all the counties (on one map for easy reference).

Population Note: County and city populations are counted by two agencies, one the California Department of Finance (CDF) January 2008 data , and also US Census Bureau July 2008 data, using different counting methodology. California claims US Census consistently underreports due to difficulty in tracking immigrants, population data is used to calculate distribution of money for federal programs.

California's postal abbreviation is CA and its FIPS state code is 06.

Defunct counties

  • Klamath County was created in 1851 from the northern half of Trinity County. Part of the county's territory went to Del Norte County in 1857, and in 1874 the remainder was divided between Humboldt and Siskiyou counties.
  • Pautah County was created in 1852 out of territory which, the state of California assumed, was to be ceded to it by the United States Congress from territory in what is now the state of Nevadamarker. When the cession never occurred, the California State Legislature officially abolished the never-created county in 1859.


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